Taste That Shape Monday, Jun 26 2017 

Food is one of the pleasures of life. Most of us look forward to times of day and seasons that present our favorite dishes. But why we like those foods is complicated. All of our senses—sight, smell, sound, touch, in addition to taste—play a role. So does our memory and perceptions.

Marketers and chefs know the significance of visual presentation whether the food is packaged or plated. We are drawn into restaurants or the family table due to the aroma of what’s cooking. And that sound of the sizzle on the grill attracts us along with that smell.

The feel of foods is also important. Some like cold or hot dishes or foods we can hold in our hands. We also have our preferences of crispy, crunchy, or creamy. And how much we enjoy any of it is based on past experience. Comfort foods are linked to memories of earlier days.

I’m not a big fan of farfalle, also known as bow-tie pasta. As pretty as they are to look at, I prefer the firmer, tubular shapes of macaroni or penne. The texture, how the sauce sticks to the pasta, and the familiarity of childhood family dinners are only a few of the reasons these types of pasta top my list.

Scientists state that shape does in fact alter the flavor of foods. Molecules reach the tongue and nose at different speed and order with the change of shape.

A few years ago, the British company Cadbury updated the shape of their chocolates called Dairy Milk. The public strongly reacted claiming that in doing so the flavor changed. Cadbury responded that the recipe and preparation process remained identical. The only change was the shape of the angular chunks to ones that were curved.

Their goal was to allow the chocolates to fit into the mouth easier. But this also changed how quickly the chocolate melted and molecules were released on the tongue. The oils in the chocolate now are released quicker resulting in an oily taste.

When preparing foods, shape is even more significant. Dice vegetables and their texture changes, varying the taste, or at least our perception. Think of how differently raw, whole carrots taste from diced or sliced and also how they taste when cooked. And the more surface area of the ingredient, the greater the change. For example, we increase the browning or charring on a vegetable or piece of meat with elongated shapes of food.

The shape also affects aroma. The smaller something is cut, the greater the aroma, and as we know, smell is an important aspect of taste. Chop broccoli or cabbage and the smell of the sulfur can be offensive. Slice onions or mince garlic and we can almost taste them.

(Follow my posts on Mary K Doyle Books or my author Facebook page.)

 

 

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Know GMO Monday, Jul 18 2016 

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The more options science offers us, the more concerns we have in regards to ethics, health, and safety. Those concerns often create emotionally charged camps with opposing viewpoints. Such is the way with GMO products.

GMO, the acronym for Genetically Modified Organisms, and GE, the acronym for Genetically Engineered, refer to living organisms whose genetic material has been manipulated through biotechnology. Genes are isolated and added to cells in a laboratory to produce desired traits in new cells, altering the DNA.

Most developed nations, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, either significantly restrict or ban the production and sale of GMOs. They consider them to be unsafe.

But, according to the FDA, GMO/GE foods are as safe as non-GMO since all must meet the same food safety requirements. The FDA also states that the practices of selective breeding and cross-breeding have been in existence for thousands of years with the same intent of creating more flavorful crops with higher yield and resistance to insects and diseases.

Foods from GMO plants were first introduced into the U.S. food supply in the 1990s. Today, cotton, corn, and soybeans are the most common GMO crops. In fact, 93% of all soybeans, and 88% of all corn planted, are from GMO seeds. Other major GMO crops include potatoes, squash, apples, and papayas.

Anti-GMO activists, who refer to these crops as “Frankenfoods,” argue that GMOs may cause environmental damage and health concerns. The non-profit organization, The Non-GMO Project, describes GMOs as living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated through genetic engineering creating “unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that do not occur in nature.” In addition, they say that contrary to public belief, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.

Instead, The Non-GMO Project claims that there is evidence that GMOs do result in health problems, environmental damage, and violation of farmer’s and consumers’ rights. And there is great concern that  GMOs are engineered for herbicide tolerance. This results in increased use of toxic herbicides like Roundup, and the emergence of super weeds and bugs which require even more toxic poisons to extinguish them.

