Monday, January 24, 2011

Kitchen Medicine at Your Fingertips: Ginger

Ginger or Zingiber officinale is a wonderful culinary and medicinal herb that has been used for centuries in India and Asia as both a flavorful spice and a therapeutic kitchen remedy.  This fresh rhizome grows under the earth and is harvested 5 months after planting.  It has been touted for its ability to stave off a cold or flu and keep the digestive fires burning.  So the next time you’re feeling under the weather, try sipping a hot cup of ginger tea (see recipe below).  Or, simply add ginger to your recipes this winter to keep your digestion and immune system strong and stay ahead of this years cold and flu season.  See below for all the details you ever wanted to know about ginger and enjoy.        

Flavor Profile:
Ginger has a pungent bite that is hot and tangy, as well as subtle citrus undertones.  

Food Energetic Properties:
This culinary herb is wonderful for the colder winter months because it is “warming.”

Pairs Well With:
Garlic, lemon grass, coconut, lime juice, soy sauce, cardamom, clove and cinnamon.  

Culinary Uses:
Ginger adds pizzazz to both sweet and savory dishes.  You can slice ¼-inch chunks and add it to marinades.  Or, peel the pale tan skin with a small spoon and grate the yellow flesh using a micro plane.  Then, add the grated ginger to salad dressings, marinades, chutneys, salsas, soups, cookies, cakes or stir fries.   

Store the fresh rhizome in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator.  It has a shelf life of about a week to twelve days. 

Medicinal Uses:
Ginger seems to be a powerful remedy for calming nausea, motion sickness and headaches.  It also boosts digestion.  Chew on a chunk of fresh ginger if you feel any of these symptoms.  But, watch out; ginger’s been known to bite!  Don’t believe me?  Give it a try, and I guarantee its powerful flavor will be a sure sign of its medicinal strength.  For those of you who can’t handle the spice, try chewing on crystallized ginger instead.  I personally never leave my house without some ginger stashed in my purse. 

Tea Recipe:           
For every cup of water, slice a 1-inch chunk of ginger.  Add it to a sauce pan, and simmer covered for 15 minutes.  Remove ginger, stir in honey, sip and enjoy!  Drink this tea at the first signs of a cold or flu or before a meal to aid digestion. 

Home-Made Ginger Ale Recipe:
After peeling and grating a 3-inch piece of fresh ginger with a micro plane, take the grated ginger, bunch it up in your hand (or put it in some cheese cloth), and give it a good squeeze to retrieve some fresh ginger juice.  You can discard the leftover fibers in this case.  Then, add the juice to some sparkling water with a fresh squeeze of lemon and enjoy this home-made ginger ale.

Who knew you had medicine in your own kitchen, right?  Add some ginger to your menu this week and let me know how it turns out.

Yours In Cooking & In Health,
Siona Sammartino J

Monday, January 17, 2011

Warming Mayan Dark Chocolate Pudding-Recipe Included

Just as we each have our own unique energy that we may impart on all that we do in life, so does food.  Eleven years ago, I apprenticed under an Acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, and during my time with them I learned about food energetics and the Eastern philosophy of nutrition.  They taught me how to eat according to the seasons as well as my own constitution in order to boost health and increase vitality.  The concept is that every food has a thermal energy that directly relates to how that food will interact with the body; food can be cold, cooling, neutral, warming, or hot.  According to this time-tested philosophy, it is important to eat foods that are thermally appropriate for the current season.  So, during the winter months, eat foods that have an energetically warming nature to counter the cold environment.  Ok, more on food energetics in another blog, but now for the good news.  We can infuse warmth into desserts and even chocolate!    
Adding spices that are “warming” to your dishes is one way to influence the food’s energetic properties.  In this recipe, sweet and decadent chocolate is paired with warming and fragrant clove, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and cayenne.

You’ll notice my pudding recipe calls for agar and kudzu starch, two alternative thickeners that have the whole foods seal of approval.  They can be found in the Asian section of your natural health food store by the sea vegetables.  Just follow my recipe’s directions very carefully if you’ve never used these products before.
Treat yourself to this luscious pudding and start adding these 5 spices to your other dishes this winter to give your body an extra boost.  Stay in touch, and let me know how much you enjoy this decadent treat.  
Yours In Cooking & In Health,

This pudding makes a comforting dessert for the colder months by infusing flavor with a variety of spices that will fuel the body’s inner fire.  In the summer, omit the spices and skip the steps required for infusing the water to create a delicious traditional chocolate pudding.  Serve it with a glass of organic grass-fed whole milk and savor each bite.  

