Monday, January 31, 2011

THE WORLD'S HEALTHIEST FOOD


A very close and beloved friend who is a biophysicist, always reminds me and is very insistent that I take a folic acid supplement daily. I've known about the importance of taking folic acid while pregnant, and of its importance in DNA synthesis. Recently, I pulled some books off the shelf, I visited some Internet sites, and I did my own "in depth" study of folic acid.




An article in the New York Times referred to folic acid (and other micronutrients) as "the world's healthiest food." Since this is a food blog, I decided to post something about this healthy food, and to include the article from the Times here.



So I kindly ask you to remember to take folic acid daily, and to also take micronutrient (multivitamin) supplements. Micronutrients are a range of crucial vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, the B vitamins (which include folic acid), iodine, iron, zinc and calcium.




January 3, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras

So what’s the most scrumptious, wholesome, exquisite, healthful, gratifying food in the world?It’s not ambrosia, and it’s not even pepperoni pizza. Hint: It’s far cheaper. A year’s supply costs less than the cheapest hamburger.
Give up? Here’s another hint: It’s lifesaving for children and for women who may become pregnant. If you know of a woman who may become pregnant, make sure she gets this miracle substance.
A final hint: It was a lack of this substance that led to a tragedy that I encountered the other day at a hospital here in the Honduran capital. Three babies lay in cots next to one another with birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
In the first cot was Rosa Álvarez, 18 days old and recovering from surgery to repair a hole in her spine. She also suffers from a brain deformity.
In the next cot was Ángel Flores, soft tissue protruding from his back.
Closest to the door was José Tercera. His mother unwrapped a bandage on his head, and I saw a golf-ball-size chunk of his brain spilling out a hole in his forehead.
The doctors believe the reason for these deformities, called neural tube defects, was that their mothers did not have enough micronutrients
(click here to go to: United Call to Action on Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies /World’s best investment for development), particularly folic acid, while pregnant. These micronutrients are the miracle substance I’m talking about, and there’s scarcely a form of foreign aid more cost-effective than getting them into the food supply.
“It’s unnecessary to have these kinds of problems,” Dr. Ali Flores, a pediatrician and expert on these defects, said as he looked over the three babies.
If a pregnant woman does not have enough folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) in her body at the very beginning of her pregnancy, then her fetus may suffer these neural tube defects. That’s why doctors give folic acid to women who plan to become pregnant.
Equally important is another micronutrient, iodine. The worst consequence of iodine deficiency isn’t goiters, but malformation of fetuses’ brains, so they have 10 to 15 points permanently shaved off their I.Q.’s.
Then there’s zinc, which reduces child deaths from diarrhea and infections. There’s iron, lack of which causes widespread anemia. And there’s vitamin A: some 670,000 children die each year because they don’t get enough vitamin A, and lack of the vitamin remains the world’s leading cause of childhood blindness.
“In the early stages of life, the die is cast,” said David Dodson, the founder of
Project Healthy Children, an aid group that fights micronutrient deficiencies in Honduras and other poor countries. “If a child is not getting the right micronutrients, the effect is permanent.”
Nine years ago, Mr. Dodson was simply an American businessman running a 300-employee waste company that he had founded. Then he happened to visit Honduras and, in a hospital, encountered a mother whose newborn baby had a hole in the skull. He learned that negligible amounts of folic acid would prevent such heartbreaking defects — and his life was transformed.
“I had never seen anything in my life that could have so much impact for so little money and be sustainable,” Mr. Dodson said. He and his wife, Stephanie, sold their company and used some of the proceeds to start Project Healthy Children.
The most cost-effective way to distribute micronutrients isn’t to hand them out. Mary Flores, a former Honduran first lady who is active in nutrition, notes that impoverished women can be hard to reach, and even if they are given folic acid pills they sometimes won’t take them for fear that they actually are birth control pills. So micronutrients instead are often added to such common foods as salt, sugar, flour or cooking oil.
Adding iodine, iron, vitamin A, zinc and various B-complex vitamins including folic acid to a range of foods costs about 30 cents per person reached per year. Groups focusing on micronutrients also include
Helen Keller International and Vitamin Angels.In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has required that flour be fortified with folic acid since 1998. Even in America, with better diets, medical care and widespread fortification, not all women get enough micronutrients, but the problem is far worse in poor countries.
Mr. Dodson notes that it is much cheaper to prevent birth defects than to treat them.
“It’s not a sexy world health issue, but it’s about the nuts and bolts of putting together a healthy population,” Mr. Dodson said. “Putting small amounts of iron, iodine and folic acid in the food supply hasn’t drawn attention the way it does when you treat someone who is sick or in a refugee camp. Until recently, this has been off everybody’s radar screen.”
As the United States reorganizes its chaotic aid program, it might try promoting what just may be the world’s most luscious food: micronutrients.
Folic acid food sources:

World's Healthiest Food
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF


Here is another helpful article: http://www.womentribe.com/health/folic-acid-information-benefits.html

(All the pictures in this post have been "borrowed" from the Internet.  I did a Google image search on folic acid, and there they were, just begging to be borrowed).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TURKEY CHILI WITH BEANS

My goodness, the chili is cooked and waiting in the refrigerator for tomorrow's dinner. I can't wait, I really can't wait! Come on tomorrow, get here quickly. Right before dinner I'll cook some rice and then, while everyone is waiting to eat I will take pictures.  They just love me when I do that!  Of course one cannot hurry art.  Taking the pictures will probably take a while...  Then I'll ladle the chili into bowls and surround it with rice. I'll have a few garnishes handy: Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, just a few thinly sliced green onions, and some chopped parsley. These are garnishes that cool down the palette when one is eating spicy foods.  Not that this chili is really spicy by any means.


We don't like overly spicy foods. While I was sauteing the peppers, my mother (84 years old),  was playing solitaire at the kitchen table. All of a sudden she abandoned her cards and exited the room.  What's wrong mums? I called out. No answer.  Just coughing.  I realized steam from cooking the spicy peppers was bothering her.  What a sensitive mother I have. The peppers loose some of their potency once they cook down, so mums can eat the chili without problems.  For the meat, ground turkey works just fine.  It's healthier and lighter than beef.  

This is the ground turkey I  usually buy.
The recipe is delicious as is, but more "heat" can be added to suit different tastes. Also, it can be made a day ahead and it will taste better the next day. 


Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 of the long hot peppers shown in the picture below, whatever their name is.  Chopped, seeds discarded.
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • chili powder as much or a little as you like
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth


For the garnish:

Greek yogurt
Chopped green onions
Chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

  • Heat the oil in large pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onions, garlic and chopped hot peppers. Sauté until the onions begin to soften, about 7 minutes.

  • Add the turkey and sauté until it's brown, breaking it up with the back of a spoon.
  • Add the chili powder, cumin, paprika and oregano.
  • Break up the tomatoes in pieces, then mix them up with the meat.
  • Add the parsley, kidney beans and broth.

  • Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chili thickens and the flavors blend, about 45 minutes.
  • The chili can be made one day ahead, and kept refrigerated for the next day's dinner.

  • Ladle the chili into bowls, surrounded with rice if you like. Garnish and serve.
......It was warming and delicious!

Monday, January 24, 2011

ARTICHOKE - PARMESAN CROSTINI (with some crab meat in it too)


These crostini would make nice appetizers or even a delicious first course. The recipe is based on one from Martha Stewart.com.  I made some changes to the original recipe. First, I added some paprika and some extra parsley just to give added color to the topping, because let's face it, cooked artichoke looks rather drab. Then I mixed in a little crab meat because I had some left over and I thought it would make a nice addition. It did!!!  Last, I did not use a baguette as was called for. I had on hand a nice loaf of garlic and rosemary bread, really flavorful, and perfect for crostini. The results were excellent.  We enjoyed these crostini and I will be making them again! 

Ingredients:

8 slices (1/4 inch thick) of nice, flavorful bread
olive oil
ground pepper
paprika
6 oz marinated artichoke hearts, drained, and patted dry
2 tablespoons crab meat
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (save a little to use as a garnish)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions :

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Brush the bread slices on both sides with olive oil and season them with black pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. You'll need to turn them over once during baking. Once they are done, set them aside to cool.
  • Meanwhile, make the topping. Chop the artichokes finely, and place them in a bowl. Add the Parmesan cheese, the parsley, the paprika, the crab meat, and enough olive oil to make the mixture delicious (but don't use too much olive oil).
  • Dividing evenly, spoon the topping onto the crostini, and garnish with additional Parmesan, if desired. Put the assembled crostini back in the oven for about 2 minutes, just to warm the topping and to give the cheese a chance to melt slightly.
That's it! These little guys were easy to make and very easy to eat!

Friday, January 14, 2011

JACQUES PEPIN'S THIRTY MINUTE CASSOULET


It’s January 2011, and our Daring Cook’s challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman. Also chosen are a vegetarian cassoulet,
and a quick cassoulet, “a cassoulet in 30 minutes,” by chef Jaques Pepin. The Bourdain-Ruhlman cassoulet is a very fatty one, and one that takes a looong time to make. Here is my opinion, and that is my opinion only: the ladies did their research and went to a great deal of trouble to present us with this challenge, but… Sorry folks! I do like to cook, but I draw the line when it comes to making something that takes three days to prepare. Something that includes the rind of almost a whole pig. Something that is cooked in solid fat. Something that is recommended by Anthony Bourdain, one of the most obnoxious, odious, rude and crude cooking personalities around. A vulgar ex junkie who presently is sullying the luster of the wonderful “Top Chef” by being an occasional judge on the show.

