Ending Acid Reflux

EasyAcidReflux_9781623158743_KoboBN

Available tomorrow!

While the way that works for me to eat is a low-carb, paleo diet, I’m also a big believer there isn’t a single diet for any one person. It’s about finding your best way to eat, and that’s often different for different people.

Research has shown people with acid reflux may need to eliminate certain foods, such as highly acidic foods, spicy foods, coffee and alcohol, and very fatty foods, among others. As someone who has stood looking down the barrel of a diet that seemed daunting with heavy dietary restrictions, I understand how difficult it can be to make a commitment to a different way of eating, even if it makes you feel better. This is especially true if there are over-the-counter medication solutions available that can help control the condition. After all, it seems easier to pop a pill than give up foods you love.

Unfortunately, acid reflux medications aren’t without potential serious side effects, so while they are the easy solution, they aren’t always the best solution for  your body.

I also acknowledge there are people who don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen cooking – whether because they lack the time, or because they just don’t enjoy cooking.

At the intersection of these two populations…people with acid reflux who don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes on a meal, I offer the Easy Acid Reflux Cookbook. This is not a paleo cookbook – but it is filled with easy, 30-minute recipes for people struggling with acid reflux. It offers practical dietary advice based on the latest research and features easy recipes you can have on the table in 30 minutes or less. If you have acid reflux, I highly recommend it. I tested the diet myself when I was still trying to settle into my own way of eating, and I found it worked well to eliminate my symptoms and get me off the acid reflux medications I was taking every day.

The book is available tomorrow. If you’ve got persistent acid reflux, check it out. It could help you find your best way to eat.

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8 Pasta Hacks for the Paleo or Low-Carb Foodie

zucchini-lasagna

You don’t have to limit yourself to zucchini lasagna.  Photo credit sexyliciousness via photopin.

by Karen Frazier

When I tell people I have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten, and that I further choose to eat low-carb paleo to help health conditions and keep my weight in check, one of the most common reactions I get is this one: “I could NEVER give up pasta!”

I get it – I truly do. Back in the day, I loved pasta. It was cheap, versatile, delicious, and easy way to get totally creative in the kitchen. Sadly, I love pasta, but it doesn’t love me even a little bit.

Since I eat mostly low-carb paleo, pasta is a thing of the past for me. I can’t eat gluten-free pasta substitutes (often made from corn flour, rice flour, or a combination of various legume-based flours). But I still enjoy a tasty pasta-style dish from time to time, such as my low-carb paleo lemon and artichoke shrimp scampi on zoodles.

With years of low-carb and paleo experience under my belt in a household of picky eaters, here are some of my best low-carb and/or paleo pasta hacks.

paderno1. Spiralize “Zoodles” and Other Veggie Noodles.

If you’re not new to the paleo world, chances are you’ve made a batch of zoodles – or another kind of veggie noodles – in your day. In fact, I’ve written an entire cookbook about making noodles out of veggies using a handy little gadget called a spiralizer. I use the Paderno World Spiralizer, and all you’ve got to do is crank the handle to get super cool “noodles” that make a great stand-in for pasta if you’ve either chosen or been forced into a gluten-free lifestyle. Try it, you’ll like it.

2. Make Veggie Peeler Noodles.

julienne-peeler

Dual veggie and julienne peeler from Precision Kitchenware

Limited shelf-space or no room in the budget for yet another gadget – or both? No worries. If you’ve got a veggie peeler and a knife, then dang it, you’ve got oodles of zoodles and other veggie noodles. It’s pretty easy. Use a veggie peeler to cut the vegtables into ribbons. Then, either leave wide ribbon style veggie pasta, or use a paring knife to cut the noodles into smaller shapes.

You can also try a julienne peeler, which will cut the veggies into angel-hair like strips. No need to clutter your drawers with both, however. Many manufacturers make peelers that do double duty, working as both a veggie and julienne peeler. Clever!

3. Choose Veggies That Noodle.

That’s right. Noodle is a verb. Of course, not all veggies are created equal when it comes to noodling around. Some veggies make much better noodles than others. Try noodling:

  • Zucchini and other summer squash (peeled or unpeeled)
  • Sweet potato
  • Winter squash
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Beets
  • Other solid root veggies

To cook the veggie noodles, I recommend sautéing them in your fat of choice, sprinkled with a little salt, for two to five minutes, until they are al dente.

spaghetti-squash4. Use The Aptly Named Spaghetti Squash.

