When the Flavorful Gather

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Food expos seem to be popping up like spring daffodils in the Upper Valley.  OTK went outtathekitchen last weekend to one food fair where  local culinary and pure food artisans introduced the public to their wares.  Locavores and the food curious swarmed the hall and sampled their way through the 40 or so booths. The event, sponsored by Vital Communities, a nonprofit serving the Upper Connecticut River Valley of NH and VT,  champions the Valley Food and Farm effort of the region. From the valley’s fancy inns to the small home kitchen canners, food lovers gathered for the meet, greet, and eat.

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Whole grain boules made just hours ago from Bee and The Baker

Near the long ticket line at the entrance, visitors enjoyed the attractive mobile museum of the National  Fish and Wildlife Refuge, an educational exhibit on wheels all about the Connecticut River Valley watershed. Its interior, part museum and part fun-mobile for kids, contained educational displays about the natural habitat which thrives in the waters and on the shores of the river.

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And this gathering of hungry humans at the expo depends on the watershed, too, as this year’s Flavors of the Valley event proved.

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Navigating the crowded gymnasium was tough, but given the amount of  free food being served up, visitors managed just fine.  Many brought their own utensils for the samples and bellied-up to crowded tables where they were served tidbits of sausages, fresh whole grain breads, jams, jellies, and salsas; goat cheeses galore, unpasteurized milk and yogurts, and hot dishes from caterers; caramels and chocolates, too.  Dairy and meat products seemed to dominate– all-natural, organic purity was the theme. Squeezed between the food booths were local associations fighting pollution and land abuse, and plentiful information was available at booths promoting the expo’s business sponsors, such as the Hanover Coop.  Flower and vegetable farmers reminded the public that planting was only a few weeks away, their mini-nurseries featuring seedlings along with purple and yellow happy-faced pansies. An earthy odor of their fresh loam mingled with the perfume of grilled spicy chorizo sausage.

I had the pleasure of talking with one very creative home canner.  John Snell, a Moretown,VT chef and owner of  Marsh Hollow artisan jams, jellies, and condiments, simply blew the competition out of the water. He describes his products as “non-traditional,” and the flavor combinations he designs are truly original in both concept and execution. Sweet and savory, his freshly crafted and seasonally preserved jams and jellies are uncommon and produced in small batches.

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I strongly suggest the Blueberry Almond, especially added to yogurt.  But then again, straight out of the jar rocks, too. Fig and Apple, devoid of that cloyingly sweet fig aftertaste common to many fig jams, brings together Italy and New England. There’s Irish Beer Jelly, Bruschetta, and my hands down favorite– Roasted Pepper Lime Jam. He plays around with rhubarb and carrots and pumpkins, too. Sampling these condiments sent my own creative recipe juices flowing, and I am looking forward to using them in fruited tangy sauces for venison, duck, and turkey this fall as well as filling my delicate cupcake confections with frostings and creams incorporating Marsh Hollow artisan jams, jellies, and condiments.

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You can also order up delivery of a Jam of the Month. If you join this condiment club, the shipping is free, and the featured flavors include his regular line along with whatever is seasonal– or  better yet, John’s latest inventive combination of seasonal produce– which is exactly what inspires a truly fine chef like John.

Perched at the end of Bee and The Baker’s table of organic breads (all baked in a hand built oven), was newcomer nurse-turned-home-canner, Barbara Badgley of Fairlee, VT, who offered a finely crafted line of hot pepper jelly called Radiant Heat.   This was her debut, and boy, what an entrance.

000_0146These hot pepper jellies are composed of serano and jalepeno peppers from her own garden. Unlike most pepper jellies that feature a sweet viscous base with pepper flakes, her jellies are packed with garden fresh miniature peppers in a tangy jelly and a generous level of heat. Sampling this product was like walking into a garden of flavor as the peppers were so very fresh and kept their integrity.  The product is somewhere between a salsa and a jam and a pickle.  I went home with the Sonoran Sunrise Jalapeño Pepper with Apricot and Ginger and Radiant Heat’s Irresistable  Hot Pepper Jam.  No joke!  Barbara is looking forward to planting some heirloom variety peppers this year.  I think it was a great day for Barbara, and I loved her aspirations for the upcoming season.

