Monday, January 27, 2014

Blackberries Three Ways

Blackberries are more available than they used to be but if you don’t see fresh ones that look good, you can make these recipes with frozen blackberries.

Blackberries are great on their own.  We love them with a touch of cream on top for a really simple, pure dessert.  But did you know that blackberries (and berries) can add a sweet-tart element to roasted chicken or pork? Think of a plum sauce but even more colorful.  In fact, if you have a child who loves blue and purple food, this is one to try that uses actual food rather than food dyes.

We also seen berries in all types in bottled salad dressings and there is no reason why they cannot be made from scratch.  You will know exactly what is in every pure ounce.  And blackberies can star in really old-fashioned desserts like the one below adapted from Scotland's famous oat-stippled creamy classic, Cranachan.

Blackberries pack in the vitamin C,K plus folate and manganese.  They are also proportionately high in fiber. 

Strain the seeds or leave in for  extra fiber.
Blackberry-Glazed Chicken Thighs
Serves 2-4

4 boneless chicken thighs (skin-on or skinless)
½ cup blackberries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey

    1.    Place chicken thighs in a resealable bag.
    2.    Mix together blackberries, balsamic vinegar, one teaspoon of the honey and lemon juice.  Pulse mixture in a small food processor or crush berries using the back of a fork to release the juice. 
    3.    Place half the mixture in the bag and add olive oil. Marinate chicken for at least one hour (or up to 5 hours).  Add the two teaspoons honey to the remaining berry mixture and refrigerate.
    4.    Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Place a rack on a roasting pan that will fit all four chicken thighs.
    5.    Remove chicken from marinade and discard used marinade.  Let remaining blackberry glaze come to room temperature while chicken cooks.
    6.    Roast chicken at 425˚F for 20-25 minutes until thighs reach an internal temperature of 165˚F.  (If you are using bone-in thighs, you may need to cook them a little longer depending on their size.)
    7.    Remove chicken and brush cooked chicken with reserved blackberry glaze.  Allow chicken to rest five minutes before serving.
    8.    Serve with extra blackberry glaze and cracked black pepper.

Cranachan is a Scottish dessert made with double cream flavored with toasted oatmeal, whisky and raspberries.   It is hard to replicate stateside—whipped heavy cream is as close to double cream most people can get here and pinhead oats are not in everyone’s pantry either.

Click on photo for a close-up
This version uses either rolled oats or pinhead and substitutes bourbon for Scottish malt whisky.  To bring it further over the Atlantic we mix in blackberries macerated in maple syrup instead of raspberries in honey.  To give the whipped cream some rustic heft, a little plain yogurt is added in after whipping.  Finally, for a non-alcoholic version, apple cider replaces the wee dram of whisky or bourbon.

American Cranachan
Yield 4 servings

2 tablespoons pinhead oats or rolled oats
1 pint blackberries
2 Tablespoons maple syrup (or honey), divided
1 tablespoon bourbon or ¼ cup apple cider+ dash vanilla extract, boiled down to 1 tablespoon.
¾ cup heavy cream, very cold
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt

    1.    Toast oatmeal in a dry skillet over medium heat.  Swirl and watch carefully.  If using rolled oats, be very careful not to burn them.  Remove from heat as soon as the color has darkened and you can smell a toasted oat scent.  You can leave them as is or chop them finely to absorb more of the cream when mixed in.  Set oats aside. 
    2.    Rinse and drain blackberries.  Place half of the berries in a small bowl and mash them with a fork.  Add maple syrup and set aside.  Berries will macerate and create a sweet berry syrup. 
    3.    Meanwhile, whip cream to a stiff peak.  Fold in yogurt. Add whisky or boiled down cider.
    4.    Set aside 2 teaspoons of oats for garnish.  Stir together remaining maple syrup and toasted oatmeal.  Fold into cream-yogurt mixture leaving most unmixed. 
    5.    Next fold in half the macerated berry mixture, again leaving large sections unincorporated. 
    6.    Place a layer of berry-maple syrup mixture in the bottom of a clear vessel—one bowl to share or four individual glasses—add a few whole berries.  Cover with a thick layer of the cream mixture.  Continue to layer until all ingredients are used.  Top with a few whole berries and sprinkle reserved oats on top.
Bonus: Heat up a little extra maple syrup to serve alongside American Cranachans.

Easiest Berry Salad Dressing There Is
Add pureed berries—raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, mixed berries—to any vinaigrette.  You can even add the pureed berries to a store bought oil & vinegar based dressing.  This is a great use for frozen berries mid-winter.  Use about 1/3 cup washed berries for each 1/2 cup of dressing.

Berry Vinaigrettes are nice on either plain salad greens or mixed salads with red onion, avocado, carrots and  spinach.  They really shine when any fresh fruits are added to the salad plate like pears and apples, dried fruits, tropical fruit and of course, berries.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Orange is for Carrots

Eating by color is amusing.  In college, I had a painting professor who was the first person I'd heard of to eat by color. Back then it was a performance art experiment and she and her sister explored one color each day for a week.  She reported that blue was a hard day but that orange had an abundance of choices. 