So what if you abhor kitchen gadgets of all kinds (I can’t imagine anyone not loving a kitchen gadget, but that’s just me, owner of a Ginsu knife that supposedly can hack through an aluminum can in one clean slice), so making fancy noodles is out? If you have an oven, a baking sheet, a fork, and a sharp knife, you can still make veggie noodles from spaghetti squash.

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise.
  3. Place it cut-side down on a baking sheet and bake it in the preheated oven until it is tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Remove it from the oven. Use a fork to pull the flesh away from the rind in “noodles” and go forth with whatever sauce sounds tasty to you.

5. But What About Lasagna and Stuffed Pasta Dishes?

salamiI’m so glad you asked. Of course, you can use thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini as your lasagna noodles or as a pasta to wrap around filling. Here are some tips:

  • Use a mandoline for paper-thin slices.
  • I recommend if you do this, you place the thin slices of veggies in a colander in the sink and salt them. Then, after about 30 minutes, wipe away the salt completely and use the veggies. The salt will draw off excess water so you won’t wind up with a watery dish. Go forth and make your lasagna or stuffed pasta.

6. But What if I Can’t Stomach Another Noodle Made From Veggies?

Here’s the thing. It’s okay to be super sick of veggie noodles and you want something a little different. In this case, I offer a tried and true idea from the Frazier household to yours that will change the way you make low-carb lasagna. Use thin slices of salami as your noodles. I’ll allow a moment for the genius of this idea to sink in before I continue. Salame. Thinly sliced (or another deli-sliced meat you like). Use it as your noodle layers or wrap it around a filling. Of course, you could also use large pieces of kale or spinach, but doesn’t using pre-sliced salami, crisp cooked slices of bacon or pancetta, or some lovely Canadian bacon sound somehow much tastier?

This is one of my favorite low-carb maxims – when in doubt, wrap it in meat, baby! You’re welcome!

7. Whip Up a Truly Great Tomato Sauce.

A good tomato sauce is shockingly easy. It takes a bit of time, of course, but most of that is time you can spend reading a book as the sauce simmers to allow the flavors to blend. Here’s my super easy and tasty tomato sauce.

  • 2 tablespoons fat of your choice
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or Italian seasoning blend)
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans crushed organic tomatoes (I love Muir Glen, which has no sugar added), drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh basil
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the fat on medium-high until it shimmers.
  2. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, about five minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the tomatoes, salt, and red pepper flakes. Simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is the desired consistency and the flavors are blended, 30 to 45 minutes.
  5. Stir in the basil.

8. Make a Tasty Low-Carb White (Béchamel) Sauce.

Béchamel, Alfredo, and other white pasta sauces usually start with a roux of butter and flour, so they tend to a) have gluten; and b) be a bit carby. This low-carb, gluten-free version isn’t paleo unless you include grass-fed, organic dairy as part of your paleo repertoire, but it’s really, really tasty either as a sauce by itself on one of your pasta substitutes, or combined with other meats and veggies, like chicken and broccoli or ham, spinach, and mushroom.

  • 1/4 cup grass-fed unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces grass-fed cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup grass-fed heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated grass-fed parmesan or asiago cheese
  1. In a medium pot, combine all the ingredients.
  2. Cook on medium-low, stirring constantly, until all the components are melted, and the sauce is well combined and smooth.

Pasta on, my Friends!

These are a few of my favorite ways to keep pasta-like dishes in my life. Combine your creativity with these tricks, and you won’t miss pasta a bit.

 

Asian Cucumber “Noodle” Salad

Cucumber

by Karen Frazier

They had beautiful cucumbers at the farmers market this week, so I picked up a few. I find cucumbers really refreshing – particularly in the summer. I love their slight acidity, which adds balance to fatty or rich cuts of meat, such as pork belly. I also picked up some cilantro, red scallions, and red heirloom carrots.

I have a spiralizer that I love to use to turn veggies into noodles, so I knew immediately what I wanted to do with this combination of farmer’s market veggies. I wanted to spiralize them into cold, crunchy “noodles” and then toss them with an Asian-inspired vinaigrette.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can use a vegetable peeler and cut the cucumbers and carrots into long, wide strips. You can use a paring knife to cut the strips into “noodles” or you can leave them as wide strips. It’s up to you.

