Salsa, the new sunscreen?

If you catch me smiling, it’s probably because I’m a little giddy thinking about tomatoes. Sure there are other things to be happy about in August, like corn, peaches and a cool dip in the creek, but fresh tomatoes are what I get excited about.

There are many reasons to love tomatoes: BLTs, panzanella, Caprese salad and gazpacho to name a few. Recently I’ve been hearing that eating tomatoes, especially cooked ones, can provide skin protection from the sun.

I have been interested in sunscreen ever since my high school science fair project. I tested the effectiveness of the sunscreen, based on the photosynthesis of isopropyl alcohol benzophenone (I didn’t make this up). I added alcohol and benzophenone to test tubes, sealed them, brushed them with sunscreen and set them under a sun lamp.

After a few hours, crystals formed. I then weighed the crystals. The more crystals, the more sunlight that got through and therefore the less effective the sunscreen was. I’m sure my 11th grade experiment may not have been completely accurate, but with the help from the art department who did an excellent job painting my beachscape backdrop, my project won first prize.

Sunday, I accidentally conducted another sunscreen test. My husband and I went to his company picnic. It was hot and sunny and due to an oversight, we didn’t have on a drop of sunscreen. However, we did drink a glass of tomato juice that morning. I can’t say exactly how long we were out in the sun, since I did try to stay in the shade, but I burn easily and the more than an hour of sunlight we certainly got would have normally turned my skin rather pink if not right out red.

No red, no pink, no tan, no nothing.

I came home and did a little research. Seems like everyone from USA Today to AccuWeather sourced a Universities of Newcastle and Manchester study more info

that showed eating tomato paste could help protect against sunburn.

Whenever I keep reading the same study cited over and over, I like to go to the source. PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) is the place to do this.

The study, titled “Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photo damage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial” was tiny, comprised of only 20 particpants. Over a 12-week period, one group ate 5 teaspoons of tomato paste a day and the control group did not. The people who ate the tomato paste were a third better protected against sunburn than the control group. According to the study, the conclusion was “Tomato paste containing lycopene provides protection against acute and potentially longer-term aspects of photo damage.”

Another study showed that using lycopene topically provides UV protection. I personally, would rather eat a tomato.

Raw and cooked tomatoes both contain the phytonutrient lycopene, but cooking seems to increase the amount of lycopene that can be absorbed by the body. Vitamin C decreases with cooking, so I like to include both cooked and raw tomatoes in my diet.

I wouldn’t take this study to mean that you can replace the sunscreen in your beach bag with a bottle of tomato juice, but it looks like eating tomatoes can boosts your skins own sun-protection.

My sun strategy: stay in the shade, wear a big hat, and eat plenty of tomatoes!

Fresh Homemade Salsa

No need to grab a jar of salsa this summer with all the fresh produce available. Throw in a ripe peach if you are feeling adventurous.

Ingredients

4 large tomatoes, chopped (I add a few yellow cherry tomatoes for color)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño or serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped (I like to use a sweet onion, but any will do)
2-3 tablespoons lime juice (about one lime)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Method

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for about an hour for the flavors to meld.

Maple Berry Syrup—The perfect topping for buckwheat pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
1 cup water
1/2 cup maple syrup

Method

  • In a small pot, add berries and 1 cup of the water. Crush the berries with a potato masher and bring to a gentle boil. Cook until about half of the liquid evaporates.
  • Add the maple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Strain if you want, but I just pour it all over the pancakes.

Homemade Chili Powder

If you want a fresh, custom chili powder, make you own! This is adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe. For medium heat, use ancho peppers. For more spice, use arbol or cayenne. Use a combination for a more complex flavor. Wear gloves when handling hot peppers.

Ingredients
5-6 Dried chilies, stemmed, seeded and sliced, use any combo
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon smoked paprika

Method

  • Place the chilies and the cumin into a medium sauté pan. Cook on medium-high for about 3-4 minutes. You want the chilies and cumin to get slightly toasted, this releases more flavor. Set aside and cool.
  • Place all ingredients in a blender or spice grinder. Process until a fine powder is formed. Wait for the powder to settle before you remove the lid. Chili powder isn’t anything you want to breathe in. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

This post is part of Monday Mania. and Pennywise Platter

Vampires Beware, we’ve been eating garlic!

Vampires cross the street when they walk by our house, especially since our visit to Virginia Ambrose from Scarecrow Farm. We met her at the Hudson Farmers Market last weekend. And we’re glad we did.

If you have a question about garlic, ask Virginia. She knows her garlic. They grow more hardneck varieties than softneck. Apparently hardneck is the garlic connoisseur’s choice. The flavor is said to be more complex. The cloves are larger, but fewer. They are easier to peel but don’t store as well as the softnecks. Softneck garlic is the type you most often see in the supermarket, though I doubt our local supermarkets carry either the Korean Red or Mediterranean Soft neck that Scarecrow Farms grows.