Since as much as 80% of conventionally processed foods contain GMOs, The Non-GMO project advises reading labels carefully. They offer the example of raisins that may be packed with a small quantity of oil which could present a high-GMO risk.

However, the ability for consumers to clearly identify products containing GMO ingredients is another dimension of the argument as companies are not required to disclose this information on labels (except in Vermont). A bill that recently passed will allow consumers access to this knowledge through some type of hidden labeling such as a “QR-code,” but this won’t happen for several years.

(The FDA states that GE/Genetically Engineered is the more accurate term. I use GMO in this post because it is more commonly used.)

(Have you seen my posts on Mary K Doyle Books and Saint Theodora/Mother Theodore Guerin or my Facebook author page? I also have a Facebook page for each of my books with information specific to that title.)

Spiralized Wednesday, Mar 30 2016 

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Stand too close to me, and you may get Spiralized. My new toy is a Mueller Spiral-Ultra 4-Blade Spiralizer. It was a bargain on Amazon at $28 for the 8 in 1 spiral slicer, pasta maker, juicer, and mandolin.

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The gadget sure has helped me add more vegetables to my diet. And dinner never has been easier! Cucumbers, zucchini, sweet potatoes, squash, white potatoes, and onions are transformed in minutes from whole vegetables to beautiful streams of deliciousness.

Baked, fried, or boiled, everything cooks quickly. Just add a little olive oil and seasoning or a sauce of choice.

Firm fruits and vegetables spiralize and slice best. And cooking needs a gentle touch. Boiling the “pasta” is really a brief parboiling or it turns to mush.

Some of my favorite spiralized dishes are:

  1. Baked thin spiralized sweet potatoes with a sprinkle of olive oil and coconut lime seasoning.
  2. Roasted sliced and seasoned potatoes
  3. Spiralized zucchini sauteed in a dash of olive oil with pine nuts, crushed garlic, fresh basil, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of shredded Parmesan cheese.

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My only complaint about the Mueller Spiralizer is a lack of instructions with the product. After several nasty cuts from the very sharp blades, I found a good YouTube video on how to use it. I also have since purchased their cookbook which has instructions, guidelines, and some interesting recipes. The print is large enough to see without reading glasses but the few photos are only in black and white.

©2016, Mary K. Doyle

Good Enough to Eat? Tuesday, Aug 18 2015 

For decades I cooked for a full table of family and friends every day. At that time I always had a packed refrigerator and pantry from which to select ingredients.

Now I eat alone most weekdays but can serve a crowd on weekends. This makes keeping fresh ingredients on hand more challenging. If I don’t cook much for a few weeks, excess items may go to waste before using them.

Fortunately, we have some dried, boxed, and frozen foods that have a longer shelf life. Chopped onion and green pepper is available in the freezer section which offers an easy way to use small portions without wasting a whole onion or pepper. Boxed whipping cream and milk may be stored in your cabinets until opened. And some products that we only use in certain recipes, such as buttermilk and tomato paste, are available in powdered form. Mixed with water, they are nearly identical to the fresh product.

Whatever food is used, it’s important to closely watch the date stamped on every item from pancake flour to cottage cheese to avoid illness. However, there is confusion as to what those dates really mean. Unless clearly stated, the date may be the recommended sell date or use by date. And this date may not apply once the product is opened. A good rule of thumb is to toss the food if there is any concern about its freshness to avoid food-borne illnesses. As I tell my kids, “When in doubt, throw it out. We can’t always know by the way a food looks or smells if it is safe to eat.