Cold Cucumber “Noodle” Salad

  • 2 cucumbers, spiralized or cut into noodles
  • 2 large carrots, spiralized or cut into noodles
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • Juice of one orange
  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha (or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes for Whole30)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cold pressed sesame oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, carrots, scallions, and cilantro.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, orange zest, sea salt, pepper, ginger, garlic, sriracha, and sesame oil.
  3. Toss the vinaigrette with the vegetables and serve cold.

spiralizer cover

(image license)

For more spiralizer recipes, check out the Healthy Spiralizer Cookbook, which I wrote for Rockridge Press.  It contains an array of veggie based “noodle” recipes using a spiralizer. I really like my Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer, which works like a pro with many vegetables.

If you’re trying to cut down on carbs, or if you just want to find a great way of adding noodles to your diet without the gluten, a spiralizer is a wonderful choice. I like making zucchini noodles into pasta, that I can then toss with all types of Italian sauces. You can also make soups, salads, and an array of other tasty vegetable and fruit dishes.

Slow Cooker Bone Broth

by Karen Frazierbroth

Anemia has been a big problem for me in the last five years or so. Not the mild anemia that makes me a little tired, but severe, often debilitating anemia that makes me exhausted to walk down the hall from my bedroom to my living room. In the past several weeks, however, I’ve added mineral rich, nourishing bone broth as a food I eat daily. It seems to be helping.

I have my bone broth in the morning just like someone else would have a cup of coffee. It’s rich in minerals and gelatin. It’s also really helped with how I feel. My energy is up. My digestion is working better. And my hair and nails from the gelatin – wow are they in good shape.

Many people are intimidated to make their own broth, but with a slow cooker, it’s really easy. I let mine simmer on the counter for 12 to 24 hours, extracting all of the good, rich mineral content from the bones. I use bones from organic, pastured animals, and I split them with a cleaver before sticking them in my slow cooker in order to make the mineral rich marrow more readily available to absorb into the broth as it simmers. I also add iron-rich parsley to bring even more iron to my healing brew.

My homemade broth serves as the base for or an ingredient in many of the foods I make. I use it to moisten stews, make gravies, create sauces, and make soup. Homemade broth adds delicious savoriness to your meals that is free of chemicals and artificial ingredients.

All About Bone Broth

So what goes into bone broth?

The bones: I use bones from pastured animals of all stripes. The bones can come from cooked foods (like a roasted  chicken carcass) or they can be raw. Sometimes I use chicken wings. I have beef marrow bones. I have beef knuckle bones. I save bones from whatever we eat. I have a baggie in the freezer full of bones. Whenever we have something with bones in it, I save the bones. I have a few ducks necks. I have some chicken feet, which add a wonderful gelatin to the broth. I have oxtails. While I get my pastured meat from local farmers and stores, I also order some of it from US Wellness Meats, which has high quality bones ready for your bone broth.

You can make your broth from a single source – like all beef or all chicken – or you can mix up bones from a variety of different animals. Just make sure you get some good cartilage bones in there like chicken feet, wings, or backs in order to up the gelatin content. Some people like to roast their bones ahead of time for additional flavor. This is especially true of beef bones, which get a delicious umami flavor when roasted.  Be sure to add some bones with some meat on them for even more flavor. When I use poultry wings, backs, or necks, I just toss them in meat and all. If you want to use the meat for something, rescue it from the bones after four or five hours of cooking and set it aside for use. Then, put the bones back in the stock to keep simmering.

The veggies: I’m a traditionalist in my veggie selections. I toss in an onion (usually cut into quarters or eights – you don’t have to peel it, and you can throw in the root ends), carrots, leeks if I’ve got them, and some celery. Occasionally I’ll throw in a few mushrooms, as well. If I’m feeling super fancy, I’ll add some organic dried shiitake mushrooms. I use all organic veggies, and I wash them thoroughly before putting them in the pot. You don’t need to cut them into tiny pieces. I just do a very rough chop (cutting carrots into three or four pieces each, same with celery). I always toss in a few celery leaves, as well.

One of the tricks I have for adding veggies to bone broth is this: I save my veggie trimmings from other cooking and freeze them in a large zipper bag. So I save onion peels, onion root ends, carrot root ends, celery tops, mushroom stems, etc. Then, I just dump them in my bone broth when I’m ready to make it.

