Corn Maque Choux

My husband suggest that I try this Cajun dish (pronounced, “mock-shoe”). It’s delicious and is a great way to use extra corn if you get a little greedy like I did and over-buy at the farmers market!

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup red or green bell peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon jalapeno, minced
4 cups corn (about 6 ears)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (regular paprika will work, but won’t be as good!)
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Method

  • Melt the butter in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the corn, onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapeno, and seasoning. Cook, stirring, until soft, for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium.
  • Whisk the milk and eggs together until frothy. Slowly add the mixture to skillet, stirring constantly. If you pour too fast, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Mexican Grilled Corn

This is one of my favorite ways to prepare grilled corn. The recipe is adapted from www.marthastewart.com.

Ingredients
4 ears of corn in husk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 ounces queso fresco (or feta cheese)

Method
– Soak corn, still in husks, in cold water for 10 minutes, turning once.
– Heat grill to high. Place corn on grill. Cover and cook until husks are charred. Turn to char all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
– Using a kitchen towel (the ears will be hot), pull back the husks; remove and discard corn silks. Keep the husks attached. They will work as a nice holder for your corn.
– Return corn to the grill. Make sure the husks aren’t on direct heat, as they tend to catch on fire. Turn and cook just until kernels are slightly charred, 5 minutes or less.
– Mix mayonnaise, lime juice, chili powder and salt and brush on cooked corn. Sprinkle with queso fresco. Serve hot.

Serves 4

Corn!

Corn at the farmers market is a sure-fire signal that summer is in full swing. If you ignored the 90-degree weather, you could tell it was summer by the piles of sweet corn filling up the tables the farmers markets and roadside stands.

As a kid, I had to shuck bushels of corn. It was not my favorite chore. The worst part about it was not knowing if I would find a big fat worm at the top of the ear chomping away at the kernels. I only really minded the worms if I accidentally touched them. Yuck. I developed a technique that minimized that risk. I folded the long green husks over the sliks to provide a barrier before I would shuck the ear. Sometimes they still slimmed me. The sweet taste of corn was certainly worth any potential critter encounter. I guess the worms and I both knew a good thing when we tasted it.

The sugars in corn starts to turn to starch after it is picked, so eat it fresh. My mom always liked to start to boil the water before she picked the corn. Now, that is fresh corn!

Since I am a frugal gal, I was happy to see that you can use the whole ear of corn; the cob, husk, silks and all. I usually toss it all the leftovers in the compost, but here are a few ideas:
– save and dry the husk for tamales;
– use dried husk to make dolls, stuff a mattress or use as packing material;
– make corncob jelly;
– make a therapeutic tea out of the silks;
– whittle yourself, or next winter’s snowman, a corncob pipe.

My, my… and you thought corn was just a summer side dish.

My favorite way to prepare corn is to simply boil it. I like to give it a quick dip in boiling water for only three minutes. Then, of course, I slather it in butter, and often eat more than one ear. I always start with this straightforward approach, but as the summer progresses, I venture to other corn recipes.

Black Sour Cherry Vodka

Until we moved to the Hudson Valley, I had never heard of black sour cherries. Apparently they are a big deal. Last year, we went to Cherry Ridge Farms in Hudson to pick red sour cherries about a week before the black sours were ready. We were firmly warned to stay away from the black sour trees and that if any forbidden cherries found their way into our basket, we would be charged triple the price. I expected to see armed guards protecting the trees.

If their goal was to build hype about the black sour cherries, it worked on me. I had to have some. I marked opening day on my calendar and worked out our schedule around it. Unfortunately, we got there too late. I guess they weren’t kidding when they said they went fast. By 11:30 a.m. on opening day, Cherry Ridge Farms’ trees were bare.

While standing around with our empty pail, we heard that Fix Brothers still had some, so we raced over there. As we turned up the winding road to the orchard, we started noticing cars parked on the roadside, lots of cars.

There was a bit of a frenetic energy in the air. Scores of people were scurrying around the trees, loading their buckets. I happily joined in the frenzy.

The trees were dripping with big, dark-red cherries. I started grabbing handfuls. To me, it was like the opening scene to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — magical and gluttonous.