The US government has some recommendations on their website for common OPENED products. These recommendations are for foods that are stored properly in the inside of a refrigerator – not on the door – at 40° or below. Here are a few of these items and the length of time they may be kept safely (in the refrigerator) after opening:

  • Bacon – 7 days
  • Eggs, raw in shell – 3-5 weeks
  • Eggs, hard-cooked – 1 week
  • Egg, chicken, ham, tuna and macaroni salads – 3-5 days
  • Hot dogs – 1 week
  • Leftovers – 3-4 days
  • Lunch meat -3-5 days
  • Meat, ground -1-2 days
  • Meat, fresh beef, veal, lamb, pork -3-5 days
  • Milk -5-7 days past the date stamp
  • Poultry, fresh – 1-2 days
  • Sausage – Chicken, turkey, beef, or pork -1-2 days

©2015, Mary K. Doyle

Nutritious Whole Grains Sunday, Jun 21 2015 

Did you know that corn is a whole grain? Have you ever tried amaranth?

Whole grains are often recommended for a healthy diet, including the one I posted about in regards to lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But in order to eat the recommended three servings a day, we need to know what qualifies as a whole grain food.

Food made from whole grain, whether it is cracked, crushed, rolled, or cooked, contain the entire grain seed in its original proportions. It contains the bran, germ, and endosperm.

In the United States, if an ingredient label says whole wheat or whole wheat flour, we can be assured that it contains the whole grain. However, in Canada if the words “whole grain” are not included in the label the wheat may be only 95% whole grain.

The most common whole grains include: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, teff, triticale, wheat, and wild rice. Amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat do not belong in the Poaceae botanical family as the others do, but are considered “pseudo-grains” because they have the same nutritional profile.

Amaranth was a staple of the Aztec culture until Cortez threatened to put to death anyone who grew it in an attempt to destroy the entire civilization. The grain has a peppery taste and high level of protein and an amino acid called lysine that is negligible in other grains.

Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains. Its tough hull is difficult to remove without losing some of the bran but lightly pearled barley is still high in fiber.

Buckwheat isn’t really a grain. It’s actually botanically related to rhubarb. Buckwheat grows well on rocky hillsides.

Bulgur is the result of wheat kernels that are boiled, dried, cracked, and sorted by size. It is high in nutrition and cooks in only 10 minutes.

Corn has the highest level of antioxidants of any grain or vegetable. Most of the corn grown in the U.S. is fed to cattle but also commonly found in foods for human consumption. When corn is combined with beans, the combination of amino acids raises the protein value.

Millet includes several small, related grains commonly consumed in India, China, South America, Russia, and the Himalayas. It’s found in variations of white, gray, yellow, and red and is high in protein and antioxidants. Millet is gluten-free and used in flatbreads, side dishes, deserts and even alcoholic beverages.

Oats contain a fiber called beta-glucan that is effective in lowering cholesterol and has a unique antioxidant that helps protect blood vessels. The more oats are steamed and flattened, the quicker it cooks.

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, is botanically related to Swiss chard and beets. It can be found in a light color as well as red, purple, and black. Quinoa should be rinsed before cooking to remove the bitter naturally occurring residue of saponins. It is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids.

Rice can be found in white, brown, black, purple, and red. It’s one of the most easily digested grains and is gluten-free. Converted rice has added B vitamins making it healthier than white but still lacks the nutrients found in brown and other varieties.

Rye is high in fiber producing a feeling of fullness. To lower glycemic index, look for whole rye or rye berries on the label.

Sorghum, also called milo, thrives where other crops cannot. Although edible and can be eaten like porridge or ground into flour, most of the U.S. crop is fed to animals, made into wallboard, or used for biodegradable packing materials.

Teff has twice the iron and three times the calcium of other grains. It is the principal source of nutrition for over two-thirds of Ethiopians.

Triticale, pronounced trit-i-KAY-lee, is a hybrid of durum wheat and rye. It is easy to grow organically.

Wheat contains large amounts of gluten, a stretchy protein necessary for bread to rise. Bread wheat is considered hard or soft depending on its protein and gluten content. Wheat has many varieties including einkorn, farro/emmer, freekeh, kamut®Khorasan, and spelt.