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Attending this sort of expo is dangerous for I am once again seriously contemplating raising chickens in my backyard. Having gorged on beer cheese, home made pastas, artisan organic butters, honey and maple syrup-based candies, I left Flavors of the Upper Valley with quite a few dreams of my own– for my garden, for my cooking, and for the continued success of these local farmers and chefs.  And the parallel efforts of conservationists of the region make for a wonderful marriage with the creative culinary dreams of the people in this region.  The continued environmental health of the surrounding Connecticut River Valley must never be taken for granted as it remains the foundation of the bounty enjoyed by all in the region.  The alliance of  foodies, farmers, environmentalists, and local business will keep important issues and sustainable agriculture on the front burner.

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by MELorden

For Avocado Eaters

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Consuming Avocados Associated with Overall Better Health Indicators

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When it comes to a healthy profile, avocado eaters show stellar outcomes, even though they eat higher amounts of fat overall.   Smaller waists, higher levels of good cholesterol, low BMI readings, and general superior nutritional intake put lovers of avocados high on the Healthy Eating Index.

The study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) appeared in the January 2013  issue of Nutrition Journal.  According to Medical News Today, “… the survey data (NHANES 2001-2008, 17,567 U.S. adults ages 19 years and older) revealed that the 347 adults (50% female) who consumed avocados in any amount during a 24-hour dietary recording period had several significantly better nutrient intake levels and more positive health indicators than those who did not consume avocados.”

The research was based on the average daily consumption of one-half an avocado. The study also indicated that people who regularly eat avocados have half the chance for developing metabolic syndrome than those who do not consume avocados. Metabolic syndrome is a condition determined by the confluence of key risk factors that, when found together, can lead to diabetes (type-2), heart disease, or stroke.

Overall, avocado eaters had healthier diets. Their weight was lower by nearly 8 pounds, though total caloric intake was comparable to those who did not eat avocados. They ate more good fats ( 12% more polyunsaturated fats and 18% more monosaturated fats), thus creating an overall  11% higher fat intake than non-consumers

Investigating the role that avocados play in fighting obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease and the overall absorption of nutrients will continue under the auspices of the Hass Avocado Board, which will bankroll more clinical research, according to its Executive Director Emiliano Escobedo.  The future of the avocado looks strong as it may hold the key to preventing the most prevalent and rampant of modern diet-related diseases.                       –MELorden

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Can Eating Apples Chase Away the Blues?

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More fruits and vegetables in your diet may mean increased happiness and a sense of well-being. Apples, in particular are now being hailed as an excellent means for fighting depression, according to a British study that was described in a journal of health psychology this month.

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Nearly 300 people participated in a three week diet in which they made journal entries describing their emotional and physical state as well as  what they had eaten that day.  The number of servings of fruits and vegetables were recorded as well.

“The results showed a strong day-to-day relationship between more positive mood and higher fruit and vegetable consumption, but not other foods,” said the study. Increased feelings of  happiness, calmness, and energy were also recorded.  For improved benefits of mood, the researchers concluded that 7-8 half cup servings of fruits and vegetables would be required for improved positive feelings, which  can be achieved by making at least half of each meal fruits and vegetables. Also, by making fruit the focus of snacks, the desired number of servings can be reached.

Do healthy moods equal healthy snacks?  The research suggests that there is a relationship between them. For a sense of well-being and feeling positive, remember that an apple a day may, indeed, keep the doctor and the blues away.             –MELorden

For more information on related research, go to: Fruits and Vegetables: Seven-A-Day for Happiness and Mental Health

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Hottest Superfoods!

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THE HOTTEST  SUPERFOODS FOR OPTIMUM HEALTH

Can you guess what the nutrition experts of 2013 say are the best sources of healthy eating?  

You may be surprised, or relieved, if any of these items are already part of your eating plan.  

Which of these foodstuffs do you currently have in your pantry?  

BLACK GARLIC  (A delicate and fermented version that doesn’t have that “afterglow” of the original white.  Black garlic is a powerhouse of antioxidants and tummy friendly pro-biotics.  Best in sauces or roasted for a paste-like bread spread.)