Scarecrow Farm has many types of garlic, each with their own characteristics. Virginia will mark each bulb with the name so you can go home and have your very own garlic tasting, which is exactly what we did.

I methodically set up for the tasting. First I labeled plates with each type of garlic.

The line-up was:
Two porcelain hardnecks: Carpathian and Romanian Red
One purple stripe hardneck: Siberian
One soft neck: Mediterranean.

Then I heated up bread with a little butter and placed the raw, minced garlic on each piece. I’m sure you could also conduct this taste test with cooked garlic, but I felt we would catch more subtleties eating it raw. Plus vampires hate raw garlic.

We sampled each one, noting their bouquet, start and finish. We cleansed our pallet between each sample, which with raw garlic is no small feat.

I had hoped to be able to pick out the nuances of each variety and write something that mimicked a wine review, but my pallet just isn’t trained that way. The only thing I got was hot and hotter. The Carpathian was by far the hottest.

My husband claimed that after our dog got a whiff of his garlic breath, she hopped off the couch, something she usually only does with great reluctance and a dirty look.

I’ve always used a lot of garlic in my cooking— going through at least a head a week, if not more. Conventional wisdom says that I’m doing my body a favor. Garlic is purported to have a host of medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antibacterial and antiviral benefits. I do believe it can ward off a cold, which may or may not be the result of its lingering aroma. In my experience, other people are the main cause of colds, so I feel garlic is pretty effective at keeping them at arm’s length. They don’t call it “the stinking rose” for nothing.

All food prices have increased in the last year but the price of garlic has skyrocketed. Last year I found that much of the garlic that you find in the supermarket comes from China. Apparently there has been a bit of speculation in the China garlic market and people have been pouring money into it. I read stories of farmers hoarding their garlic crop and of businessmen investing in fields of garlic rather than real estate. Is there irrational exuberance in the China garlic market?

I don’t know what the price of garlic in China has to do with our local crop, but the prices have risen here also. Last year I paid 50¢ a head, this year it is double that.

But I buy it anyway. Maybe if I hold on to it, I can sell it and double my money next year. Yes, I’m giving out investment advice in a food column!

Roasted Garlic
While I will eat garlic raw, I love the mellow taste of roasted garlic. Roasting garlic caramelized the cloves and creates a delicious, creamy paste. Spread it on bread or toss it into mashed potatoes.

Ingredients
Whole heads of garlic
Olive oil

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  • Peel away any loose outer skin of the garlic bulb. Using a knife, or kitchen shears, cut off about 1/4 inch of the top of bulb, exposing the individual cloves.
  • Place the garlic in a baking dish, I use a small ramekin for each head, but they can all be in the same dish. Drizzle each with olive oil.
  • Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft when pressed.
  • Allow the garlic to cool. You can either use a fork to gently pull each clove out or squeeze the garlic clove directly into your mouth, I mean directly on a piece of nice, crusty French bread.

Roasted garlic may be stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for several days.

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Shared on The Nourishing Gourmet.

Guacamole

The secret is to let the onions marinate in the lime juice. Don’t tell anyone!

Ingredients:

3 perfectly ripe avocados
Small onion, chopped
1 to 2 limes
1/2 jalapeno pepper, chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want it too spicy)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper

Method:

  • Place chopped onions and jalapenos in bowl and cover with the juice of one lime.
  • Let sit for 15 minutes or more.
  • Cut avocados in half, scoop out and place in a bowl and mash with a fork.
  • Add cilantro.
  • Add salt and pepper.
  • Taste and add more lime juice if desired.

I’ve been told if you keep a pit in the guac, it will stay fresh longer.

Serves four.

Tahini Sauce

In addition to a delicious sauce for falafels, this is one of my go-to salad dressings. 

Ingredients
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
1/2 teaspoon chili paste (like Sriracha)
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
– Combine all the ingredients. Use a blender if you want to make a smooth and creamy sauce. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are my new favorite things. They are much lemonier than a regular lemons and have a mildly tart and lightly salty taste. They are traditionally used in Moroccan cuisine but I’ve been throwing them into about everything from soup to birthday cakes!

This recipe is modified from Epicurious.com

Ingredients

5 organic lemons (use myers lemons if you can find them)
1/4 -1/2 cup salt
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (you may need a little extra)

1-quart mason jar

Method

  • Cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom (keep the lemon attached at the base). Sprinkle salt inside the lemon.
  • Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of a 1-quart mason jar. Add a couple of lemons and pack down. Sprinkle with salt, then add more lemons. Press the lemons down to release their juices. Once all the lemons are added and pressed, if there isn’t enough lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. Add more.
  • Set the lemons in a warm place and shake the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice.
  • Let stand for 30 days, yep, one month. Remember, patience is a virtue.
  • Rinse each lemon before use.
  • Preserved lemons will keep for up to a year. I keep mine in the fridge but apparently they are fine at room temperature.