The herbs and spices: You can use any herbs and spices you like in your broth. I prefer fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, or sage. I just toss a few branches in there – I don’t bother to chop because they’ll be strained out later. I also add whole peppercorns, and a little bit of sea salt to the mix. I also add parsley for additional iron content. I usually add an entire bunch of organic parsley.

The liquid: I add just enough filtered water to cover the veggies/bones. I also add about a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar. This helps pull the minerals out of the bones. I actually let the water and vinegar soak with the bones for about an hour before I turn the slow cooker onto low.

Basic Bone Broth

  • Pastured organic bones and joints, a few containing meat
  • One or two organic onions, roughly chopped
  • Two organic carrots, roughly chopped
  • One organic celery rib, roughly chopped, with leaves
  • 1 sprig organic thyme
  • 1 sprig organic rosemary
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 bunch organic parsley
  • 1 to two tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
  • Enough filtered water to cover the bones and vegetables
  1. Use a cleaver to split the bones open.
  2. Place all ingredients in the slow cooker. Add water just to cover the bones and vegetables.
  3. Cover the slow cooker and allow the stock to soak off heat for one hour.
  4. Turn on the slow cooker to low.
  5. Simmer on low for 12 to 24 hours. Poultry bones do better closer to 12 hours, beef bones 24.
  6. Strain the broth into a container, discarding any solids. Save the bones – you can reuse them until they go soft. Just freeze them in a zipper bag and pull them out the next time you make a broth.
  7. Chill the container, and then scrape any fat off the top before using the bone broth. The broth will turn to gelatin when chilled, which gives it wonderful body when you use it for soups and sauces.

This broth also is excellent in soups and stews – way better than anything commercially prepared. I always have a bunch frozen in individual containers in my freezer.
photo credit: paloetic via photopin cc

Braising Methods

potroastI’m a huge fan of braising. This simple cooking technique makes a great winter meal because it favors hearty foods naturally available in the winter like root vegetables and warmer, richer flavors. It’s also a great way to cook a tough or less expensive piece of meat.

The braising technique relies on cooking over low heat (usually either on the stovetop or in the oven – although sometimes in a crockpot) in a sealed container with moisture. Braising works really well for tough cuts of beef such as stew meat, chuck roast, game meats, or pot roast.

When you braise, you break down the collagen in the meat and the fat melts through it, making it more tender and flavorful. While many people think braises are stringy, they don’t have to be. Coq au Vin is a braise, as is Osso Bucco, and Boeuf Bourguignon. If you use enough moisture and select the right cut of meat, your braise will be fork tender and not at all stringy.

Here’s what I really like about braising:  it allows you to develop flavors, and if you know how to do it you can create any number of dishes simply and easily.

Ready to create a braise? The steps are simple.

  1. Select your meat. Don’t use an expensive, naturally tender cut like a rib-eye or filet mignon. This method does not work well for those meats. Instead, choose something that is less tender and, frankly, cheaper. I like chuck roast, bottom round, and brisket. You can choose similar cuts of pork, as well.
  2. Select your aromatics and herbs. What flavors would you like in your braise? I recommend starting out with a basic mirepoix – a dice of one carrot, one celery stalk and one half onion. To that you can add just about any herb. Some of my favorites with beef are garlic, thyme, rosemary or tarragon.
  3. Select any vegetables you might like. Beyond the basic mirepoix, would you like carrot chunks, parsnips, tomatoes, mushrooms, or others? Root vegetables work well in braises.
  4. Select your braising liquid. I usually use about half chicken stock and half wine or beer. Other add ins to braising liquid may include citrus or other juices (I once braised a pork roast in pomegranate and orange juices with chicken stock and some cayenne. It was fantastic!), or a hard liquor such as whiskey or rum (use sparingly.) You can also use something acidic, such as vinegar, but balance it with stock.

Once you have your basic flavors, make your braise.