I asked people what they planned to do with the cherries. There were a few people, like us, who were just picking because it seemed like the thing to do. With this many people clamoring for the dark-red orbs, they must be something special. Others were picking with purpose and that purpose was black sour cherry liqueur. Prized as an elixir of sorts, the homemade beverage is a staple in many Eastern European countries, which explained all of the head scarves being worn and hard consonants being spoken.

Black sour cherries are more tart than the red ones. The tartness makes them perfect for baking or making brandy or liqueurs. Fix Brothers’ black sours are Morello cherries, which range from a medium red to a dark mahogany red. The longer they stay on the tree, the darker they get.

Like blueberries and other purplish-red fruits, sour cherries contain anthocyanins, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The darker the cherries, the more anthocyanins they have. Cherries are purported to relieve painful inflammatory conditions such as gout and arthritis. Plus a cup of fresh sour cherries has 40 percent of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, 26 percent of vitamin C; 2 percent of calcium and 3 percent of iron. No wonder liqueur made from black sour cherries is prized!

My husband had to drag me out of the orchard. This year, I will try to remember that we will have to pit all of the cherries we pick. Maybe that will get me out of the orchard faster.

Sour cherries are easier to pit than sweet cherries. I don’t use a cherry pitter, mainly because I don’t have one, but I also don’t think it’s necessary. Pitting sour cherries is a little messy, since they are full of juice. Wear an apron and rubber gloves if you don’t want to have to scrub your cherry-stained fingers.

After I wash the cherries, I set out two large bowls. Over one bowl, I squeeze the pit out. With a little practice, you’ll be able to remove the pit without squirting yourself with cherry juice. Then I place the pitted cherry in the second bowl. Both bowls will accumulate lots of juice. Keep that! When I’m all done, I strain the juice from both the pits and the cherries, sweeten it a tad and drink it.

Sour Cherry Infused Vodka

My husband made this last year. This year, we are tripling the recipe! If you are a teetotaler, just omit the vodka, add a bit of seltzer after straining and enjoy your homemade cherry soda!

This recipe is adapted from New York Magazine.

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh black sour cherries, washed and pitted (you may add a few stems and leaves for flavor)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups vodka


Method

  • In a large jar with a lid, add cherries, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Crush the cherries with a wooden spoon. Seal the jar and store for a week in a dark, dry place.
  • Add vodka, reseal and shake well. Infuse for a month in a dark place, giving it a shake every three or four days.
  • Strain through a cheesecloth. Add a few cherries to a bottle or jar and fill with infused vodka.
  • Serve in small glasses, over ice or neat, either as an aperitif or a digestive.

Should keep for years, but ours didn’t last a month (which is why we’ll triple the batch this year).

To your health!

EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Hot off the press: the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

I printed the handy wallet guide, which fits nicely next to my Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Pocket Guide.

The Dirty Dozen (I either buy organic of these or do without)
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

The Clean 15 (These have the least amount of pesticide residue.)
1. Onions
2. Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Michelada

MicheladaAs soon as the mercury pushes past 60º F, my husband and I migrate to our back porch. It’s our favorite place for morning coffee and evening cocktails. This spring, I have a new favorite cocktail, the Michelada (pronounced mee-cha-lah-dah), if you can call a drink made with beer a cocktail. I can’t bring myself to call it what some people call it, a beertail.

I had never heard of or tasted this south-of-the-border quaff until my friend Bill made me one last December. Bill was excited about them and showed up with a six pack of Pacifico, Clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, a couple of secret ingredients and a big grin. His delicious Michelada set a high standard by which all subsequent ones would be judged.

Since then, I’ve been seeing and hearing about Micheladas everywhere. It’s hard to say if they have risen in popularity or if they have been there all along and I’m just starting to notice. I like to think it’s the former, but will concede that I may have just not been paying attention.

“So, Michelada is the new Mojito,” my friend Paul said after I explained the suspected sudden rise in the drink’s popularity. Maybe so. Mojitos quickly went from obscurity in the ’90s to being quite the beverage rage in the early 2000s. Maybe it’s time for Micheladas to take over.

There are many different interpretations of Micheladas. The commonalities between most of the recipes I found are beer, lime juice and a salted rim. A good many recipes called for soy sauce. Maggi seasoning was another popular addition. Some use tomato or Clamato juice and others don’t, though I’m told that those without are technically called cheladas.

To get this recipe just right, we had to do a lot of testing. I ask a lot of my husband and this task, “Test Michelada,” was just one of many items on his honey-do list. The dear didn’t complain once, even when I kept adding “Test Michelada Again.” He’s a keeper.

