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Yesterday we visited the Frelinghuyson Arboretum in Morris County to see the Gingerbread Wonderland Exhibit. Hundreds of children, families and adults create gingerbread displays, which must be made of 100% edible materials, and compete for a prize. People in all cultures usually celebrate holidays and special events with the presentation of special food or meals. It brings people together and is often a symbol of appreciation and togetherness. We had such a wonderful time, as it was obvious that these people devoted hours of fun together being creative with food. From master foodies to young children and boy scout troops, this was an inspiring reminder that we can all enjoy and appreciate crafted food.   

 

 

We cast our votes for this one. Beautiful pinecones!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What edible substance is the propeller made from? We couldn't figure it out...

 

 

 

 

A traditional scene 

Lots of sugary frosing....and All-Bran  Madeline was transfixed by the displays. "I eat it"  

Sponge Bob Square Pants

My presentation at my Thanksgiving spread. A feast for the tummy and the eye.

This has been a staple in my thanksgiving table. Not only is the presentation stunning, but the flavors combine beautifully to create a sweet and somewhat spicy exotic dish. This dish works so well done ahead of time and reheated in a low oven at the last minute.

Truly spectacular. Hope you try it!

Ingredients:

  • 4 pounds sweet potatoes (no yams)
  • 2 large organic bananas (a little ripe but not putrid)
  • 3/4 stick of vegan butter (or real optional)
  • 1/4 cup of vegan sour cream (or real heavy whipping cream optional)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (the more expensive the better)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste

Topping:

  • 1 pound praline pecans (found at Central Market or the bulk section of your favorite but fine grocery store)
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) cold vegan butter (or unsalted butter)

Preheat oven to 425. Pierce potatoes with a fork and roast for about an hour. Roast the bananas during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Let rest until cook enough to handle.

Peel potatoes and bananas and put in a large mixer. Mix on slow until somewhat smooth, and all all ingredients.

For a more dramatic presentation, scoop in cups made with large size navel oranges. Cut in half, and scoop out orange leaving the rind intact. Or put in a shallow baking this and cover with topping. Bake at 300 for 35 minutes until warm.

Topping: Place pecans and butter in a food processor. Process until chunky. Keep cool until ready to use.

Tea: Liquid Wisdom

Sniffing Bar of 100+ Organic TeasAside from my regular office, my friends and family joke that I hold office hours at the Path of Tea, one of my favorite hangouts. Why? The organic tea selection is delectable (from savory to indulgent desert teas like creme caramel), and the array of personalities is always enlightening. There is not a day when I do not meet someone interesting, eccentric, fun that challenge my way of thinking.

Over time, I have developed a nice friendship with the owner, Thia McKann. Recently, we sat down and had a great conversation about tea. I learned more than my share. And I am here again, drinking a delicious cup of Tiger Pu-erh, with notes of mint and vanilla, but smells like cinnamon.

I perceive that there is been an increased interest in people drinking and learning more about tea. Why do you think that is?

Yes. Because some many people are having to have problems with coffee, caffeine and jitteriness heightened due to stress. There is an amino acid in tea, thats only found in tea that gets your body to produce dopamine and seratonin, the feel good chemicals. It also cuts down on stress hormones in the blood. People’s stress levels are an all time high, and they are able to tell a difference between tea and coffee. A lot of doctors are also recommending people get of coffee.

People are also nowadays more health conscious. Many do not have health insurance and they make every effort to keep themselves healthy so they do not use the medical system. Tea is a great source for that.

But tea also has caffeine. Is the caffeine different in any way? Or is the amount different?

A cup of coffee has 185 mg of caffeine, white tea has about 5 mg, green tea has anywhere between 10-30 mg depending on what kind it is, oolong teas have about 15-30 mg, and black teas have anywhere between 30 – 70 mg. So it’s still substantially less, plus the way your body processes caffeine from tea is different. It’s slower and time released. Coffee jolts your system.

Am I correct in saying that tea was primarily used for medicinal purposes?

Yes in Asia. It was a medicine way before it was a beverage. It is used to treat diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, to regulate blood pressure, liver enzymes and a myriad other conditions.

In Peru where I was born, we always drank hot tea. Where does the tradition of iced tea come from?