Duck fat and pork rind were used in kitchens of centuries past. Caloric intake during those times was high, but people tended to burn it faster than we do, because they were highly mobile and engaged in exhaustive labor. They also slaughtered their own food and were careful to put to use all parts of the animal they slaughtered. Today’s modern lifestyle is much more different and much more sedentary. Today we are also aware of the health risks associated when eating foods high in fat content. Duck fat? Pork rind??? Give me a break Bourdain. There is just no need to cook like that anymore. Old recipes can and should be adapted to suit today’s life style. I make a lamb cassoulet without pork skin or extra fat, and I also make a vegetarian one, very similar to the one chosen for this challenge. There are few things more warming on a winter’s day than a vegetarian cassoulet. This coming from someone who definitely is no vegetarian.

I chose to make the “30 minute cassoulet” of Jaques Pépin, gentleman chef extraordinaire. The recipe called for wonderful olive oil, no animal fat. It also called for two tablespoons of garlic. I used olive oil from my garlic confit (recipe by chef Michael Psilakis from his book “How to Roast a Lamb”), and for the garlic I used pureed garlic from the confit. Easy and delicious. I made it in a leisurely kind of way, so it took about 50 minutes to prepare. Convenient, tasty and healthier. Thank you chef Pépin, and thank you Lisa and Jenni for offering this recipe as part of the challenge.
Thirty-Minute Cassoulet, adapted from Jacques Pépin, Fast Food My Way
Ingredients:


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound rolled shoulder ham (also called a daisy ham or Boston Butt), tough outer skin removed, cut in four
3/4 pound Italian sausages, cut into 3-inch pieces
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 cup diced whole button mushrooms
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 (15½ ounces each) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 1 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley


Directions:

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the ham, chicken and Italian sausage.
  • Cover and cook over high heat for 10 minutes, turning occasionally.

  • Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Mix well and cook for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the beans, tomato, water, and pepper, bring back to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and boil gently for 5 to 10 minutes.

  • At serving time, discard the bay leaf, cut the ham into slices and the sausage pieces in half, and arrange the meat on a platter with the beans.
  • Sprinkle the parsley on top.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

CATHY'S DELICIOUS YELLOW SPLIT PEA SOUP


My New Year's holiday was spent at the home of my dear friend Cathy. We all had a great time ushering in 2011! Cathy lives on the grounds of what used to be a farm, in an area of Pennsylvania that is semi-rural. It was wonderful to get away from the city for a little while. I went for walks on the nature path near Cathy's home, where I enjoyed breathing in the cold, crisp, clear air. I enjoyed too all the natural, icy, winter loveliness: looking at the sinuous denuded tree branches, poking the frozen earth with my walking stick, staring at the empty gazebo by the side of a pond. Inside the house we did the usual holiday things: cook, eat, drink, talk, laugh. Cathy had planned to teach me how to make her split pea soup. For many years now, I have raved about it. The broth is is to die for. It's seasoned with a ham bone which gives it a wonderful smoky flavor and it's full of delicious root vegetables. As if that is not enough, the soup is topped off with dumplings, which are one of my favorite things to eat. So, on New Year's Day, after the rose parade was over and with wine glass in hand, we sauntered over to the stove, Cathy the chef, I the sous-chef, and we started to cook some soup. Here's how to make Cathy's delicious yellow split pea soup:

Ingredients:

  1. 1& 3/4 cup dried yellow split peas (if you want a thicker soup use 2 cups)
  2. 1 medium onion, sliced into thin rings
  3. freshly ground black pepper
  4. a ham bone with a nice amount of meat left on
  5. 1 nice size turnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  6. 3 or 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  7. 3 potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1 inch pieces
  8. optional: some vegetable broth

For the dumplings:

  1. 1 cup flour
  2. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  3. 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  4. about 1/4 cup of water
This will make about 6 dumplings, but for more, just double the recipe.

Directions:

The best time to make this soup is when you have a ham bone left over after having cooked a baked ham. You will need a ham bone with a substantial amount of meat still attached to it so that you can have lots of chunks of ham in the soup. In the picture below you can see the ham bone we used.