I just discovered a southern magazine called “Garden & Gun.” Yes, there is a magazine called “Garden & Gun,” with articles about cocktails, popsicles, fishing and lots of dog photos. The current issue has an article by one of my favorite authors, Roy Blount Jr., titled, “The Trendiness of Worms.” I am thinking about subscribing.

“Garden & Gun” had an article on Micheladas, referring to it as “the mysterious Texas concoction.” The magazine interviewed a bar manager, who said, “We don’t measure the ingredients. You have to feel the Michelada — make it by touch.”

With all of the variations and need for getting the right feel for Micheladas, you can see why we needed to do a lot of testing.

Since I love to get a dose of veggies wherever I can, I prefer a version made with vegetable juice.

Teetotaler? Never fear, replace the beer with seltzer water. It’s a delicious twist on a juice spritzer.

In the interest of perfection, I think we should test another batch. “Una mas Michelada, por favor!”

Andrew’s Michelada

Ingredients
1 part vegetable juice (such as V8; substitute Clamato or tomato juice)
Juice of half of a lime
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch of Cajun seasoning (such as Tony Chachere; substitute salt and chili powder)
1 dash Tabasco sauce (or more)
1 pinch black pepper
3 parts beer (any will do but, to be festive, you may want to pick up something Mexican; Lagers preferred).

For the Rim:
Cajun seasoning or coarse salt with a dash of chili powder

Method

  • Cut a lime wedge and rub it around the rim of a pilsner or other tall beer glass, then dip it into the salt/Cajun seasoning.
  • Fill the glass with ice.
  • Add one part vegetable juice, lime juice, Worcestershire, Cajun seasoning, Tabasco and pepper to the glass and give it a stir.
  • Pour in three parts of beer, stir, garnish with a lime and serve, adding more beer as you sip.

Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich)

When I told my friend Joan that I was going to make Vietnamese sandwiches or, bánh mì (pronounced bangh me), her eyes lit up and a big smile came across her face. “Oh, I would send you to Saigon to a tiny place that makes the most incredible sandwiches.”

Joan grew up in Vietnam and returns frequently, so she would know just where to send me. She fondly remembers the unique sandwich wrapped in newsprint that she would buy as a kid. And it’s also one of the things she looks forward to getting on her return trips.

This culture clash of a sandwich can be traced to the French colonization of Indochina. It combines ingredients from the French (baguettes) with the Vietnamese (pickled veggies) and results in a multi-culture match made in heaven.

Joan gave me enthusiastic but slightly vague details. She said that she loved the combination of the crispy bread, spicy sauce, tangy pickled vegetables and savory meat.

Her vagueness had to do with the meat. Joan told me that meatballs aren’t in an authentic Saigon bánh mì, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on exactly what the meat was. She and her husband finally decided that it was somewhere between pâté and bologna. Both agreed that whatever the meat is, the sandwich is delicious.

Turns out that there are lots of interpretations of the proper meat for the sandwiches, including roasted pork, ham, pork pâté, grilled chicken, meatballs and even tofu.

Joan has several Vietnamese cookbooks, but she wasn’t able to find the sandwich in any of them. The thought is that bánh mì is primarily street food and not something many home cooks make. I don’t think this is because it is difficult, but rather that the sandwich, at least in Vietnam, is ubiquitous and cheap.

Joan doesn’t know it, but I plan to sit in her kitchen, comb through her cookbooks and pick her brain about other delicious Vietnamese dishes. Stay tuned!

Ingredients

Quick Pickled Vegetables
1 carrot, julienne
1 cup coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish, substitute a regular radish)
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (or honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Meatballs
1 pound ground pork
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil for cooking the meatballs

Spicy Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer homemade)
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)

Toppings

Cucumber slices
Jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
Cilantro sprigs
2 large French baguettes (or four small baguettes)

Method

Quick Pickled Vegetables:

  • In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add sesame oil, carrots and radishes, mix well.
  • Marinate for 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator overnight.

Meatballs

  • In a large bowl, mix all meatball ingredients, except the sesame oil. I roll up my sleeves and mix this with my hands.
  • Using a tablespoon on the mixture, form a one-inch meatball.
  • Heat the sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add as many meatballs that will comfortably fit in the pan and sauté until they are cooked through, flipping occasionally. You want them browned, but not burnt. Repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.