The tradition of iced-tea comes from the US. When I lived in New Zealand they had no clue what iced-tea was. You could not find it anywhere. When a friend came to visit, the brought her a cup of hot tea with an ice cube in it. They thought that was iced tea. The way we drink it here is buckets, it’s just a substitute for water.

Is there any health benefit differential between drinking hot or cold tea?

No. The biggest difference is how they brew it and what kind of tea they use.  Most tea that is served in restaurants is conventionally grown tea which is sprayed with chemicals. So you are not going to get the same health benefits than from a whole leaf tea. If you brew organic whole leaf tea and serve it cold, it would have the same benefits as hot tea.

How important is it for consumers to look for organic tea varieties?

It’s the most important aspect of drinking tea because conventionally grown is sprayed with 20 times the amount of chemicals that would kill an animal. If it can kill and animal, it’s not wise for consumption. When you buy a fruit or vegetable, you can wash the chemicals off. When you wash tea, you are drinking it. Most countries that grow tea are third world countries that still use DDT. A lot of tumors are testing positive to DDT.

Any regions of the world we should watch out for when choosing organic teas?

I only buy organic teas that are certified by Japan or the US. In China, there is a ton of air pollution, so if you buy an organic tea that is grown near a city, it’s going to have heavy metals on it because of the location. I only buy Chinese teas that are high elevation and far away from cities. If you are drinking for health, Japanese green teas are much superior. There are some great green teas from China and I have awesome relationships with brokers who find us farms that are safe and certified. In Japan, they water sometimes with sea water which has a higher mineral content, it has a higher chlorophyl content. They also shade their high end teas the last three weeks prior to harvest.

What is the most popular type of tea, taking iced tea out of the equation?

Good question. We really monitor this. When people first come to our shop, they are used to drinking sweet iced tea they prefer the fruitier sweeter tasting teas. But as they stay here and really start getting into the teas, their taste starts changing and they will start choosing the plain teas. Most Americans are used to black teas like Liption and Tetley. Sometimes they come in after having read an article telling them that green tea is good for your health.

Oprah was big into nationalizing Oolong teas as she lost weight with it.

Absolutely. Because Oolongs help you metabolize fat. And she lost weight. If Oprah says it, everyone is going to do it. It also gets your body to produce T cells, which are your fighter cells. It also elevates your mood, so for people with depression, Oolongs are fabulous.

We have been talking about Oolongs, blacks, green teas. All these terms are very confusing for someone first starting to venture into tea? How is tea categorized?

All tea comes from the camellia family, the camellia sinensis plant. Whether is white, green, oolong or back tea, it does not mean it’s a different kind of tea. They take the same leafs, and process them differently. With white teas, they just air dry them. With green teas, they add heat to the leaves whether it is dry steaming them or dry wok rolling them. Oolongs are oxidized by shaking them so the oil comes out of the leaves. Black teas are fired under high temperatures. So something different comes out in each type of process. Drinking sun tea is discouraged. You have to have heat on those leaves to bring out the antioxidants.

What about roiboos tea? Is that also a different process or a different plant?

Roiboos teas are not real teas and come from the spalathus linearis plant. We call anything we put on hot water tea. They are from the pea family and only grow in South Africa. They are naturally caffeine free, have double the antioxidants than green tea, and they have vitamins and minerals tea does not have. They are very high in potassium and calcium, so South African women give it to their babies in baby bottles. They are very anti-inflamatory. Inflammation means pain like arthritis and joint pain. And you can drink them and go right to sleep.

Roiboos teas have awesome flavors like creme caramel, butterscotch and peach. Does roiboos blend well with sweeter flavors?

No. We just do these specifically for desert teas. And they taste great. The combine very well with the plain roiboos. Like anything, when you blend things, sometimes they will taste great, other times, they are terrible.

Talking about terrible, what is the strangest tea blend you have had?

The red pepper tea was rather different. We started to play with it and combined it with chocolate teas like the Mexican chocolates that have chilies in them. I’d say that was the most unusual.