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CHIA SEEDS  (Will these put hair on your head?  Nah. They are super seeds and contain more Omega-3 than do flax seeds.  As excellent protein sources they can be eaten whole or used to thicken sauces or puddings. Hmmmm. Chocolate shake with chia seeds, please.)

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FARRO (Long a staple of the Roman soldiers, this fiber-rich grain, is far higher in protein than wheat.  Think of it as a great addition to soups or in a hearty salad.)

FERMENTED FOODS ( Pickled products fight blood clots, are full of anti-inflammatory nutrition and good bacteria.  Kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, et al are loaded with enzymes to aid digestion.  Pile on the pickles.)

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FRUIT ENZYMES FROM PAPAYA, GRAPEFRUIT, AND PINEAPPLE  (These enzymes can help you digest all food more efficiently, make excellent nibbles, and provide quick energy.)

GREEN COFFEE BEAN EXTRACT  (A green coffee bean is an unroasted one.  It contains more antioxidant value than a roasted bean and weightloss claims abound. With a slightly sweet taste, these beans can be combined with fruits for drinks and shakes. Great for an energy pump.)

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MEATLESS PROTEIN (Best are those derived from legumes like lentils and chickpeas, brown rice, peas, hemp, and peanuts.  Soy?  Not so much– unless in fermented forms.)

NORDIC FOODS(Scandanavian nations enjoy diets rich in omega-3 thanks to a focus on fish like salmon and herring  Don’t forget those lingonberries, which like blueberries are full of antioxidants.  Plenty of fermented foods such as pickled beets and onions and their love of dill and other herbs could all contribute to lower rates of heart disease.)

 
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PERUVIAN FOODS (Seafood dishes like civiches and the use of hot chile peppers and ginger add zing and create meals high in lean proteins and packed with flavor.)

The observers of health trends included a few standard, expected  items: It’s no surprise that TEA is listed.  The health-conscious have been singing the praises of green teas, spicy teas, and grain-focused teas for a while now, but they are now appearing front and center on restaurant menus.  Also,  the old staple OATMEAL, in gourmet versions with condiments like fresh herbs, roasted vegetables, or cheeses like goat and ricotta– even with poached eggs– are pumping up the volume beyond the classic Quaker Oats breakfast option. DEHYDRATED SEAWEED has been a staple of Asian diets and Japanese snack food. Lots of chip-like crunch, salty and nutty flavor disguise the Vitamins (A and B), potassium and antioxidants contained in these low calorie treats.

If you don’t have these uber-healthy foods in your larder, give them a try.  They are all kind to your metabolism, digestion, and waistline.  You can be both hip and healthy at the same time. –MELorden

Waste Not Want Not

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THE WORLD WASTES 50% OF AVAILABLE FOOD

While almost one billion mouths suffer from hunger worldwide, many fields with unharvested crops lie rotting.  Laws dictating tossing out foods with expired sell-by dates result in the dumping of perfectly good food sources.  And less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables headed for grocery store shelves end up in the trash heap.

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So says a recent study by GB’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers which calculates that nearly “2 billion tons of food produced worldwide never makes it into a consumer’s mouth.” (LA Times)  The study, which predicts the need to feed an additional 3 billion mouths by 2075, blames the “supply chain”, an infrastructure rife with inadequacies of transportation, agricultural practices and inefficiencies such as poor storage facilities and packaging along with misused natural resources of water, land, and energy. IME also points a finger at both retailers and consumers.

If produce isn’t attractive or unblemished, most consumers will by-pass it, observes the study, which identifies US and European consumers as a group that dumps about half of all food they buy.  With such overwhelming waste and inefficiency in the production and distribution of potentially viable and still nutritious foodstuffs, world hunger will continue to grow.  Changes in process and infrastructure along with transforming the consumer mind-set are solutions to end world hunger and could up the potential to feed the world by 60%-100% (Canarian Weekly). The IME is calling for immediate action to address this growing crisis of waste and hunger.           —MELorden

Optimal Heat Source for Optimal Cooking: Gas or Electric?

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Home on the Range

Chef-friends and the clients for whom I cook have home kitchens which showcase heavy-duty cookstoves, stainless steel and copper-ornamented behemoths.  They dominate the kitchen landscape and are the altar where the culinary clergy worship in the apse of their high-end kitchen. Their owners tell amusing stories about the nightmare installation involved in building their cathedrals of cooking, making for great table talk, but my romance with professional gas stoves ended a long time ago.