Spicy Chili Mayo

  • Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

Sandwich Assembly

  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut the baguettes in half; you will have four pieces. Slice the pieces length wise, but not all the way through. You want it to open like a hot dog bun. Hollow out some of the bread in the middle to make room for the meatballs (save for breadcrumbs or feed the birds).
  • Place baguettes on a baking sheet and bake until hot and crusty; about five minutes.
  • Slather the insides with the spicy mayonnaise. Place cucumber, jalapeños and cilantro on the bottom. Top each sandwich with a quarter of the meatballs, followed by the pickled vegetables (drained).

Serves four.

Gluten Free: Sweet Potato Linguine with Browned Butter Sage Sauce

Gluten Free Sweet Potato No gluten-sensitivity needed to indulge in this delicious dish! Next time that I make it, I’m adding shrimp or maybe meatballs.

Be careful when using a mandolin. They are sharp and quick to damage as my bandaged thumb can attest.

I found this recipe on the Progressive Pioneer blog and as I’m want to do, I modified it.

Ingredients
1-2 large sweet potato, pick ones that are straight and plump
1/4 cup water or stock
3 Tablespoon butters
5-10 Fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Wash and scrub the potato. Slice it lengthwise as thinly as possible using a mandolin or a sharp knife.
  • Cut the slices into even strips about 1/4 of an inch wide. You are going for strips that look like fettuccine.
  • In a large frying pan, add water or stock and the sweet potatoes strips. Heat over medium until the water/stock has reduced by half. Do not stir too much. This will cause the “noodles” to break (which isn’t a deal breaker but they look nicer when long). Transfer to a large bowl.
  • In the same pan, melt the butter then add the sage. When sage gets crispy, remove and set aside. Watch carefully, you want crisp sage but not burnt sage.
  • Add noodles to butter and heat through while stirring (but again, not too much).
  • Crumble the sage over the pasta (save a few for garnish). Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 2.

Gluten Free: My two week journey

gluten free logoMaybe you’ve noticed “gluten free” displayed prominently on products up and down the grocery store aisle. Is this a new food trend or is something else going on?

I would say it’s a little of both. First, let me briefly explain what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related gains, including barley, spelt and rye. It is what gives dough elasticity and helps it rise; much desired qualities for making breads and pasta.

On one hand, people without gluten sensitivity are buying gluten-free products with the idea that these foods are healthier to eat. So in this sense, it can be looked at as a health trend akin to fat-free fad (or debacle as I like to call it).

On the other hand, gluten can cause unpleasant and often dangerous symptoms in people who have sensitivity to it. While celiac disease, an auto-immune disease involving an adverse reaction to gluten, was once uncommon, it is clearly on the rise, which might explain the surge in gluten-free products. A study done by the Mayo Clinic found that celiac disease has increased four fold in the last 45 years. What is interesting about this study is that it was able to test frozen blood samples taken between1948 and 1954 and compare them to blood samples from similar recent study groups. This shows that the actual rate of celiac disease is on the rise and not just a rise in the diagnoses of it.

Unfortunately, the study did not say why we are seeing more problems with gluten. One common speculation is that the wheat that is grown today in our country has a much higher percentage of gluten than older varieties.

Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, so the symptom can include a wide range of ailments such as abdominal cramping/bloating, mouth sores, muscle cramping, constipation, night blindness, dry skin, weakness, fatigue, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, dementia, migraines, epilepsy and acne. Since the symptoms are so varied, a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity may be overlooked.

There are different degrees of gluten intolerance ranging from gluten sensitivity to Celiac disease. Gluten sensitivity symptoms can range from mere annoyances to downright debilitating ailments. Celiac disease can be quite dangerous if left untreated (the treatment is eliminating gluten). The disease can be confirmed with a blood test and intestinal biopsy.

Basically, celiac disease is malnutrition. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse states, “When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi—the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine. Villi normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food one eats.” Eating healthy food does no good unless your body is absorbing the nutrients.

My friend and blogger, Suzanne (http://sthibeault.wordpress.com) is gluten sensitive. Suzanne had been suffering from arthritis. “I had been experiencing joint pain in my fingers for several years,” she told me. “I read an article in The Chicago Tribune, which linked arthritis to an inflammatory response gluten-sensitive people experience when they ingest gluten.” So she gave gluten-free a try. “Hazzah! Clouds part, angels sing! Within a week, my fingers stopped aching for the first time in years,” she said.