Preparation Time: 35 minutes to cook, 45 minutes to chill
Yields: four 5-ounce servings     

¾ cup purified water                                                      
3 whole star anise pods 
2-3 cinnamon sticks 
5 whole cloves 
3 cardamom pods 
Pinch cayenne
2 teaspoons agar flakes
1 cups organic grass-fed whole milk
¾ cup of organic heavy whipping cream
5 ½ tablespoons unrefined sugar (Sucanat or Rapadura)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup of bitter-sweet baking chocolate chips (or Green and Blacks 72% baking bar, chopped)
2 tablespoons kudzu
1/8-1/4 cup purified water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon, for dusting

Bring water, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and cayenne to a boil in a 2-quart sauce pan, covered.  Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 10 minutes or until liquid reduces by half.  Strain out spices and return water back to same pan.  Add agar, cover and cook on low for 7 to10 minutes until agar dissolves.  

Add the milk, cream and sugar to a 3-quart or larger sauce pan on medium-low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Add the salt and cocoa powder and whisk until there are no lumps and the pudding is smooth, about 3 to5 minutes.  Add the chocolate and continue whisking until the chocolate is completely melted, about 2 to 5 minutes.  

Stir in the infused water and agar mixture to milk and cook for 5 more minutes.  Then dissolve the kudzu in water on the side and add the slurry to milk, whisking until mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and quickly stir in the vanilla.  Pour the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a 4-cup glass measuring cup.  Pour pudding into individual ramekins or a glass loaf pan.  Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.  Serve chilled and dust with cinnamon.
TipTo make this recipe dairy-free, simply substitute canned full-fat coconut milk in place of the regular milk and cream.  

Copyright 2010, S. Sammartino, Original recipe

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lucky # 7-Kitchen Essentials

I figured since we are going to be cooking together, it would be appropriate to begin by introducing you to these 7 kitchen essentials.  And, I’m not talking about those fancy gadgets sold on infomercials!  These 7 items are for the most part the real deal.  But, don’t worry if you don’t already own all of these; you can acquire them slowly over time.   

If you absolutely had to survive in the kitchen with one knife alone, the choice would be a chef’s knife, our first kitchen essential.  Using one will save you time and increase your efficiency in the kitchen.  Now, many of you may be afraid to use one of these.  Yeah, I know it’s big, you’re not sure how to use it, and quite frankly you’re worried you’re going to cut into a finger instead of a vegetable.  Well, no need to agonize; I will be sharing a few basic knife skills in an upcoming blog post.  And after a while, your knife will become a natural extension of your arm that you use to craft master pieces, and you’ll wonder why you ever used anything else. 

They are sold in varying lengths, but I prefer an 8-inch blade.  They can be pricey, but as long a you keep them in good condition by sharpening them a couple of times a year and honing them after each use, this puppy will be with you for life.  So, invest in a high quality knife and put those lame itty bitty utility knives aside (and those of you using one, you know who you are), because here comes your new best friend in the kitchen!

A chef’s knife is really the one essential knife you need, but you may also find a paring knife to be useful at times.  It is helpful for smaller jobs like peeling a piece of fruit or coring an apple.  It’s as simple as that.   

One gadget that I love and use constantly is a microplane, our next target on the list.  I want to confess from early on that I LOVE Lemons, because you’ll be seeing them in my recipes.  Well, this tool is perfect for zesting those citrus fruits and even grating ginger (another favorite).

I plead guilty.  I have another “love” (and I’m not talking about my adorable husband).  It is my cast-iron and carbon-steel skillet.  I use these to cook just about everything, aside from sauces and soups.  You can get by with just one or the other, but it’s nice to have both if you can afford it.  Both work perfectly for pan searing fish and they are even oven safe.  They are also essential for braising greens and sautéing veggies.  These high quality pans will also be with you for life if you be sure to maintain their seasoning and keep the soap and sponge away from them.  We’ll be talking more about the proper cleaning and care of these skillets in a future blog post. 

Our next essential is a heavy-bottom stainless steel sauce pan, which is a must for cooking grains, beans and sauces.  All-clad is the best, but enameled cast-iron works too if you prefer.  They vary in size from 2-quart and go up to 4-quart.  