That may be nature's way of giving us any many opportunities as possible to load up on the impressive cell building, heart protecting, brain enhancing, skin rejuvinating, eye protecting properties of Vitamin A.  Not to mention the beta carotene that provides the orange color and is thought to help the body fight certain cancers.  While the choices are wide, the humble carrot should not be overlooked. 

Carrots are so prevalent that its easy to fall into a rut with them-- steamed, buttered, simmered in soup and stews.  This recipe gives them special attention, roasted whole to show off their attractive color, they are enticing on any plate. 

The recipe calls for an oven temperature of 425˚F but the recipe can be adjusted to roast the carrots alongside a meat that is roasting in the same oven at a different temperature.  Extend the carrots' cooking time by 5-10 minutes if you are cooking another dish at 350-375˚F. 

Vitamin A is one of the nutrients that needs fat in which to work its wonders.  The olive oil in the recipe helps here.  Or enjoy any other monomonounsaturated fats as part fo the meal including avocado, nuts, olives and their oils.

Braise-Roasted Carrots
Serves 2-3 generously, recipe doubles easily

1 pound carrots
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1/2 cup broth or water
salt, pepper
optional: herbs/spices like paprika, dill, tumeric, crushed fennel, margoram

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
  2. Peel carrots.  Cut lengthwise and in half if very large.  Otherwise leave whole.
  3. Toss carrots with olive oil, salt and pepper.  
  4. Place carrots in a shallow baking pan and cover with broth or water.  Cover pan with tin foil.  
  5. Bake carrots at 425˚F for 10 minutes.*  Remove tin foil.  Carrots will still be quite firm and there will be some water in pan.
  6. Return carrots to the oven, uncovered and roast an additional 10-15 minutes until water has evaporated and carrots are beginning to brown underneath.  Shake the pan as needed to prevent any sticking.   
  7. During last few minutes of roasting, toss carrots with any desired extra herbs/spices if using. (The carrots are quite wonderful left as is but if the rest of your meal is heading in a specific direction you can add a complimentary herb or spice at this stage.)
*Adjust time to suit the thickness of your carrots.  Thick chunks (1") versus thin slices (1/4") vary in cooking time by about 10 minutes.  

Elegant Life Leftovers
Follow up Roasted Carrots with Roasted Carrot Soup for lunch the next day.  Trouble is, there won't be many leftover carrots so if you want to try the soup, make extra roasted carrots. 

Roasted Carrot Soup

....For every cup of sliced cooked carrots:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped celery, onion or fennel (or a combination)
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon tumeric

  1. Heat a skillet to medium and add olive oil.  Saute chopped vegetables until tender.  
  2. Add 1/2 the chicken broth and simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes.  
  3. Combine carrots with remaining chicken broth, coconut milk, ginger and tumeric in a blender or a deep pot that will allow you to use an immersion blender.  Add in vegetable mixture from skillet.  
  4. Puree soup.  Soup may be eaten chilled or heated.  
Serve with yogurt, chopped fresh cilantro. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Black Bean Soup Tonight

Cuban-inspired Black Bean Soup makes a hearty weeknight dinner that can be made in under half an hour.  Beans are one of the five foods we've touched on to eat more of this year and having a few simple recipes that can be made from pantry ingredients makes enjoying these foods easy. 

Flavor low-sodium canned beans and canned broth with herbs and spices and a touch of salt to customize a really healthy meal that has room for your own flair.  We use a combination of beef and chicken broth but vegetable broth and water easily creates a vegetarian version.  This recipe keeps it simple with few ingredients but you can add shredded carrots, diced tomatoes and finely chopped onion to the simmering soup to add to the nutrients and the depth of flavor. 

The most important key to developing the flavor in a soup like this is the let it simmer for at least ten minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the ingredients can meld together and the spices and herbs fully hydrate.  Partially mashing the beans thickens the soup without any extra ingredients or thickening agents.  We keep the bean liquid but many people drain their beans before adding especially if not used to eating beans frequently.* I cannot find any hard facts but I have noticed that people who are sensitive to beans do very well with black beans. 

All kinds of extras can be added to make this soup feel bigger.  Serve it with a scoop of cooked rice or other cooked grain, add some diced chicken, shredded pork or sliced seiten.  My favorite unusual item to garnish the soup is diced mangoes.  Mangoes mix with the chopped red onion and lime juice for a fresh counterpart to the beans. 