My neighbor Ann was diagnosed with celiac disease last year. She went to the dermatologist because of acne that had plagued her since her late teens. A few tests later she was diagnosed with celiac disease. She cut out all the gluten from her — her acne cleared up and she feels great. If she eats even a few wheat crumbs, the acne comes back along with a host of other unpleasant symptoms.

She has a brand new blog, Naturally Gluten Free, where you can read her whole story.

Of course, these anecdotes are not suggesting that giving up gluten will cure your arthritis or clear up your acne, but if you’ve tried everything else, talk to your doctor about food intolerance. In addition to wheat, eggs and dairy can also be culprits.

In the interest of solidarity to my celiac and gluten sensitive friends, I decided to give up gluten for a couple of weeks. I wanted to see if a.) I felt different and b.) how hard it was. I dragged my poor husband along for the ride.

Yes, it is hard, at least until you get the hang of it. There is gluten in everything from, of course, bread, cakes, and cookies to soy sauce, bourbon, lipstick, and the glue on postage stamps. Plus there isn’t always a gluten-free option available when you’re hungry, so you need to be prepared. It can also be expensive. A small loaf of gluten-free bread can run you six bucks.

I also found that gluten free prepared foods, like packaged cookies, in general taste bad. Plus I think processed food is still processed food so I try to steer clear from them, gluten- free or not.

Ann mentioned to me that she finds it easy to go with foods that are inherently gluten free. Mexican and Asian foods are a good place to start as long as you stick to corn tortillas and rice or bean-thread noodles. If you eat dishes that never had gluten in them in the first place, they’ll most likely taste better and won’t break the bank.

I can’t say I felt better, but luckily I wasn’t feeling bad before I started my experiment. I did loose a few pounds but that was mainly because I wasn’t always prepared and didn’t eat the snacks containing gluten that I might otherwise have eaten to get me through the day.

I don’t plan to entirely cut out wheat, but I might pass up some items containing gluten. Wheat cereal, I can do without, but a hot baguette with butter is something I plan to hold on to.

Now that I’m back eating wheat, I try to notice if I feel differently. I’m still experimenting but I think I’m a little congested on the days I eat wheat. Spring, though, probably isn’t the best time to blame wheat for my congestion!

Stay tuned for recipes!

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.

Buckwheat Pancakes (gluten free)

It’s maple syrup season and, while thinking if it sends my mind in many directions (maple glazed pork chops, maple bread pudding, maple candy), it always comes back to pancakes.

Usually my husband makes the pancakes in our house. He makes delicious, fluffy ones that really soak up the syrup. This week, I stepped onto his turf to make buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat pancakes are not fluffy, but they’re flavorful and hearty. While I do love a big pile of buttermilk pancakes, I always want to take a nap after I eat them. Somehow, buckwheat pancakes don’t have the same effect on me.

I’ve started to think of buckwheat as a bit of a wonder plant. I was tempted to write “wonder grain,” but buckwheat isn’t a grain and the only thing it has in common with wheat is its name. Buckwheat is actually classified as s fruit rather than a grain.

According to the Ag Marketing Resource Center (http://www.agmrc.org), buckwheat is one of the best sources for bio-available protein in the plant kingdom. It contains all eight essential amino acids, vitamin E and almost all of the vitamin B complex.

The Ag Marketing Resource Center goes on to list health claims, including it may lower blood glucose levels, help to lower high blood pressure and lower high cholesterol.

They also cite a study about buckwheat honey which states, “Honey collected from bees feeding off of buckwheat contained levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, 20 times higher than that of other honey tested.”

The website World’s Healthiest Foods notes that, “Buckwheat contains almost 86 milligrams of magnesium in a one-cup serving. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure — the perfect combination for a healthy cardiovascular system.”

See what I mean about it being a wonder food?

Buckwheat pancake mixes are pretty easy to find. They are, however, usually mixed with wheat flour. This isn’t a problem unless you want to avoid wheat or want to try a pure, unadulterated buckwheat pancake.

Buckwheat flour isn’t as easy to come by. I usually have to travel to Kingston or Albany to find it. If you aren’t up for the drive, ask your local grocer if he/she can pick some up for you. The Birkett Mills, in the Finger Lake Region, is one of the country’s largest buckwheat producers. You can buy many buckwheat products from them online at http://thebirkettmills.com/.