  1. Season your meat with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large pot, use some kind of fat (I’m a fan of cooking a little bacon to toss into the braise for flavor and searing the meat in the bacon fat) to sear the meat on all sides. Leave the meat in contact with the pan to caramelize it for several minutes on each side before moving it.
  3. Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside.
  4. Using the same oil, add your aromatics (except garlic). Allow them contact with the hot pan for several minutes without stirring in order to caramelize and add more flavor. Stir and brown aromatics. If you are adding garlic, toss it in for the last 30 seconds in this step, just until it releases its scent.
  5. For more flavor, add a tablespoon of tomato paste if you want and allow it to brown with the aromatics. This will deepen the flavor without giving it a tomato taste.
  6. Leave the aromatics in the pot and add a few tablespoons of flour. The flour will thicken your final product. Stir the flour with the oil until it is a tan color. This will remove the raw flour flavor and add an additional depth to your dish.
  7. Add your alcoholic beverage (or vinegar) to the pot, using your wooden spoon to scrape up all of the brown bits (called fond) on the bottom of the pot.
  8. Add the stock and stir to combine. Total liquid should go about half way up a roast.
  9. Return the meat to the pot and add any vegetables and herbs.
  10. Bring the pan to a simmer, and cover tightly.
  11. Either leave the tightly covered pot on the stovetop over low heat or in a 300-350 oven. Braising time will vary depending on the cut of meat you are cooking. For chicken, it may take just an hour. For small cuts of beef chopped up, it takes around two to 2-1/2 hours. For a full roast, it may take as long as six hours. Look at a recipe for something similar to your braise to estimate a cooking time and temperature.
  12. When the meat is cooked, remove the lid and turn up flame on the stove. Remove the meat and simmer liquids to reduce. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
  13. Serve with a starchy side covered in your braising liquids. Good sides include rice, polenta, mashed potatoes, spätzle, and herbed egg noodles.

Easy, right? Here are a few combination suggestions.

  • Beef short ribs and bacon with red onions and thyme, braised in Guinness Stout and chicken stock. Serve with smashed red potatoes.
  • Chunks of beef roast with bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions, braised in red wine and chicken stock. I like thyme to season this one. Serve with egg noodles or spätzle.
  • Whole chicken pieces with bacon and pearl onions, braised in white wine and chicken stock with tarragon. Serve with rice or egg noodles.
  • Pot roast and root vegetables seasoned with rosemary and garlic, and braised in beef stock and red wine.
  • Veal shanks braised with mirepoix, sliced carrots, garlic, and chopped tomatoes in white wine, juice of an orange, and chicken stock (osso bucco). Season after cooking by stirring in a chopped combination of parsley, garlic, and lemon/orange zest  (gremolata). Serve with egg noodles.

Tips for Better Pie Crust

crustI believe the reason so many avoid baking pies is this: pie crust can be a pain in the behind. It’s hard to make it pretty and flaky – and sometimes the two seem mutually exclusive. In fact, if I have to opt for one of the other, I’m always going with flaky over pretty. I’d rather have an ugly pie that tastes good than one that looks gorgeous but has a crust like shoe leather.

The reason these two goals often seem mutually exclusive is this: the more you work with pie crust dough, the tougher it gets. Working the dough binds the glutens, resulting in a tougher pastry. Most pastries are the exact opposite of breads. With bread, you want to work the dough as much as possible to toughen up the gluten and bind it together. That’s why you knead bread dough. With pies, you want to create little bits of fat within loosely bound flour. That way, when the fat melts during the baking process, it leaves air pockets that produce flakes.

You can really use any pie dough recipe – I use Cook’s Illustrated’s recipes. What is important is that you follow a few procedures to make the dough just as flaky as possible.

  1. Handle the dough minimally. Roll it only once. Don’t re-roll it, or you will toughen it up. Likewise, only stir enough to bring the dough together. To do this, I combine butter and dry ingredients in the food processor, pulsing a few times to create a sandy mixture. Then, I pour that mixture in a small bowl and sprinkle water over the top – just enough to bring the mixture together. I lightly mix it with a rubber spatula until it forms a loose, shaggy ball, adding more water only if I need it. Your dough should not appear homogenous – just together.
  2. Use very cold butter, and cut it into 1/2″ cubes. The colder the butter, the better because this allows it to stay in small clumps within the dough that will melt away and leave flakes.
  3. Use ice water. This keeps the butter from melting before you bake the pie.
  4. Before you roll the dough, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it for about 30 minutes. If you are making a two crust pie, wrap two balls separately. This facilitates ease of rolling. When you remove it from the refrigerator, let it sit for a few minutes to soften slightly.
  5. Roll the dough out on a very well-floured surface and use a well-floured rolling pin. I use either a Silpat or my Corian countertops, which I meticulously dry before rolling out the dough. I am also a fan of the French style rolling pin because I feel it gives me more control as I roll out my pie crust.
  6. If your crust breaks apart, rather than re-rolling it, patch it together. In my opinion, better an ugly pie than a tough one! You can always “fix” your ugliness by cutting decorations out of the remaining crust and putting it over the ugliest spots. I do it all the time.
  7. Don’t forget to cut slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.
  8. Re-refrigerate your crust for about 30 min before baking.