Go ahead and place the ham bone in a large stock pot, add the onion slices, throw in the yellow peas, then pour enough water in the pot to cover the ham. If you have some vegetable broth you can use that as a substitute for all or part of the water. Season with the black pepper, cover the pot and place it on the stove over medium high heat. Allow the water to come to a boil. You may want to skim off the froth that develops as the water is boiling. (Rapid boiling and the starch created from the breakdown of the peas is the reason for the appearance of froth. The froth is mostly water bubbles that have become heavy from starch and gelatin and don't break up as they usually do). Once the water comes to the boil go ahead and turn the heat down, then simmer your ingredients for two hours.
While the soup is simmering give the ingredients a stir every fifteen minutes or so. In the picture above you see how the liquid begins to thicken from the breakdown of the onions and peas. Once the two hours are up, remove the bone from the pot and place it on a plate. Carefully, so that you don't burn yourself, remove the meat from the bone. Throw the meat back into the pot and discard the bone.

I took off the meat from the bone and then I was fascinated to look at the broken up tendons and the spongy part of the joint. Those holes must be where the blood vessels where situated. The ridges on the bone were created by the machine that gave the ham its spiral cut. I felt bad for the piggy, I really did. I am a horrible carnivore.
Add the turnips and cook for 15 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for another 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes more. While the vegetables are cooking you will want to make the dumplings: Mix the flour with the baking powder and add the butter. With a fork break up the butter while incorporating it into the flour. Add water, about a tablespoon at a time, and keep mixing with the fork until you have a batter that is soft and moist.




With the aid of a tablespoon drop the batter into the pot as shown in the picture above. Allow the dumplings to cook until they are nice and plump, about 10 minutes.

Dumplings nice and plump!
That is it! The soup is done. Ladle it into bowls and serve it immediately. It tastes best if eaten right away. It has an absolutely FANTASTIC flavor. If you can't eat the soup right away, remove the dumplings from the broth and store them covered. When ready to eat, place them back in the soup and warm while stirring.
Here's an empty soup bowl looking rather sad. Better fill it up. Oh, that interminable waiting!
The finished soup, warm and delicious!

Someone who shall remain nameless, made sure both dogs, Linus and Kelly, had their portion of soup!
January 2 and time to go. Sad to be leaving but looking forward to going home. Below is a picture of Linus, my sweet bichon frise waiting to go home. We had packed our things, including the two dog beds, on top of which Linus decided to climb. I guess he was trying to say: "please don't forget these, they are way too comfortable!" You're the man Linus!

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2011, ONE AND ALL!!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

PARIS MUSHROOM SOUP?


"Paris" Mushroom soup with its garnish of parsley, scallions, sliced mushrooms and a tablespoon of light cream.


Can you make "Paris Mushroom Soup" in Philadelphia? I mean are the mushrooms that are grown right here in the southwestern suburbs of Philadelphia good enough to stand up to the mushrooms available in Paris? This week "French Fridays with Dorie," asks us to cook a soup avec champignons de Paris, a simple soup made with button mushrooms and broth, rosemary and some wine thrown in for flavor.


It's ordinary fare (delicious too), and versions of it can be found in the cooking repertoire of mushroom lovers everywhere. However, can this simple soup transcend the realm of ordinary to allow one’s taste buds to experience an extraordinary slurping satisfaction? Just so it can be worthy of the praise heaped upon it by Dorie Greenspan? Mais oui! How? Dash over to Paris and then find a cozy table in a cozy bistro. The interplay between Paris and any nutritional substance creates an ambiance that is special. Let’s set the mood: A quaint bistro, mushroom soup ladled in your bowl, some wine (a dry white from Alsace if you must know), accordion music playing in the background, everyone is wearing berets, and everyone is in love. In that atmosphere everything tastes great. A simple mushroom soup becomes a Parisian delight. I think that's what Dorie is trying to tell us as she praises her recipe for mushroom soup a la Paris: if it's made in the French capital it's just that much better. She may be right.
I myself will be making the soup in my Pennsylvania kitchen, with mushrooms that come from nearby Kennett Square. Mushroom farming is a big business there, as it is in most of the surrounding areas.

As a matter of fact, Kennett Square is known as the mushroom capital of the world. With that type of mushroom power to back me up, I believe that my “Kennett Square mushroom soup,” will rival any mushroom soup that can be had in Paris.
To make the soup we saute some onions and garlic in a bit of butter, add the mushrooms with just a bit more butter, let them release their liquid and then allow it to evaporate, add some wine, reduce it, add some broth, add some rosemary, thyme and parsley, and then simmer for about 20 minutes.


The mushroom soup half way through being pureed with an immersion blender. Eventually I thinned it out it by adding some more broth.

Puree until smooth and serve garnished with sliced mushrooms, scallions, parsley and chives. That’s it, and that’s extremely delicious, Pennsylvania style.


I added a tablespoon of light cream to the garnish to get some extra flavor.