The Birkett Mills has a page about growing buckwheat. I’m going to find some buckwheat seeds and toss them in our backyard. They say it’s easy to grow, flourishes in poor soil and needs only a 10-week growing season. We’ll see if it can tolerate shade. If so, I’m going to be harvesting buckwheat come August.

Buckwheat Pancakes
This all-buckwheat flour recipe makes delicious, earthy, nutty pancakes.  Adapted from the blog, Wrightfood

Ingredients
1 cup of buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg, separated

Oil or butter for the skillet

Method

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, powder, salt and cinnamon.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, melted butter and milk.
  • Pour the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  • Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks (an electric hand mixer makes quick work of this). Gently fold the egg white in to the pancake mix. Don’t over mix.
  • Cook on a lightly buttered or oiled griddle or electric skillet at 375 degrees F. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the griddle. Cook until the pancakes form bubbles and the edges look cooked. Flip the pancakes and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes.
  • Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm. Repeat with remaining mix.

Makes about 10 five-inch pancakes

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Cashew Cream

If you want to waste the better part of an afternoon, the online Carrot Museum isn’t a bad place to do it. It has the history of carrots, fun carrot trivia and some very cool WWII posters featuring carrots. It was all interesting, but I kind of got stuck in the musical instruments wing.

The Carrot Museum is set up in such a way that I wasn’t sure if the whole musical instrument thing was just a spoof or not. I quickly did some fact checking on YouTube. Sure enough, there are many videos on how to make instruments out of carrots. There is even a Vienna All-Vegetable Orchestra. If I was late turning in this column, it wasn’t because I was in the basement drilling out my very own carrot kazoo.

As a kid, I loved raw carrots and watching Captain Kangaroo. Once he said that, in a pinch, eating a carrot could be a substitute for brushing your teeth. I liked to eat carrots more than I liked brushing my teeth, so I hid my toothbrush.

Whether or not that was the intended lesson, it’s what my 5-year-old mind took in. I told my mom that I couldn’t find my toothbrush and that Captain Kangaroo said I could just eat a carrot instead. Her response was that I had best find it. It was worth a try. I’m guessing I still got a carrot, but I don’t remember that part.

While carrots may not be a substitute for a toothbrush, they are still good for you. One cup of raw carrots is jam packed with about 428 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. They are also a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium.

If you are lucky, you will have carefully stored last fall’s carrot harvest in your root cellar and you are still enjoying local carrots. While luck may come into play, careful crop planning and proper storage will improve your odds. I am not lucky or prepared. Our carrot crop last year was meager, so I am now buying California carrots. I shouldn’t complain too much since I picked up a two pound bag of organic carrots for $1.99 the other day.

Keep your eye out for multi-colored carrots this summer. Better yet, plant some. The Hudson Valley Seed Library sells packs of Kaleidoscope Carrot  seeds. I plan to be the first one on the block with a purple carrot kazoo!

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Cashew Cream

This recipe is adapted from Rebecca Katz’s recipe in One Bite at a Time: Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends. The first time I made it, I started to peel the carrots. Three pounds is a lot of carrots to peel. Being lazy, I stopped about three carrots in and just chopped the rest. The soup was delicious.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
3 pounds carrots, washed (not peeled), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric (or curry powder)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
8 cups water or vegetable, chicken or beef stock (I use a combination of stocks)
1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt (to taste)

Method

  • In a large soup pot (6 to 8 quarts), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Add the carrots, spices and vinegar.
  • Add water or broth and salt. Cook until the carrots are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree soup. You can also use a traditional blender. Let the soup cool a bit before transferring it to the blender. Be sure to keep a towel and your hand firmly on the blender lid. Hot soup has a tendency to spew.
  • Ladle into bowls and top with cashew cream.

Serves 6

Cashew Cream

This cream is just plain delicious and would be good on a variety of things, including pasta, sautéed kale or a baked potato.

Ingredients

1 cup raw cashews
1 cup water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Method

  • Soak the cashews in water overnight.
  • Drain and place cashews in a blender. Pulse a few times, then add water, lemon juice, salt and nutmeg. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

The importance of splurging: part two and how to make a cake with your bare hands

This is the second time my husband has requested a strawberry cake. I think it is the long winter that gives him a craving for a summer taste. For his cake, I followed a recipe in a book that my brother and sister-in-law gave me called the Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book, ©1934.

