Month: August 2013

Artificial Colouring

I have spent the last week in the UK with my 5 year old daughter. We have had many happy moments while we were here but one thing I enjoyed is knowing that the food she ate, and me too, contains much better ingredients than we find at home.

One ingredient in particular, artificial colouring, is very different here. The EU bans artificial food dyes made from petroleum because of the link to hyperactivity and birth defects. Although these links are well known, we, in North America, must wait for the FDA to draw their own conclusions. A fact I find very frustrating. There is a campaign to have 8 artificial food dyes banned, including Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6.

While we await their speedy process (ha ha), I recommend checking ingredients and avoiding these colours. I don’t need any more proof than to know that, as well as the UK, Norway, France, Austria and Finland also think they are harmful enough to ensure they are kept out of food.

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Matching Herbs and Spices

Not much intro needed here, here’s how to pair up common herbs. Just bear in mind they shouldn’t all be used. This is simply to give a guide of which flavours to reach for.

Soups, stews, casseroles: allspice, bay leaves, celery, coriander, chives, dill, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme, tumeric

Vegetables: basil, caraway, coriander, marjoram, mustard, rosemary, saffron

Tomatoes: basil, oregano, pepper, thyme

Marinades: cilantro, cumin, ginger, sage, savory, tarragon,

Salads and salad dressings: anise, chives, cumin, dill, marjoram, parsley, tumeric

Dips: caraway, celery, chives, dill, garlic, ginger, onion

Fruit: cardamom, cinnamon, mint, nutmeg, vanilla

Baking: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, mint, nutmeg, vanilla

Pasta (Italian): basil, oregano, red pepper

Grains/bread: caraway, cinnamon, cloves, tumeric

Beans: cumin

Lentils: cilantro, parsley, savory, thyme

Eggs: chives, dill, fennel, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, savory

Cheese: chives, nutmeg, oregano, thyme,

Poultry: basil, bay, cilantro, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme

Lamb: mint, rosemary

Other meats: marjoram, paprika, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme

Seafood: allspice, anise, basil, bay, celery, coriander, dill, fennel, paprika, parsley, saffron, tumeric

Flavour for Herbs

Herbs and spices are also a great way to flavour food without relying on salt and saturated food. There are some tricks and tips to make this work best.

Dried herbs have a more intense flavour so use about a third of the amount of fresh herbs. It works the other way too, increase the amount 3x if you use fresh instead.

Dried herbs should be used in cooking the entire time as the flavour intensifies over time. The opposite is true with fresh, so only add them a few minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Sometimes recipes call for a herb or spice to be ground in a pestle and mortar. This is to release more flavour, particularly for spices. You can also rub them in your hands to achieve a similar effect or roll a rolling pin over a plastic bag with the spices inside.

Grating or grinding works best if its done just before use. Some whole spices that are easy to do this with are nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. It works out cheaper if you use the whole spice and you can pick up a super mini grater for under a dollar.

Fresh herbs should be used within 2 weeks to retain the best flavour. Keep them stored in a ziploc bag in the fridge. After that, they should either be dried or frozen.
– the easiest way to dry them is to tie a string around the stems to create a bunch. Hang the bunch in a cool, dry place for 2 weeks. Then crush or chop and store the dried herbs in a jar.
– to freeze, start by blanching them to retain the colour (pour boiling water over them). Spin them dry in a salad spinner and seal them in a freezer ziplock bag. Break off a stem as needed and use immediately. Thawing them may turn them black. You can also freeze a chopped version. Again, blanch first, them chop them in a food processor. Use a little water to make them easier to mould into ice cube trays. Freeze, then transfer the cubes into a ziplock bag.

It can sometimes be confusing to know what herb or spice to use in which dish. Over the next couple of days, I’ll indicate what to use where.

The flavours of an Onion

Cutting back on the marketers dream of fat, sugar and salt can sometimes leave homemade food feeling a bit flat. But there are many things you can do to enhance the flavour of your food.