Looking for an even more foolproof crust? Try Cook’s Illustrated’s crust that uses vodka for an even flakier pastry!

How to Tweak Recipes

veggiesI’m not so much of a recipe follower. It’s not that I don’t own and read cookbooks. I do. I buy them, read them cover to cover, and occasionally pull them out to consult as I attempt to make some food that is similar to but not the same as something I read about at one point. It makes it difficult, because when people ask me for a recipe for something I’ve made, I kind of don’t have one. Still, I’ve become so adept at eyeballing things and knowing about how much I added over the years that I can close my eyes, watch myself make whatever it is I cooked, and create a recipe from that.

Still, it all starts with a recipe; something I see, taste, or read about somewhere and decide, “Y’know, I’d really like to take a crack at that!”

I’ve grown this ability to develop flavors over years of practice, and from reading cookbooks like novels. I store it all in my mind until one day I realize I’ve got a hankering to make something I’ve never tried before. After that, it may take a few more times before I come up with techniques and ingredients that really make it pop, and then the “recipe” becomes part of my repertoire, although it’s never quiet exactly the same way twice because I never can resist tweaking.

Even as a kid I was a recipe tweaker. I followed them a lot more closely back then, just switching out a spice here or extract there to give them my own spin. Things usually tasted pretty darn good, so as I got older, I also got bolder.

That’s not to say that everything I make is a resounding success. There have been a few times when we’ve all taken a bite of something, looked at one another in silent agreement, and headed for the car to grab a bite to eat. I know it’s a total flop when I get home and the dogs didn’t even try to get on the table to eat the dregs. Those times have become rarer, though, as I’ve grown more adept at building flavors and creating things.

Want to tweak recipes yourself but lack the courage? Here are some tips.

  • Get some great cookbooks. I am a huge fan of all of Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks (I own several), because they not only provide recipes, but they walk you through the process of making the foods, explaining why one flavor is better than another or providing flavor-building techniques. For me, the meat of the books is in the explanations about the recipes, not the recipes themselves. They really are among the best cooking instruction books I have ever seen.
  • Don’t believe what you see on TV. Television shows don’t have enough time to really teach you how to cook. Instead of watching for recipes, watch for tips and techniques you can adapt to your own cooking.
  • When you’re baking, follow the recipe. Baking is a little different than other types of cooking, because it relies on specific chemical and physical processes. If you do try to adapt a baking recipe, just change a single ingredient at a time so you can see exactly what happens.
  • More is not always better, but sometimes it is. It depends on what you are cooking, but sometimes adding additional spices really jazzes something up. If you want the flavor of the base food to stand out however, then use a light hand with herbs and spices.
  • Learn some basic techniques that you can use to build dishes. For example, learn to make a roux, which serves as a great thickener and flavor builder for many sauces, stews, soups, and gravies.
  • It needs salt. No, really, it does. It may not need much, but salt enhances flavor, and brings things alive. When cooking meats, I season the proteins before cooking. When making soups, stews, sauces, etc., I taste for seasoning at the end.
  • Use unsalted butter. Seems contrary to what I said above, but you want to be able to control the saltiness. When you’re using salted butter, you can’t.
  • When in doubt, return to the classics. The basic flavor base of all French savory cooking is the mirepoix, a dice of two parts onion to one parts carrot and celery. You can use this as your flavor base, and then add other vegetables or herbs.
  • Explore classic flavor pairings and see how you can utilize them in your cooking.
  • Add a little wine or beer. These can add tremendous flavors to foods. Add them early in the process so they cook off most of their alcohol flavoring.
  • Try a new herb. Ever had saffron? A few threads can do wonders for rice and other dishes. Ever tried tarragon? It’s one of my favorites!
  • Switch out grains. Occasionally, when I make risotto I switch orzo for the aborio rice. I cook it the same way, and the result is different than a traditional risotto but still really good.
  • Switch the protein. Got a recipe for boeuf bourguignon but what you really want is coq au vin? Change your protein to chicken, and you’ll come pretty darn close, I promise.
  • Bacon makes it better. It adds startling complexity and a lovely smokiness to many dishes. Saute the bacon, add your mirepoix, and then toss in any other ingredients.
  • Take a class. Its surprising how much you can learn from cooking by taking a class. With a few basic techniques, you’ll be a cooking superstar.
  • Share tips with your friends. What a great way to gather – invite friends over and share your favorite dishes, demonstrating so everyone learns how.
  • Learn the best way to cook various proteins. That way, when you have a cut of meat you know whether it will best benefit from braising, sauteing, grilling, or some other cooking method.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new techniques. Never poached an egg? Put a little red wine in a pan and give it a whirl.
  • If you’re flying solo, don’t be afraid to consult a cookbook for cooking time, temperature or some other piece of information.

