Spice it up!!

Do you use herbs and spices in your cooking?  Not only are they a great way to add tons of flavor to a dish, but they also provide many health benefits.  Using herbs and spices in cooking also may eliminate the need for extra salt, fat, or sugar in a dish, without sacrificing taste. From heart health to cancer prevention, here are a few of the most beneficial herbs and spices around:

  1. Turmeric is a bright orange root that comes from the same family as ginger.  It is great for reducing inflammation and may reduce incidence of some cancers.  It can be found fresh or dried as a powder.  Try it in soups, stews, curries, or mixed with yogurt as a dip.  If you find the flavor too bitter, you can take turmeric as a supplement, but look for one that includes piperine or black pepper extract, which enhances absorption.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

  1. Cinnamon is not only warming, delicious and versatile, but is also loaded with antioxidants. It has been shown to decrease inflammation, as well as decrease blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides in some diabetics.  Most of us are familiar with how to use cinnamon; sprinkle on oatmeal or yogurt, in baking, or on top of just about anything.  My little secret-adding a dash to ground turkey or lamb really covers the natural gamey-ness of the meat.
Cinnamon verum2-spice

Cinnamon verum2-spice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Ginger can be found as a fresh root or powdered and dried.  I love the natural spiciness of fresh ginger root in a stir-fry or soup, or as a tea.  Ginger is wonderful for combating nausea and stomach upset, and also has anti-inflammatory properties.
English: Adrak

English: Adrak (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Oregano, a wonderful Italian herb, is certainly delicious sprinkled on pizza, but also contains some very strong anti-bacterial agents that help fight infection. Oregano contains lots of antioxidants and is high in vitamin K.  You can find oregano fresh or dried and it can be used in dishes from salad dressing to pasta sauce.
  1. Thyme, another herb with strong antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, is delicious in soups, stews, or roasts.  It comes fresh or dried and can also be used for common skin problems such as acne and eczema.

Herbs: Thyme, oregano and rosemary

  1. Chili peppers come in many varieties; fresh, dried, or ground, from the pretty spicy jalapeno to the super spicy habanero.  The spicier the pepper, the higher the concentration of capsaicin, the compound that provides health benefits such as increasing circulation and providing high levels of antioxidants.  As a topical cream, capsaicin has also been shown to relieve nerve pain.  Use chili peppers in any dish you want to add spice too.  And keep in mind that the seeds contain the highest amount of capsaicin, so to mellow out the spiciness of any chili pepper remove some or all of the seeds, while wearing gloves of course.
Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers

Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My recipe for this week was a simple looking soup with surprising delicious flavor.  Cayenne pepper adds a nice kick of heat to warm you while filling you up with a plethora of fall vegetable goodness.  Get the recipe for Autumn Vegetable Soup.

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Cooking for the Jewish holidays

I have to admit I haven’t been very big on cooking for the Jewish holidays in several years.  But our close friends came over this year with their kids and we had second night of Rosh Hashana, which was so nice.  Of course it’s always a little hectic with young kids in the house, but it felt good to be celebrating by just having a nice, yummy dinner with friends.  And there really is not much I enjoy more than cooking for others.  At first I couldn’t even remember what the traditional dishes were, and my friend and her kids are vegetarian, and she and I both have some dietary limitations.  After a little thought, here is what I came up with for the menu:Brisket (my nana’s recipe)

Gluten Free Spinach Noodle Kugel (recipe below)

Chickpea Stew (recipe below)

Green Salad

Cheese and Crackers

Fresh vegetables and homemade ranch dip

Bread

Apples and Honey for dessert

I figured with the cheese, crackers, veggies, dip, and apples, there would definitely be something for the kids to eat.  With 3 year olds you never can tell what they will be willing to eat on any given day.  I knew my son may or may not eat the brisket and kugel, and he ate neither.  He tried the brisket but didn’t like it, and would not try the kugel.  However, we had leftover kugel for dinner tonight, and once we mentioned that it was similar to mac and cheese he did try it, and liked it, for a few bites that is…

Anyhow, I wanted to share the kugel and stew recipes with you.  I gave them a bit of a makeover as I went along, and they came out quite good.