Knife Lessons

 

The knife, I know, is a most important and essential kitchen tool. I’ve learned a bit about knives (ie. mine are terrible, inadequate) chopping veggies for years and years. A few months ago finally bought a good bread knife and two nice santoku knives. Wow! This made a huge difference in efficiency and eye appeal (no more tearing at the vegetables…). Still, I am really just an amateur, so I decided to sign up for the Knife Skills class at my local Williams Sonoma this past weekend. What a blast! I went with my mother-in-law, Karen.

Chef Brian taught the class, first introducing us to the knife, its parts and how to hold it properly. (I’ve been holding my knife wrong all these years! I never knew you were supposed to put your finger on the blade.)

Chef Brian explains hand placement

Chef Brian explains hand placement

He also demonstrated the proper guiding hand position, curling your fingers and letting your knuckles touch the blade.
perfect pepper slices

perfect pepper slices

 
Then he whipped out a paring knife and made some garnishes: tomato rose, cherry tomato flower, strawberry fan, green onion curls.
 
easy paring knife garnishes
 
A few carefully places slices of the paring knife = easy garnishes (well, he makes it look easy!). Needless to say, I thought it would be fun to practice my knife skills at home. So I was thrilled when Karen surprised me with a beautiful new paring knife! What a wonderful and thoughtful gift for a foodie! And what a thrill this was, cutting into a tomato, a pepper. Look at how clean the cuts are and how precise you can be with a good knife: 90 degree angles! It’s just beautiful to feel and look at. Needless to say, I’ll enjoy practicing on all my veggies now, and I’ll think of Karen while I’m chopping away.
beautiful knife, beautiful cuts

beautiful knife, beautiful cuts

 Chopping hint #1: lay your pepper sideways on the cutting board (stem parallel to the counter). Slice off the entire top, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the base of the stem. Once the pepper is open, you can just pull out the entire seed mass, and you’ll have a nice, whole, hollow pepper.

Chopping hint #2: only use wood or plastic cutting boards. Glass boards are bad for your good knives.

Ethiopian Feast

Top and Right - Kik Alicha and Misir Wot: Two beloved and psychologically different lentil delicacies

Exotic cuisine is just darn sexy. There is nothing like putting something in your mouth and be perplexed, entertained, and transcended by the smoky and sensual combinations of spices not quite recognized by our virgin tongue and palate. Let’s face it, food and sex and intrinsically related.

I have been obsessed with the perfect spicy, garlicky and ginger lentils, the kind you find in whole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurants. We all know, there is a direct relationship with flavor and decor. The crappier the locale, the better the food.

Lentils, actually most Ethiopian dishes come in two varieties: Wot and Alicha. They are practically the same except one ingredient: berbere (pepper blend). Wot, the word actually means stew, are essential hot and spicy dishes. The dishes’ alter ego mild alternative made without berbere but the addition of garlic and ginger powder would be called Alicha.

It is said and spice carries the soul. Those who choose to eat the Alicha rather than the Wot version of the dish in essence are the weak, meek, and plain unworthy. Who knew lentils, well legume dishes in general, would have symbology within Freudian proportions?

Basic technique for Lentil Wot (Watch Video Here)

2 onions
2 cups of brown lentils
6 cups of stock
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Berbere (depends on how you think of yourself)
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
4 Tablespoons of oil

Wash the lentils. Boil the stock and add the lentils and salt to taste, taking into account the amount of sodium in your stock. Bring the heat down, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

In a stainless steel pan, cook the onions without oil. This will give them a smoky consistency. Add drops of water if the start sticking. Add the oil, ginger, berbere, stir, and add the lentils with the remaining stock. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes until the lentils are fully cooked.

Basic technique for Lentil Alicha

Same as above with the following changes. Use yellow split lentils (they look pretty). Cook the onion in the oil (we don’t want the dark brown color of the oil-less cooking). Add 2 teaspoons of ground ginger and omit the berbere.

* if you get lazy, you can always cook the lentils in the onions after the onions have cooked

* for quicker cooking lentils, cook them with the onions with the right amount of recommended stock

Benefits of Lentils

Lentils are seriously my favorite legume, and that in itself is a fun word to say. Legume. Like Mighty Mouse, lentils are an incredibly strong and rich nutritionally. They have cholesterol lowering fiber (both soluble and insoluble) and they manage blood sugar levels. A protein champion with practically no fat, they are also rich in B-Vitamins, Iron, Folate, and Magnesium.