For the record, I do use salt. Because I don’t eat out very often I can afford to use salt in my home cooking. It’s not going to be anywhere near the amounts used when you are eating out.

But the flavour secrets that onions hold is vast. There are different types of onions, all of which have their own special taste and talent.

Yellow onions are by far the most popular type of onion. They are the ones you find in the net bags at the grocery store. They are popular for their sweet taste and versatility, they are great in cooking and store well.

Spanish onions look similar but are larger and they have a sweeter taste. They are used in much the same way as yellow onions. White onions are also similar with a tangier flavour.

Vidalia onions look the same but are quite different. They are fresh onions and therefore are good raw or lightly cooked but do not store long. If you want to try these, now is the time. Their season will be over soon.

Red onions are strong but good to eat raw. They do store well and are available year round.

Shallots are the small brown onions that are shaped like a large garlic cloves. They have a more subtle flavour, they work well in rich dishes, like French cooking, that already have a lot of flavour.

Pearl onions you mainly find in bags. They are simply immature onions and can be any type. They are good when whole onions are a main ingredient and you want to keep them whole.

Leeks are a type of onion that can only be used cooked but work well in stews or soups. I often put sliced leek under fish before baking it. It must be cleaned well by slicing so you can rinse through all the layers. Wild leeks (ramps) are very hard to find but delicious when you do.

The term green onion is often used to describe a scallion or a spring onion. Although you can use these interchangeably in a recipe if necessary, they are actually 3 different things. A green onion is a immature onion pulled before the bulb is prominent. A Spring onion is the same but further along in growth. Both can be any type of onion. A scallion is a specific variety of onion and is characterized by its straight bulb.
These onions shouldn’t be cooked but good to sprinkle or mix in with cooked food just before serving. They are also great in salad dressings once chopped. Any part of the onion can be used, green and white.

Chives are also a type of onion, often used as a herb or a garnish. They have a mild onion flavour.

Many people suffer from teary, stingy eyes when they cut onions. There are many tricks for stopping this, my favourites are lighting a candle or turning on the fan and cutting the onion underneath it. I also use a onion and garlic designated board which allows me to lie the onion flat (after cutting it in half) to cut, trapping the fumes.

Talking of which, there are some definite ways to slice onions that are impossible for me to write here. My best advice is to search it using You Tube. There’s always somebody willing to give a tutorial!

Creating Habits

One of my favourite mindfulness teachers, Tara Brach, says this in her book True Refuge:

“Whatever you think or do regularly becomes a habit, a strongly conditioned pathway in the brain”.

We can take 2 things from this. First, habits take time, changing those overnight is unrealistic. Second, once the good habits are formed, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to continue them.

What’s Cooking? Creamy Cucumber Salad

This idea came to me from my green box courtesy of Mama Earth. They included an Ontario cucumber which I sliced with a mandolin so it’s super thin. Then I sprinkled the slices with 1 tsp of salt and left it in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse the slices and pat them dry.

In the meantime, thinly slice half a red onion and soak the slices in cold water for 15 minutes.

I made up the following dressing and tossed all the ingredients together.

1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

So simple and quick, it works well particularly with baked fish or chicken but goes with just about anything.

Coconut Water for Kids

I haven’t seen this product in the flesh but I have just heard about Vita Coco Kids. It’s based on a favourite of mine, Vita Coco Coconut Water. I like it because it is just coconut water. Nothing more, nothing fake.

But according to the marketers, kids can’t drink this. They need additives and sugar. The company claim to no longer put the sugar in but they continue to add flavours and market to kids.

Why oh why can we not encourage our kids just to eat and drink real food. We are caught in a ridiculous cycle of spoiling our taste buds and our instinctive need for certain nutrients in childhood, only to spend the rest of our lives trying to retain these habits to regain our health.

While we do this, let’s save the next generation from this struggle. Share the food you choose for yourself, there is enough joy in real and whole food.