Hope everyone who celebrated had a wonderful time with friends and family, and wishing you all a sweet new year!

Unfortunately I cannot share the picture of the kugel, it just didn’t capture the deliciousness at all.  But really, what dish that contains sour cream, cottage cheese, eggs, and butter could be bad??  Yum.

Gluten Free Spinach Noodle Kugel (vegetarian, gluten free)

Adapted from Saveur Magazine, Sept 10, 2011

Serves 8–10

Ingredients

1 cup sour cream

¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

3 eggs, lightly beaten

10 oz. gluten free noodles (I used Tinkyada brown rice fusilli)

Kosher salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large yellow onion, minced

1 10 oz bag baby spinach

Directions

Heat oven to 350°. Whisk sour cream, cottage cheese, 5 tbsp. melted butter, and eggs in a casserole dish; set aside. Bring a 4-qt. pot of salted water to a boil; cook noodles until al dente. Drain; stir into cheese mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

While the noodles cook, heat remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions; cook, stirring, until lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes. Transfer the garlic and onions to a bowl and return the skillet to the stove.  Add the spinach to the skillet and wilt the spinach over medium high heat.  Add a little water if necessary to prevent scorching.  When just wilted, transfer the spinach to a colander to drain.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze as much water as possible out of the spinach and chop well.  Stir the spinach, onions, and garlic into the noodle mixture, and bake, covered for 20 minutes.  Remove the cover and bake until browned and bubbling, approximately 25 more minutes.

 IMG_2659

This stew was a true knockout, so much flavor, and super simple to make.  I used fresh tomatoes because my friend can only eat low-acid tomatoes, but using a can would be even easier.  If you want to use fresh, blanch them for a minute in boiling water, peel the skin off, core, chop, and toss ’em in!

Chickpea Stew (vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free, grain free)

Adapted from www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com 

Ingredients

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 medium yellow onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 tbsp curry powder

½ tsp cinnamon

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with their juices

2 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 medium zucchinis, diced

1 quart chicken or vegetable stock

1 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tbsp parsley, roughly chopped

½ cup golden raisins

1/3 cup dried apricots, quartered

½ lemon, juiced

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large stock pot, heat coconut oil and sauté onions and garlic until translucent.  Add curry powder, cinnamon, and a few splashes of stock and cook until spices are well incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, chickpeas, and zucchini and just enough stock to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer approximately 30 minutes uncovered, until some of the liquid has evaporated.

Place the raisins and apricots in a shallow bowl and cover with warm water. Soak for 20 minutes or until the fruit is rehydrated and plump.  Add to the pot along with the cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice.  Cook another 10 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

Fantastic Falafel

I just had to post about tonight’s dinner.  It was a good one!  I usually have a little more time in the kitchen on weekends, so tonight I made homemade falafel.  I don’t think I have made falafel since that powered mix from the bulk bin I used to buy when I was in college.  That shit was nasty.

The ones I made tonight from this recipe from Vegetarian Times were light, crispy, and delicious.  I substituted all-purpose gluten free flour for the flour (since I am gluten free) and I fried them in coconut oil, which worked out great.  Also I think I would add a pinch more salt than what the recipe called for (although I did use unsalted beans).

I realize that homemade falafel is basically fried hummus, so I guess topping them with hummus is a little redundant, but we did it anyway and it was delicious.  Besides I felt certain my son would not try the falafel, and he always loves hummus.  Somehow daddy convinced him to take a bite and he did, and he loved it AND even ate his own falafel pita!  And he also tried a RADISH, which he hated. Oh well, you can’t win them all.  Besides, radish is a tough one, spicy and a little bitter.

I did it up with all the fixins; feta cheese, yogurt sauce, pita, lettuce, hummus, and a plate of raw veggies for dipping.

YUM!