Black Bean Soup Tonight
Serves 4 (1 quart soup)

2 cans low sodium black beans
2 cups broth or broth with up to 1/2 cup water
1 garlic clove, peeled and slightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional: pinch cayenne

chopped, fresh cilantro
diced red onion
grated cheese
sour cream
chopped avocado
chopped mango
chopped tomatoes
lime juice

  1. Combine beans and broth in a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom. 
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and add all the seasonings and the garlic clove.  
  3. Cook ten minutes, uncovered ay a low bubble, stirring occasionally to prevent beans from sticking to bottom of  pot.  
  4. Taste and add more salt or heat as needed.  If you are using it, a pinch of cayenne can go in now.
  5. With a spoon, remove the garlic clove and discard.  Use a potato masher or the back of a fork to mash most of the beans and thicken soup.  (You can also use an immersion blender but use a gentle touch so that you do not over-puree the soup).
  6. Serve with rice, leftover cooked proteins and, above all, colorful garnishes.
*Note: So much has been written about how to adapt to eating more beans. Here is a nice compendium of advice that also explains the background in simple language. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 5 Foods to Get More of in 2014

Skip the diets and enjoy a few big time healthy foods more frequently if you really want to feel better and stronger this year.  Here are five foods to eat more of (every day even) in the New Year.  You’ll feel satisfied enough to forego cravings for junk.  Here are some ideas to get you started and I’ll be adding more ways to use these foods in future Pure Foods Project entries. 

Even people who know and love avocados surprised me in 2013 with their reluctance to enjoy avocados more.  High fat was sited but remember that without some fat in your diet you cannot absorb some key nutrients like Vitamin A. And avocados have the good kind of fat -- monounsaturated---that you body needs so indulge and be happy.   

Avocados can take the place of mayonnaise on sandwiches, taste amazing with burgers, especially turkey burgers, and can be chopped into some great salads and salsas. 

We put slices in soup too.  Give a simple chicken-rice soup a little south of the border flair with a spoonful of salsa, a few crumbled corn tortillas and slices of avocado.  If you have them around, garnish with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of fresh cilantro and a shot of hot sauce.

A tablespoon of mayonnaise is about 100 calories.  Replace that with ¼ quarter an avocado (double the amount of mayo) for just 80 calories and 5 carbohydrate grams.  80 calories that pack 240 grams of potassium (equal to half a banana) plus Vitamins C and B-6 and some magnesium and a touch of iron.  You even get a gram of protein.  Feeling full?  Of course, even that little amount of avocado adds 14% of the fiber you need for the day.

Beyond guacamole, here are five ways to add avocado to this week’s meals...
  • Serve mango-avocado-lime salsa over grilled fish or chicken.
  • Chop some into a corn side dish (hot or cold) and garnish with sliced scallions
  • Make a salad with blue cheese, avocados and toasted pecans
  • Add to pasta salad or better yet, toss diced avocado with hot spaghetti. It will melt into the pasta to ward off a creamy craving.
  • Serve steamed cold shrimp on a cracker with a little wedge of avocado and a squeeze of lemon.
Canned, dried or working hard in food preparations like hummus and tofu, beans are a major source of plant-based protein to much of the human population.  Experts advise combining beans with another plant based protein like a grain to get the most from each. 

Include chick peas (hummus), soy beans (edamame, tofu), peanuts (a legume, look for peanut butter made from only peanuts and salt) and beans of every color in this year’s meals to keep you satisfied.  Beans are part of just about any cuisine you are into.    

Fermented Foods
New research is telling us to give ourselves a gut check.  Fermented foods may be one of our most powerful immune fighting resources we have available to us in natural form.  Next time you have a cold and reach for chicken soup, have a half-sour pickle on the side to feel better even faster.

Go beyond cucumber pickles with pickled vegetables like okra, cauliflower, zucchini and green beans.  These are especially available at Farmers Markets toward the end of summer.  Find more fermentation in dishes with:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt (try coconut yogurt)
  • Miso (try white miso)
  • Tamari
  • Crème fraiche
  • Sour cream
  • Buttermilk
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce

Orange Foods
Orange was on fashion runways everywhere in 2013.  In 2014, it goes into practical use on the table.

Winter is a great time to find interesting orange vegetables and starting in March citrus season hits most of the country with deals on fruit. 
Butternut squash, pumpkin, rutabaga, carrots, sweet potatoes
Oranges, peaches, cantaloupe, mangoes, apricots, kumquats, mandarins
And don’t miss out on orange beets and orange bell peppers.

Carotenoids give orange foods their color and give us better skin regeneration, immune system support and digestive and urinary tract health.  Vitamin A is the hero and, as noted above, likes a little assist from some fat to do its job. A little olive oil, a bit of avocado or some nuts go well with these foods. 

Berries get credited for preventing everything from depression to cancer to fly-away hair and joint inflammation.  Berries can fit into every meal and snack so pop some berries instead of pills. 
  • Blueberries and oatmeal
  • Strawberries mashed into plain yogurt
  • Blackberries with a tablespoon of cream on top
  • Cranberries—are they really berries?  Yes, as are grapes.