About a year ago my friend Kate introduced me to ‘Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day’ (www.artisanbreadinfive.com). Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have developed a recipe for making artisan quality bread without kneading, long preparation, or multiple risings. It is easy to find the master recipe and directions, just google “artisan bread in 5 minutes a day master recipe” and you’ll find it. They’ve just written a new book, “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” Can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The New Book! Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day

The New Book! Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day

I like the recipe not only because it is easy, but because it has trasformed me from a mediocre baker into a star bread and pizza-crust maker. It’s fun to impress people with a perfect boule or gourmet pizza crust with so very little effort! (tee hee). Even though the recipe is simple, I still had a few flops before I really mastered the dough. Now it’s a cinch. And I’ve progressed to the point that my bread sings to me when I take it out of the oven! When the boule has baked perfectly, it should ‘sing’ as you take it out of the oven. Listen carefully! Put your ear close to the bread and you’ll hear this lovely, soft crackleing. Hertzberg and Francois describe this as the outer crust carmelizing to perfection over the perfect custardy-textured bread inside the loaf. What a thrill!

This weekend I whipped up a quick batch (really, it takes even less than five minutes to mix the water, yeast, salt and flour). I used part white flour and part spelt flour. Spelt is a kind of wheat that is not popular in the United States, but has been used in Europe for 2000 years. If regular wheat is sweet and nutty in flavor, spelt could be described as nutty and earthy, just a tad bitter. Perhaps it is a bit of an aquired taste, but my two-year-old will eat it. The dough is very wet:

Not your usual bread dough

Not your usual bread dough

This is part of the secret of this bread recipe. You don’t need to knead dough that is this wet – just leave it alone and the bacteria will feast and be merry, producing all of the gurgle and gas bubbles necessary to do the trick. Shape the dough, and slip it onto a pre-heated pizza stone. Before you close the oven, throw in a cup of water. Then your bread basks in a nice steamy sauna. I guess that humidity is what carmelizes the crust while keeping the insides nice and custardy. mmmmnnnnnn….. We never wait for it to cool before slicing. Enjoy plain or with jam, or pumpkin butter, or your own favorite topping!  

I made that!

I made that!

Black Bean Burgers Base

Black Bean BurgersHeavenly, light but with girth, black bean burgers are satisfyingly delicious and also get a nice healthy dose of fiber and protein. Relatively cheap and easy to make, it can be added to your repertoire of “OMG there is nothing to eat” meals.

Everything tastes like chicken. Thats the problem with most bean burgers. They are generic, they do not have zing or culinary personality. Well most do, but not mine.

I am not here to divulge my recipe to you. This is a well guarded secret that has been handed down from generation to generation worthy of the next Dan Brown novel. But rather, I am here to give you a wonderful base from which you can add your own gastronomic signature. After all, I want you to have fun and experiment.

So my base:

1 15 oz Organic Black Beans Drained Slightly (some moisture will remain)
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs
1/2 Cup Vital Wheat Gluten
1/4 Cup Liquid of your choice

Put the beans in a bowl and get ready to get your hands dirty. Mash up the beans, but not completely. You want some remanence of the legume. Then add the rest of the ingredients, fry up on both sides circa 5 minutes on a little olive oil.

THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE RECIPE. This is lacking personality. I have purposely left the seasonings out to encourage you to see what cuisine you like and include ingredients from that for example:

German – Beer for the liquid, mustard, onions, paprika, garlic
Asian – Soy Sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, green onions
Indian – Cumin, fenugreek, curry, onion, garlic
Or a mishmash of whatever you’d like.

Benefit of Black Beans: incredibly high source of fiber and practically a fat-free protein. High fiber foods help balance out blood sugar levels and metabolism. They are an excellent  source of manganese, protein, magnesium, thiamin (vitamin B1), phosphorus and iron.

In addition, the darker the bean, the higher the amount of antioxidants in them. In a research study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, black beans were found to have 10 times higher amount of antioxidants than oranges, and the same amount found in cranberries and grapes.

Thankfully, I do not need any of these reason to eat them. I just adore them. They are terribly cute.