Tips for Building Flavor in Soups and Stews

soupAs we move towards fall, it’s the perfect time to incorporate soups and stews into your rotation. Many delicious seasonal vegetables are available throughout the fall that you can toss into a hearty soup or braise.

One of the things I really like about soups and stews is they are never the same twice. In fact, you can use pretty much whatever you have on hand to create something unique and flavorful. I don’t really follow recipes to create soups and stews, but I do utilize certain techniques to layer flavors and bring out the best in my ingredients.

Techniques – Soup & Stews

Creating soups and stews is pretty easy. In this case, a stew is merely a thickened soup with bigger chunks of vegetables and heartier chunks of meat. Here are some basic techniques.

  • Start by sauteing your protein in a little bit of olive oil using the pot in which you will be cooking your soup or stew. Season the protein with salt and black pepper, and then place in preheated olive oil. You can use chicken, beef, turkey, Italian sausage, bacon, pancetta, hamburger, or other meats you might enjoy in a soup. Remove the protein from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Build your flavor base with aromatic vegetables. I almost always use mirepoix, which is merely a dice of two parts onion to one part carrots and celery.
  • Saute the mirepoix. If you are going to add garlic, do so in the last 30 seconds to a minute before you begin adding other ingredients.
  • If you are making a stew or braise, add about 1/4 cup of flour to the vegetables and oil. Stir for a few moments to remove the raw flour flavor.
  • Add liquid. I prefer adding chicken, vegetable, or beef stock. In stews, I add about a cup of wine before adding the stock, and I stir to thicken it. Then I add the stock. You can make your own stock or purchase store bought; however, if you are using beef stock I recommend making your own. If I do use store-bought stock, I prefer aseptic packaging.
  • Add meat back into the pot, along with any vegetables you’d like to include such as mushrooms, squash, potato chunks, beans, peas, zucchini, etc. Sometimes I also add canned tomatoes or canned kidney beans.
  • Add herbs like thyme, parsley, or sage and a little cracked pepper. For some heat, add a dash of cayenne or red pepper flakes. A little goes a long way.
  • Simmer until vegetables are tender and meat is completely cooked.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Tips for Building Flavor

  • Fresh and seasonal ingredients taste better than canned, boxed, or jarred. Whenever possible, build your meals around fresh ingredients that are in season where you live.
  • Purchase the best ingredients you can afford.
  • Opt for fresh garlic and onions rather than dried or powdered.
  • When you cook garlic, it is done as soon as it becomes fragrant. Overcooking or using too high of heat can make it bitter.
  • Dried herbs tend to be more potent than fresh herbs, but both impart great flavor.
  • A little bit of salt brings out flavors. Don’t skip it.
  • Other than seasoning your protein before you cook it, don’t season until the end of cooking. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
  • As you saute your meat, when you first place it in the pan, leave it in contact with the pan for several minutes before you move it in order to develop flavorful caramelization. Once the protein browns (after about 4-5 minutes), turn it and do the same thing.
  • Avoid overcrowding the pan with meat, because it will prevent caramelization.
  • Do the same thing with your mirepoix. Leave it in contact with the pan for 3-4 minutes to develop caramelization before you stir the vegetables.
  • Add even more flavor by adding a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to the cooked vegetables and allowing to saute for 4-5 minutes. This develops a deep, rich, brown flavor.
  • When you add the flour to the oil and vegetables, allow it to get a little bit of color. A slight golden color to your roux (the combination of flour and oil) will add tons of flavor.
  • When you first add your liquid, use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, which has huge flavor payoff. This is called deglazing.
  • If you are making an Italian soup or stew, simmer a little Parmesan rind in with the soup and remove before serving.
  • Tips for Making Your Own Stock
  • Making stock is not difficult. Simmer protein (such as chicken), herbs and vegetables in water for a long period in order to extract as much flavor as possible. Remove solids. Some tips:
  • When I chop and peel veggies, I place the trimmings in a ziploc bag and toss it in the freezer. Then I use those trimmings to make the stock.
  • Since I am going to be removing all solids anyway, I don’t really chop my vegetables. Instead, I cut onions in quarters, cut carrots in half, and toss celery in whole. I also add whole fresh herbs and peppercorns. For your flavor base, make sure you use two parts onion to one part each celery and carrot. Whatever else you toss in there is up to you.
  • For seafood stock, you can add things like shrimp shells, which have a lot of flavor and will be filtered out anyway.
  • Since you’re pulling the flavor out of the meat and into the stock, it’s best not to reuse any meat after you pull it out of stock. It’s pretty flavorless. Because of this, you can buy meat you wouldn’t normally put in a finished dish – like chicken necks or beef bones.
  • I simmer my stock for 2-3 hours. It’s not the classical 8-hour way of cooking it, but for homemade soup, it’s fine.
  • You may have heard that you need to never boil stock and constantly skim it. This is pretty time consuming. For most soups and stews, you can skip this and just pour the finished product through some cheesecloth to remove the worst impurities.
  • Avoid salting stock if it is going into something else. Instead, make it without salt and then season your final dish.
  • For an even more flavorful stock, roast your bones and meat first.