A 6-quart (or larger) stock pot is also a definite must.  You’ll want one of these to make nourishing broths, stocks, soups and stews.  I prefer either Le Creuset’s enameled cast-iron pot, their enamel-on-steel or stainless steel (ah a trend).    
 Nothing beats the fresh flavor of whole spices, so last on the list is a coffee grinder that you will designate as a spice grinder.  Whole spices pack a great deal of flavor and nutrients that you usually can’t achieve with the pre-ground varieties, and this serves the same purpose as the more traditional mortar and pestle.  Just be sure to not use it for coffee, because you’ll never be able to get rid of the coffee flavor.  To clean the grinder between uses you can run salt, bread crumbs or rice through it. 

If you are wondering what brand to get, I have made some recommendations below in my Amazon wheel.  Also, I’d like to add a food processor and pressure cooker to the list, but they are not actually “essential.”  If in the future you want to invest in these, I say great.  And now yes, there are plenty of other kitchen tools such as a wooden spoon and cutting board, a spatula, a glass baking dish, a serrated knife, a blender etc. that you will want to stock your kitchen with.  However, I figured most of you have these basics and that they were too obvious to be on the list.  Ok, enough said.  Get your kitchen set up today and let’s get ready to cook whole foods, the Thyme to Spice It Up way!

Yours In Cooking & Health,
Siona J 


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Welcome: A New Year a New You!

Welcome to the Thyme to Spice It Up blog and website!  I’m Siona, founder and owner of Thyme to Spice It Up.  I live a whole foods lifestyle and am eager to share my philosophy about cooking, eating and nutrition.  My degree is from Bastyr University, in Nutrition and Culinary Arts.  I practice using whole foods and bridging the gap between cooking and eating.  I believe that food is our best medicine, and that cooking and eating should be enjoyed in order to fully nourish the body, mind and soul.  My expertise in both whole foods cooking and nutrition will help you learn how to make food look beautiful, smell amazing, and taste delicious, engaging your senses and exciting you to eat. 

Allow me to introduce myself by bringing you into my favorite room in the house, my kitchen. 

Entering my front door you’re immediately comforted by sweet, aromatic cinnamon.  The warmth is reminiscent of your grandma’s or mother’s house growing up.  Stepping into the kitchen citrusy lemon, smoky cumin and warming garlic and onions pull at your senses.  Looking to the stove you see the onions dancing in the pan, browning in hot butter, sizzling with joy.  Vivid colors and differing shapes draw your eyes to the cutting board.  Decorating its top you discover, purple cubed beets, ribbons of green kale, half moon-shaped orange carrots, yellow lemon wedges, and circular white and green English cucumbers.  If you’re not used to cooking with such variety you may find yourself wondering, “What is she going to do with all of those?”  Stepping into the image, I open the oven door and pull out some gooey hot apple pie.  The sweet smells dance on your senses, gently sweeping past your nose and allowing your mouth to water.  The pie is full and flakey, with steam poking through the top, offering rich goodness.  The complete smells, lovely appearance and anticipated taste are incredible.  Engaging in curious discovery we continue the preparation; sharing smiles and laughter, while embracing the experience, each spice and vegetable bring to our senses.     

Taking in a full breath, you may perhaps make an effort to imprint this experience in your mind, hoping to recreate it in your own kitchen.  Together we can enter this food fantasy, cooking bright vegetables and other vibrant whole foods.  This dream is what I hope to make a reality for you.  I’m inviting you into this heaven, wishing to share the smile that fills my face as I combine, create and enjoy so many delicious whole foods, always finding fun in the task. 

As mentioned above, I wish not only to help you find the fun in the task of cooking, but also in the joy of eating; from using your favorite linens and dishes to giving thanks for wonderful food to embracing the texture and fullness food provides. 

Cooking and eating can require a bit of patience, but when we can sit back and enjoy the moment, we can find great nourishment and joy in the entire process.  When we engage our senses in the kitchen and at the table (and even the garden, farmer’s market, or grocery store), we reconnect with ourselves.  Through improving one’s relationship with food, a great sense of calm and joy in life can be gained: discovering that food tastes better, and benefitting from better digestion and health. 

I will help you reconnect with healthy whole foods cooking and eating and encourage you to embrace a balanced perspective in doing so.  By doing this, you will feel vibrant and re-energized, gaining freedom from “dieting,” and be ready to embrace a healthy relationship to food, as cooking and eating become a way of life.  I welcome you into my kitchen and encourage you to slow down and enjoy food again with whole foods, the Thyme to Spice It Up way.  Get ready to put spice back into life and start living a more nourished and vibrant life today!

Please visit my “About This Blog” page to view the many topics I will be writing about.  Let’s dig in and enjoy every bite and every moment, creating new memories and soothing our bodies, minds, and souls! 

Yours In Cooking and In Health,
Siona Sammartino