The author, John MacPherson, had one very good reason for wanting to remain a mystery — his mother. Apparently, she was “horrified” that her son had taken up the hobby of cooking. In fact, she recommended that he “keep it under his hat.” I guess cooking didn’t seem like the thing a man should be doing in the ’30s.

I like two things about this recipe. One, the ingredients were few and simple. Two, he recommends that all the stirring be done with your hands. Not by hand, as in with a wooden spoon, but with your hands. Whether this was a lack of an electric mixer, which were pricey in the 1930s, or his predilection for making a big mess, I couldn’t tell you, but I was intrigued by the idea. I’m no stranger to pushing my sleeves up past my elbows and digging in, so I gave it a try,

Squishing the butter and sugar together was kind of fun. When I added the eggs and milk, it got very sloppy. If you ever decide to go this route, I recommend a few things. First measure all of your ingredients and have them in containers that you can easily pick up with slimy hands. Or have an assistant to dump all the ingredients as you need them. Better yet, find a kid and have them do all of the mixing while you add the ingredients. I think that would be a win-win solution.

I now know that if I find myself with a hot oven, flour, butter, baking soda, eggs, milk, sugar and a bowl, but nary a spoon in site, I can still confidently make a cake. Step aside, I would tell my hapless cohorts; I’ve done this before.

Strawberry Cake

Modified from the Mystery Chef’s Master Butter Cake recipe. If you are too much of a wimp to mix this with your hands, then by all means get the electric mixer out.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs yolks
1 1/2 cups of sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup of sliced strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Method

  • Heat oven to 375.
  • Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans
  • Measure all ingredients and have them ready to use.
  • Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside.
  • Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and lemon in color.
  • Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and squeeze the butter with your hands until it is well mixed with the sugar.
  • Add the egg yolks and continue to mix with your hands.
  • Slowly add the flour mix and continue to mix with your hands.
  • Add milk, strawberries and extract and mix some more. It will be a bit runny and you’ll start to question the whole mixing with your hands technique.
  • If you don’t have an assistant, you will have to stop and wash your hands at this point to whip the egg whites. They can’t be whipped before hand. Whip them until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. I found this the hardest part and probably over mixed, which resulted in a cake that didn’t rise as much as I would have liked.
  • Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans. Place pans on the middle rack and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.
  • Spread strawberry jam on one cake layer. Place the other layer on top and frost with strawberry cream-cheese frosting.

Strawberry Cream-Cheese Frosting

I tried mixing this with my hands, but quickly gave up and grabbed my immersion blender.

Ingredients

1 cup chopped strawberries (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons almond extract

Method
Using a hand mixer or immersion blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. If your frosting is runny, either chill until it sets a little or slowly pour it over the cake and allow it to drip down the sides (that is what I did).

The importance of splurging: part one

In my last entry, I wrote about the evils of sugar, but this week I’m turning a blind eye and splurging! My husband’s birthday and mine are eight days apart. They are close enough that, if we celebrated in the middle of the week, we could share a cake. But then where is the fun in that? We each wanted our own, which meant two cakes in eight days.

I love baking cakes. While my husband has made many delicious cakes for me, this year I wanted to bake my own. I find it very indulgent and an excellent way to celebrate yourself, something everyone should do.

My cake needed to fit the following criteria — no white flour, no white refined sugar and no canola oil (or other polyunsaturated vegetable oils).

My husband’s pleas, I mean, requests, were white flour, white sugar and strawberries.

For my cake, I did a healthy take on a recipe my mom always uses for chocolate cake. You can find it right on the box of Hershey’s cocoa mix and it is easy and delicious, though my version uses honey, olive oil and white-wheat flour.

A healthy version of Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups white-wheat flour (or half white-wheat and half white)
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups of honey
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
3/4 cup boiling water

Method

  • Heat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.
  • Add honey, eggs, milk, yogurt, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for about two minutes. Stir in the boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons almond extract

Method
Using an electric hand mixer or immersion blender, blend all ingredients until smooth.

The trick to frosting a cake is to first apply a thin layer of frosting. This is called a crumb coat. Don’t worry if it isn’t pretty and bits of the cake (the crumbs) show. After applying the crumb coat, chill the cake for 15 minutes or so. The second coat should go on much smoother and you’ll have a beautifully frosted cake.