Wild Rice really is a seed of an aquatic grass rather than a rice. It was originally grown by indigenous tribes around the Great Lakes. Because of its high price and strong flavor it’s usually blended with other rices or grains. Wild rice has twice the protein and fiber of brown rice but less iron and calcium.

(Information from this post was taken from the WholeGrainsCouncil.org. Go to their site for more details.)

 

©2015, Mary K. Doyle

Hard Baked Sunday, Mar 29 2015 

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One of the pressing questions of the week is how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg for the family Easter egg coloring marathon. A sure-proof option is not to boil at all. I recently was reminded that eggs can also be baked, as I used to do in the center of my braided Easter breads.

The traditional method of preparing eggs for coloring, or simply eating, is to either boil them until cooked or boil them for a few minutes and then allow cooking to continue in the water after removing the pot from the stove top. You can see the recipes in a previous post, (Hard Boiled, March 30, 2012).Unfortunately, we never know if the egg is under or over cooked until we break it open. Most often the yolk is too soft or dry and edged in green.

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Another option is to place the eggs in a muffin tin and bake at 325 for 30 minutes. I usually buy brown eggs, but you will want white ones if you plan on coloring them. Remove and immediately submerge the eggs in ice water.

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If your oven is calibrated correctly, the eggs will be perfectly baked. The only draw back is that the egg whites get brown spots on them.

©2015, Mary K. Doyle

 

Pumpkin Everything Tuesday, Oct 14 2014 

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Pumpkin biscotti, latte, bread, soup, and even ravioli. This is the season for pumpkin everything. The fruit—yes, botanists consider pumpkins a fruit—play an important role in American fall traditions. Halloween is no more complete without a gutted and carved Jack-O-Lantern than Thanksgiving is without a pumpkin pie.

Some countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, use the term pumpkin to refer to the broad category of winter squash but here it typically means the large orange, round or oblong fruit, although we can find them in an endless variety of shapes and colors.

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It’s estimated that 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced in the U.S. every year. Illinois is by far the top state for pumpkin production, raising 90-95% of them, mostly for Libby, a division of the Nestle Company. California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan grow most of the remainder.

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Pumpkins typically range in size from less than one pound all the way up to more than 1,000! They are native to North America. Most pumpkins are grown for eating and can be boiled, baked, steamed, pureed, or roasted. They are a good source of Vitamin A. The seeds are often roasted and salted as well.

The tradition of carving pumpkins is thought to have been brought from Great Britain and Ireland where they carved many different types of fruits and vegetables. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s when it is recorded that they were used as lanterns. Catholic children are said to have carved turnips to represent a face, placed a candle inside them, and walked door-to-door begging for soul cakes on the eve of All Saints and All Souls in honor of deceased loved ones.

(Information gathered from mayoclinic.com, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Wikipedia.)

(Photo of my niece, Kelly, with a giant pumpkin, taken by a friend.)

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Friday Foods Friday, Mar 7 2014 

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Fish is not one of my husband’s favorite dishes but I’ve found a sauce that changes everything. I spoon Trader Joe’s Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant and Garlic on Dover Sole. I add a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and garlic and bake it in the oven at 350 until cooked through. The fish is so delicious we eat every bite.

Avoiding meat a day or more a week is beneficial to all of us, and some of us do this as a sacrifice on Fridays during Lent. If you aren’t a fish-fan, think of ways of hiding and dressing it up with a similar sauce as I used, and remember that there are so many other food alternatives.