When my sister moved into her arts and crafts manse, she inherited an enormous Wolf range with six large burners, a griddle, and extra large oven.  I fell in love with those red knobs and the clickety-click of lighting the blue flame, but soon held less affection for the required overhead vent– a monstrous and whirring dirt-attracting hurricane-inducing steel dynamo which still makes cooking there an unpleasant experience. Without fail, the smoke detector goes off, not from any smoke but from the shear heat output of simply boiling an egg, so the vent must always be used when cooking.   The stove complex keeps her kitchen uncomfortably warm all year, the griddle pilot light cannot be turned off so the griddle surface remains very warm to the touch, and this professional machinery does not even have a broiler.  Thoughts of removing the range and expert advice about doing so demanded a major de-construction and destruction of said stove just in order to get it out of the door. So she lives with it and has mastered its idiosyncrasies. It looks amazing in her large kitchen and never fails to impress as does her food.

Other reasons for my objection to such fancy fire sources are somewhat embarrassing, though logical: I am a bit of a neat freak.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do a lot of home cooking, experimenting in the kitchen and entertaining; I enjoy making big time messes on a regular basis as I cook with abandon and on the client’s clock.  But I accomplish all this on a flat-top ceramic electric model. (Please stop laughing now.) It comes with some nice bells and whistles, like a warming burner, convection oven, and more. When it comes to cleanup, I prefer a quick wipe of the sponge, a little scrubbage, and a few spritzes of Windex after which I can admire my reflection in the gleaming ceramic glass top.

I have no desire to pull apart heavy cast iron elements, to clean out blocked burners, or watch blackened grease build up on enamel and iron. When I had gas (usually in rented digs), I was constantly sniffing the air for leaks, fearing that I might blow myself up to smithereens out of carelessness or  set the house aflame while I was away for long periods of time. I burned up my share of paper towels and oven mitts as well as ruined pots and pans in the early stages of learning to cook with gas. I watched mice scurry in and out of the burners en route to their nests under the sink. So when I bought my own home and had to make a choice, I chose a sophisticated electric model and had the gas line to the kitchen removed.  Take that, mousies.

I know what they say: Electric heat is slower and less responsive. The direct heat of gas is best. You can’t cook with a wok on a flat-top. How can you char peppers? What about cast-iron skillets? Forget simmering at low temps on an electric stove!  The best chefs use gas.

To this I say pish-posh. These points can all be argued.  I admit, when storm Sandy hit the east coast, those lucky ducks with gas stoves still had a modicum of warmth and the ability to cook inside their homes.  But we are talking about the art of cooking here, not cataclysmic concerns.  Why is speed so important? Unless you are in an industrial restaurant kitchen setting, why should speed be at the top of the list.  If you want speed, use a microwave.

Here’s my workhorse. Oo-la-la? Hardly.

I also admit that working with the flame of a gas stovetop has a nice primitive feel to it. It’s fun to play with the flame’s intensity.  Bring out the marshmallows and peppers. Heck– why not a steak on a stick for that paleo vibe?  There is a great joy in messing about with a direct heat source.

In the end, heat is heat, and once understood on your personal cooking device, can be controlled optimally.  Learn to move pots and pans around.  Take the numeric settings on your stovetop seriously and learn what they really deliver. Facts of cost, safety, and cleanliness depend on the individual.  So why not try out different technologies throughout your cooking education?

I will always enjoy my charcoal Weber grill.  I now can cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner on a wood-burning cast iron stove circa 1908 that lives in a shed in my backyard.   And I will always prefer that iron monster to a high-end gas stove.  Go figure.

Oh, and did I mention the cooking elements of the future?  Induction? That’s right. A flat top burner that never feels hot to the touch due to the magnetic transference of energy directly to the pots and pans.  You can put a towel under the pans to catch the splattering grease.  Looks like the classic quandary may already be old hat.  Then again, induction might just require an entirely new suite of cooking vessels.  But that is another blog post.

–MELorden

So what do you all think?  Share your experience and knowledge by leaving a response (Just click on the brown postage stamp in the upper right hand corner of this post).

Which is the optimal heat source when it comes to cooking? Gas or electric?