Zucchini Abundance

blossomI’m starting to think my CSA is getting lazy. Every week for the last month, the box has been chock full of zucchini – and some other stuff. Zucchini seems to be every gardener’s pride. It’s also their nightmare. The stuff multiplies in ways you can barely believe whenever you grow it. I’ve always wondered why, when so many people give tons of zucchini away to their neighbors every year, they continue to grow so much of it.

Still, to me, zucchini symbolizes abundance and sharing.

No one ever says, “Nope, I am not going to share my zucchini with anyone else because then I might not have enough.”

At least, I’ve never heard anyone say such a thing. It’s because when we give zucchini away, we always know that there will be more. It comes in such abundance that we freely share, sometimes with complete strangers.

Imagine how the world would be if we were that certain in the ongoing abundance of our other resources. What if we could trustingly share with others, knowing for sure our own needs would be covered, as well. Would we then need to hoard wealth? If zucchini were currency, then there would no longer be haves and have nots. What a wonderful world that would be.

Zucchini Tips

What on earth can you do with all of that zucchini? Once you’ve shared as much as you can with friends and neighbors to the point that they hide behind closed curtains with lights off when they see you coming, most people are still stuck with more zucchini than they could possibly eat before it  goes bad.

  • Grate the zucchini and store it in one cup measurements in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. Use it throughout the year for zucchini bread, and to add to sauces, soups, and stews.
  • Zucchini is a terrific stealth vegetable. When you grate it and mix it into the foods you cook, your kids get fresh vegetables without even knowing they have them.
  • Make an Italian soup. I like to combine browned Italian sausage, chopped onions and garlic, canned tomatoes, chicken broth, zucchini and carrot chunks, and kidney beans for a quick and delicious soup. Add chopped herbs such as oregano, as well as a little salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. For a little extra zip, toss in a few dried red pepper flakes. Serve it with a grating of hard Italian cheese and some crusty bread for a full meal.
  • Low carbers can turn fresh grated zucchini into mock hash browns in lieu of potatoes. Grate and fry in olive oil or butter to brown, and then sprinkle on a little sea salt.

Zucchini Blossoms
Many people don’t realize that zucchini blossoms are edible. The plants grow with male and female flowers. The female flowers turn into zucchini, and the male blossoms pollinate them. Leave the blossoms with the thick stems, and instead choose only the thin-stemmed flowers, leaving a few behind to pollinate the plant. If you’d like to reduce your zucchini yield, you can also harvest the female blossoms. Harvest just after the blossoms have opened. Remove the pistils and gently clean the blossoms using a soft dry brush or damp paper towel. Use the delicate flowers the same day you pick them. You can stuff them with ricotta or soft goat cheese and herbs, batter them a mixture of equal parts flour and sparkling water with a little salt for flavor, and deep fry them. They impart a delicate flavor that is out of this world. Serve this light treat with a fizzy white, such as an Italian Muscato d’Asti or Prosecco.