Rouille

This version is basically a garlic, saffron aioli or mayonnaise. If the idea of raw egg wigs you out, just mix mayonnaise with saffron, chopped garlic and hot chili sauce. This makes more than you will need, but it is so delicious you’ll be serving it with dinner all week.

Ingredients
3 to 4 tablespoons fish stock (or steal a bit of broth from your bouillabaisse)
1 clove garlic
1 to 2 teaspoons hot chili sauce (such as Sriracha)
1 egg yolk
Saffron, a pinch
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of salt (more to taste)
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (optional)

Method

  • Combine all ingredients except the olive oil and blend using an immersion blender, regular blender, food processor or, for the Luddites, a whisk.
  • Start adding the olive oil while the blender is running. You have to add the oil drop by drop to make a smooth emulsion. This is sometimes tricky. If you find that the rouille isn’t thickening the way you want, add the bread crumbs and blend well.

Keeps refrigerated for three to four days.

Chicken Stock

Making stock is something I do all the time. If I’m chopping a bunch of vegetables, the unused ends go in a stock pot. If I have shrimp shells, I throw them in a pot with water and make shrimp stock. I feel like I’m throwing away good money if I don’t make stock out of the leftover pieces and parts of whatever I’m cooking.

The great thing about making your own stock is that you know exactly what is in it and can customize it to your taste. I don’t like thyme, so my stock never has to have it! Plus meat stock has a healthy dose of minerals. If you want to read about the health benefits of stock, check out Sally Fallon’s Broth is Beautiful article on WestonAPrice.org.

If you are short for time, put your stock-making ingredients in the freezer and make it later.

Ingredients
chicken carcass from a roasted chicken

Method
-Once the chicken has cooled, pick the meat off the bone, save the meat for another dish.
-Add all the unused chicken parts (bones, skin, etc) to a large stock part and cover with water.
– 2 tablespoons vinegar
-Add peppercorns, herbs, garlic, vegetable ends, or whatever you have around.  You don’t really need to add anything, but it will enhance the flavor.
-Heat over medium uncovered for at least an hour. I often leave mine on for several hours if I have time.
-Strain stock, discard everything but the liquid.
-Once the stock has cooled, divide into 1-2 cup portions. I pour the stock into freezer bags and freeze. You can also pour it into ice cube trays and freeze for quick inclusion into dishes.

Chicken Gravy

chickenGravyIt would be a shame to have all the good drippings from a chicken and not make gravy.
-Using your roasting pan, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from pan.
-Place pan across two burners and heat the drippings gently on the stove top for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. (Note: if you used a glass or ceramic dish to roast the chicken, transfer the drippings to a pot. Glass will likely break if heated directly on a stove-top burner).
-Add 2 tablespoon of flour and stir constantly for 1 minute. Use a fork to smooth out the lumps.
-Stir in two cups of water or milk and simmer, stir until thickened.
-Season with salt and pepper.

Sour Cherry Ketchup

This is my new favorite ketchup. Adapted from Eating Well Magazine.

Ingredients
1 cup pitted sour cherries
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Method
-Combine pitted cherries, raisins, vinegar, water, garlic, sugar, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
-Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
-Let cool slightly. Transfer to a blender. Cover the lid with a kitchen towel. Holding lid securely in place, blend until smooth. (Use caution when blending hot liquids.)
-Transfer the ketchup to a small bowl.
-Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Grilled Strawberry Salsa

*******
Excerpt from my column in the Register Star and Daily Mail:
*******

Grilling the strawberries brings out their sweetness and adds a nice hint of smokiness. It’s a tasty, colorful topping for grilled chicken, fish or pork.

Ingredients
12 large strawberries
Juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped Vidalia onions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno
1 tablespoon of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
-Wash and remove caps from strawberries and place onto skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak in water for 20 minutes before using to prevent burning).
-Place skewered strawberries on grill over a medium-hot heat for about 6-7 minutes, turning once. Set aside.
-Place chopped onions, chopped jalapeno in lime juice, let sit for 10 minutes.
-Chop strawberries and add to lime mixture.
-Add sugar and cilantro, mix lightly. Salt and pepper to taste.
-Let flavors meld for at least 10 minutes.

Serve over grilled chicken, fish or pork.

Dress that Salad

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Excerpts from my column in the Register Star and Daily Mail:
*******

The salad days are here. The garden is young, green and hopeful. Our salad bed is quite jubilant. We’ve been harvesting our dinner salad almost everyday. Though I rarely get tired of freshly plucked greens, it helps to have an extensive salad dressing repertoire to ward off potential boredom.