Part of Monday Mania.

So, what’s wrong with sugar anyway?

The American Heart Association’s main push for decreasing the amount of added sugar a person eats is that adding such empty calories may lead to weight gain and weight gain can lead to heart disease.1

If that was all there was to it, I might not change my habits. I have a terrible sweet tooth. If my weight goes up, I cut calories across the board and don’t just zero in on sugars. But, as I’ve found out, there are other reasons to limit sugar.

Here are two good ones:

Excess sugar consumption may lead to insulin resistance.2, 3

When you eat sugar, your blood sugar levels rise. Then, your pancreas releases insulin to help move sugar from your blood into your cells. As blood sugar levels go down, your insulin levels return to normal. Over time, it takes more and more insulin to get the job done. It is thought that, eventually, your pancreas sort of wears out and may be less effective at lowering blood sugars. Excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream and you’ve got a stage set for type 2 diabetes.4

Excess sugar consumption promotes inflammation in the body.5, 6

Apparently, inflammation is the real killer and is thought to be linked to a host of ailments, including heart attacks, strokes and dementia.

One thing to look at is the amount of “added sugar” in your diet. Added sugars are just that, sugar (whether it is refined or unrefined) added to a product.

According to the American Heart Association, women should limit their intake of added sugar to about six teaspoons (or 24 grams) a day. For men, it’s about nine teaspoons (or 36 grams). One 12-ounce can of soda can have eight to 12 teaspoons of added sugar. Ouch.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables (fructose) and milk (lactose). Naturally occurring sugars aren’t empty calories. With them, you are getting vitamins, minerals and/or fiber, a.k.a., the good stuff you need in your diet. If you are keeping track of your carb intake, be sure to add any naturally occurring sugars in your count, but you don’t need to fret too much over them when watching out for added sugar.

Spotting added sugar requires a bit of label reading. Food manufacturers aren’t required to separate naturally occurring sugars from added sugars. The ingredients to look for in prepared products are sugar, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, maple syrup, honey, concentrated fruit juice and anything that end with “ose,” such as maltose, dextrose or sucrose. As my nephew Brennen once told me, if it ends with “ose,” it’s gross.

For now, I’m going to pick on refined, white sugar. Some say it’s the devil incarnate. I’m not quite ready to go that far, but I don’t think it is doing your body any favors, even in moderation. When you eat white, refined sugar, not only are you spiking the level of sugar in your blood, you aren’t giving any nutrients to your body.

The reason to switch to less-refined sugars is they offer a bit of nutrients along with their sweet kick. Raw honey has enzymes; molasses and maple sugar have trace minerals. Plus, I just think it is a good idea to choose foods that are closest to how they are found in nature. I don’t like my food mucked around with.

Switching to less-refined sugar isn’t a license to eat more. It’s still sugar and will spike your blood levels and add calories.

When you do indulge in a sweet treat, eat one that has a little fat in it, like whole-milk ice cream or a dark chocolate bar with nuts. According to Sally Fallon, author of “Nourishing Traditions,” adding fats to sweets “slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream while providing fat-soluble nutrients …”

Yes, that means whole-milk ice cream with nuts is back on the menu! Especially if you can find it sweetened with natural sugars or make it yourself.

Here are some of my favorite natural sugar recipes:
Pear Walnut Cream Cheese Wontons
Pasteli- Sesame Honey Candy
Almond Date Balls
Peanut Butter Cups
Maple Syrup Bread Pudding
Maple Pralines
Maple Turtles
Almond Joy Knock Offs

Food for Thought:
“Sugar in any form or refined carbohydrates (white food) drives the good cholesterol down, cause triglycerides to go up, creates small damaging cholesterol particles, and causes metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. That is the true cause of most heart attacks, NOT LDL cholesterol.” Mark Hyman MD; Why Cholesterol May Not Be the Cause Of Heart Disease

end notes
1 http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3068932
2 http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/292/8/978.extract
3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17709452?dopt=Abstract
4 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-2-diabetes/DS00585/DSECTION=causes
5 http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/What-you-eat-can-fuel-or-cool-inflammation-a-key-driver-of-heart-disease-diabetes-and-other-chronic-conditions.shtml
6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17402291?dopt=Abstract

Participating in Monday Mania.