Here are a few meatless meal ideas:

  • Any fish—baked, fried, or sautéed—served with a starch and vegetable
  • Casseroles-such as corn casserole; or broccoli, cheese, and pasta
  • Grilled Cheese
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Mushroom Burger
  • Omelets
  • Pancakes
  • Pasta and vegetables
  • Pizza
  • Quiche
  • Quinoa
  • Rice and Beans
  • Salads—think beyond the traditional lettuce, tomato, onion such as kale, pistachio, and cranberry
  • Salmon Burger
  • Soups—fish chowder, vegetable, or bean
  • Stews
  • Veggie Burgers

And don’t forget about all the flavorful ethnic dishes such as:

  • Fish tacos
  • Indian vegetables such as chana masala
  • Italian Frittatas
  • Linguine, with string beans, garlic, and oil
  • Pasta fagioli
  • Sushi
  • Vegetable fajita
  • Vegetable fried rice
  • Vegetable stir fry over rice

If you have further suggestions, please chime it. We’d love to hear from you.

(Trader Joe’s Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant and Garlic. Ingredients: Peppers, Eggplant, Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Acetic Acid, Garlic, Hot Pepper.)

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Say No to Food on Drugs Thursday, Jan 9 2014 

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Eat well and lose weight. Who doesn’t begin the New Year with this goal?

My favorite breakfast is a half of a Daniel 1:8 veggie burger and an egg. I know that may sound crazy, but it is tasty and filling, especially with a sprinkle of Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce. It’s the fuel that gets my day going with a running start.

Few Americans consume the recommended amount of vegetables and whole grains. Beans are especially good for us. Kidney, pinto, black, garbanzo, and lima beans, black-eyed and split peas, and lentils are jewels jam-packed with protein, fiber and necessary nutrients such potassium and folate that aid against cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. Ironically, green beans are not in this list because, although good for us, their nutrient content is more like onions, lettuce, celery, and cabbage.

I discovered the tasty Daniel 1:8 Veggie Burgers this past summer at a local French Market, and now I’m hooked. They are vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free and unlike any other veggie burger I’ve tried. Their ingredients include the organic grains quinoa, amaranth, and millet in addition to roasted artichoke hearts, garbanzo and pinto beans, corn, and roasted peppers.

Daniel 1:8 Veggie Burgers are available through The Eating Well, whose slogan is, “Say No to Food on Drugs.” They also offer a couple of other types of veggie burgers, soups, chili, and deserts in addition to whole healthy meals and even pizza to neighboring communities. Their foods are available through their store in Hillside, Illinois, local farmers markets, and limited delivery options. You can see more about the company on their website at, The Eating Well, info@organiceatingwell.com, or call 708-401-5278.

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(See the U.S. government nutritional guidelines at: http://www.nutrition.gov/smart-nutrition-101/dietary-guidelines-americans).

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Leftover Turkey Monday, Dec 2 2013 

Gobble, gobble up any of that leftover turkey today. According to the University of Illinois extension, cooked turkey is only good three to four days, so this is it.

Turkey is such a bargain for families. The meat is relatively inexpensive, low in fat and higher in protein than chicken or beef, and can be prepared in countless ways. Use your leftover turkey plain or in casseroles, chili, soup, quiches, or on sandwiches. Grind it for use in turkey burgers, breakfast patties, or tacos. Or make my husband’s favorite, pot pie.

For a quick pot pie, use a prepared pie crust in a tin. Cut up the turkey and spread across the bottom.

In a small saucepan, sauté half of a chopped onion in two tablespoons of melted butter. Cook until translucent.

Mix one teaspoon of cornstarch in a cup of cold water. Slowly add half of this to the onion. Add about ½ cup of milk. Stir until the sauce begins to thicken, and add more of the cornstarch liquid until desired consistency.

Add ½ teaspoon of chicken or turkey soup base, pepper, and a little garlic.

Stir in about one cup of frozen peas or leftover vegetables. Cook slightly. Pour over the turkey. Spread leftover mashed potatoes on top and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 until light brown.

You can see by this recipe that I’m rarely exact with measurements. I consider myself a good family cook, using what I have in the house and seasoning to taste. There are times I’m asked for a recipe and can’t give it because I really don’t know what I did and it varies every time I make even the same dish.

Don’t be afraid to do this with your leftovers. Redesigning the meal offers your family a new dinner rather than regular leftovers and values the time, money, and energy originally invested in the food.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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