I usually quickly whip up a salad dressing fresh for each salad. Most of the recipes listed are just enough to dress a salad for four. A couple of the recipes will make enough extra to keep on hand.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Everyone should have a solid vinaigrette recipe in his or her arsenal. This is a nice one from my friend Dori. You can substitute other herbs for the thyme. Rosemary and basil both make excellent substitutions.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1-2 garlic cloves
1 – 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Squeeze of fresh lemon (about 1/2 tablespoon)
Fresh thyme – 3 fresh sprigs, stripped (or 1/2 palm dried)
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Method:
Place all ingredients it in a mini-prep or blender. Blend until it creates a nice emulsion and let sit for at least 1 hour.

Makes enough for several salads. Keep refrigerated for up to two weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

Simple Lemon Dressing
I’m particularly excited about our arugula crop. The peppery leaf is by far my favorite salad green. To dress it, I like to keep it very simple, allowing the flavor of the leaf to shine through.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons sugar or honey
Salt/pepper to taste.

Method
Mix all ingredients well and toss with salad.

Yogurt Blue Cheese Dressing
This is a good one to make on the fly. It’s a nice creamy change from the vinaigrettes we usually have.

Ingredients
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Dash or two of cayenne pepper
Salt, pepper to taste.

Method
-Mash the blue cheese with a fork. Mix all ingredients until the consistency is creamy. Toss with salad.

Lemon Vinaigrette
My friend Jan made this one day last summer. We are both from Virginia but now she lives in California and I live in New York. We met at Bonnie and Earl’s farm in Wake, Virginia. I’m not sure if it was the idyllic setting or the toasted cumin that made this dressing so delightful.

This goes traditionally on a Fattoush salad but toss it with any fresh greens and vegetables, throw in some feta cheese and you have a winner.

Ingredients
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic (about 1-2 cloves)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon white rice vinegar
3/4 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
5 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method
-Toast cumin in heavy small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. You can toast the ground cumin, or toast whole cumin seeds and then grind them.
– Whisk the remaining ingredients together and toss in salad.

Lemon Tahini Dressing
I love this simple dressing on a spinach salad tossed with chic peas.

Ingredients
2 tablespoon Tahini
2-3 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1 tablespoon water
Salt/pepper to taste

Method
-Mix all ingredients well and toss with salad.

Vanilla-Pear Vinaigrette
My friend Sydney first made this vinaigrette for me a couple years ago. I was hooked at first bite. Luckily she gave me a bottle of it and the recipe so I could eat it to my hearts content. This dressing is great tossed with mixed field greens, thinly sliced red onions, walnuts and goat cheese.

Ingredients
1- 15 oz can pear halves in natural juice, undrained
1/3 c. white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash ground red pepper

Method
-Drain pears, reserving 1/3 cup juice
-Combine pears, juice, vinegar, and remaining ingredients in a blender, process until smooth
-Makes two cups and will keep for a couple months refrigerated.

Homemade Mayonnaise

If you are squeamish about eating raw eggs homemade mayonnaise may not be for you. I, like most people, have spent years not eating things with raw eggs. Not licking the beaters after making chocolate chip cookies was probably the hardest raw-egg situation to pass up. I used to take the beaters straight from the mixer and dump them in the sink so I wouldn’t be tempted. With the outbreaks of salmonella in pistachios, peanut butter, cilantro and spinach, I began to rethink the whole raw-egg scare. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.

Besides, cage free chickens are less likely to carry disease. You can also buy pasteurized eggs, but where’s the fun in that.

Homemade mayonnaise will keep for about a week refrigerated, unless you add whey. Sally Fallon’s recipe in Nourishing Traditions calls for a tablespoon of whey. After adding the whey, you then leave the mayo out on the counter overnight to activate the good bacteria, which will increase the shelf life for several months.

Yes, Mom, I made something with raw eggs, left it out overnight and then ate it.

Making mayo is a bit tedious. To have the emulsion work, you have to add the oil very, very slowly, but it is worth the effort!

Here’s the recipe I adapted mainly from Just Hungry blog
(a great blog and detailed recipe with how-to photos, take a look).

2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon whey
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil or olive oil

1 tablespoon of whey
-Place two egg yolks, lemon juice, whey, salt and beat well with stand mixer or electric hand mixer.
-Slowly, drop by drop, add the oil.
-After you’ve added about 1/3 of the oil, you may start to add the oil faster.
-Mix until it starts to thicken and looks like mayonnaise.
-Transfer the mayo to a jar with a lid. If you’ve added whey, leave on the counter overnight (7-8 hours) then refrigerate. If you did not add whey, keep refrigerated.

If you want to be fancy, add garlic and call it aioli. Ymmmm.

Mayonnaise on Foodista