Sunday, October 31, 2010

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, I Make Something Irish Sounding!

The temps are dropping again (thank you!) and Hallowe'en is here. My Celtic roots are calling and nothing helps soothe my soul than something that makes me think Irish!

Irish Vegetable Stew

1 yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 t. caraway seeds
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 c. vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 t. dried thyme
3 medium carrots, sliced
5 medium potatoes, diced (I don't peel mine)
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
15 ounces canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

In a large pot, sauté the onion, garlic, and caraway seeds in a little olive oil until onions soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle about a 1/4 cup of flour over the onions and mix well to coat. Add the vegetable stock and stir until flour is dissolved. Add the bay leaf, thyme, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the white beans and simmer for an additional 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

I served mine with a nice loaf of rye bread and some vegan butter to spread on it.

People often associate potatoes with the Irish, but potatoes really aren't native to the island. Archaeologists have found potato remains that date back to 500 B.C in the ancient ruins of Peru and Chile. The Incas grew and ate them and also worshipped them. They even buried potatoes with their dead! Seems somehow appropriate to serve them this close to Samhain! The Spanish conquistadors first encountered the potato when they went to Peru in 1532 in search of gold. Spanish explorer and conqueror, Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada (1499-1579), took the potato to Spain in lieu of the gold he did not find.

The potato was carried on to Italy and England about 1585, to Belgium and Germany by 1587, to Austria about 1588, and to France around 1600. Wherever the potato was introduced, it was considered weird, poisonous, and downright evil. In France and elsewhere, the potato was accused of causing not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, scronfula, early death, sterillity, and rampant sexuality, and of destroying the soil where it grew. Parts of France thought it was so bad, they made it illegal to grow them!

An Irish legend says that ships of the Spanish Armada, wrecked off the Irish coast in 1588, were carrying potatoes and that some of them washed ashore. However, it is probably more likely that Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618), British explorer and historian known for his expeditions to the Americas, first brought the potato to Ireland and planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork, Ireland. Legend has it that he made a gift of the potato plant to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The local gentry were invited to a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks were uneducated in the matter of potatoes, tossed out the lumpy-looking tubers and brought to the royal table a dish of boiled stems and leaves (which are poisonous), which promptly made everyone deathly ill. The potatoes were then banned from court.

The potato was definitely getting a bad rap everywhere it was introduced!

Potatoes had been introduced to the United States several times throughout the 1600s. They were not widely grown for almost a century until 1719, when they were planted in Londonderry, New Hampshire, by Scotch-Irish immigrants, and from there spread across the nation.

The "Great Famine" or also called the "Great Starvation" in Ireland (or, in their language, an Gorta Mór, meaning "the Great Hunger or an Drochshaol, meaning "the bad times") was caused because the potato crop became diseased. The proximate cause disease commonly known as potato blight, or Phytophthora infestans. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland—where a third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food—was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish Catholics had been prohibited by the penal laws from owning land, from leasing land; from voting, from holding political office; from living in a corporate town or within five miles of a corporate town, from obtaining education, from entering a profession, and from doing many other things that are necessary in order to succeed and prosper in life. The laws had largely been reformed by 1793. Starting in 1801, Ireland had been directly governed, under the Act of Union, as part of the United Kingdom. Executive power lay in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Chief Secretary for Ireland, both of whom were appointed by the British government. During the 18th century a new system for managing the landlord's property was introduced in the form of the "middleman system". Rent collection was left in the hands of the landlords' agents, or middlemen. This assured the (usually Protestant) landlord of a regular income, and relieved them of any responsibility; the tenants however were then subject to exploitation through these middlemen. In 1845, 24% of all Irish tenant farms were of one to five acres in size, while 40% were of five to fifteen acres. Holdings were so small that only potatoes—no other crop—would suffice to feed a family. The British Government reported, shortly before the famine, that poverty was so widespread that one third of all Irish small holdings could not support their families, after paying their rent, except by earnings of seasonal migrant labour in England and Scotland.

At the height of the famine (around 1845), at least one million people died of starvation. This famine left many poverty stricken families with no choice but to struggle for survival or emigrate out of Ireland. Towns became deserted, and all the best shops closed because store owners were forced to emigrate due to the amount of unemployment. Over one and a half million people left Ireland for North America and Australia. Over just a few years, the population of Ireland dropped by one half, from about 9 million to little more than 4 million. The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently changed the island's demographic, political and cultural landscape.

I do genealogy as a hobby, and learned that my Irish immigrant ancestors left Ireland before the Great Famine, arriving here in the United States in the 1820s. I've always wondered how the family they left behind fared.

Interestingly, as of 2001 the Irish were consuming more potatoes than most countries in the world.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cruelty Free Egg Salad

I've seen recipes for egg salad using tofu instead of eggs, but had yet to try one I liked. It wasn't the different ingredients that made the difference, it was the tofu. The rubberiness of eggs I'd eaten as a child just wasn't quite being matched by the squishiness of the tofu. I'd pretty much resigned myself to never eating anything like it.

And then inspiration hit.

I'd been experimenting with freezing tofu in water and then boiling after reading the suggestion from another vegan. Before I'd gotten the idea from her, though, I'd read about freezing tofu, but not in its own package. I'd purchased some tofu a few weeks ago, took it from its package, drained it, put it in a baggie and froze it. This does turn tofu yellow, but I'd been informed of this, so no worries. Anyway, the other day when I made my vegan catfish, I'd pulled out this baggied tofu and boiled it right along with the packaged tofu, planning on using it to make more of the catfish. TOTALLY different consistency, didn't slice at all, just crumbled.

That's when the light bulb went off.

I broke off chunks and put this formerly baggied frozen, then boiled, tofu and put them all in my food processor. Gave it a whiz, and voila! A crumbly mixture that resembled finely chopped egg, and even the mouth feel has the same consistency.

Doctored it up with some vegan mayonnaise, a little squirt of mustard, sprinkled in some salt and pepper and there it was! My very own egg salad, cruelty free!

You can add or remove anything from this mixture to make it your own. Some folks like to add some chopped onion or chopped celery or maybe some different spices. It is an entirely flexible recipe. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cruelty Free Catfish

I think I am in heaven! Now I can have my *catfish* and eat it, too!

A few weeks ago, my kids and I had lunch at a local, new vegan deli. Located in a somewhat rundown part of town, well hidden in an oddly placed shopping center, it has no permanent sign, just a banner announcing their location. We entered, however, with high hopes, but still a little wary. The place was virtually unadorned, with very simple decor, a counter and a kitchen. We picked up a menu and sat down to see what we might discover. We settled upon breaded tofu, Hebrew fries and fried mushrooms. The lady behind the counter was very friendly and took our order. She had to make a grocery store run because they'd run out of mushrooms. We waited.

The cook brought the food out after a not considerable wait, all things considered. No frills, no fancy garnishes, just exactly what we ordered - breaded tofu, Hebrew fries and fried mushrooms. We took our first bite.

OMG! I can honestly say it was the best tofu I had ever had! The flavor, the consistency, it was totally yummy! I still don't know what Hebrew fries are, other than seasoned fries, but they were good. I always love fried mushrooms, so nothing more need be said about them.

We paid for our food, told the cashier we thought it was wonderful and we would be back. We will be back, that is certain. I want to try some other dishes.

Of course, being me, this made me want to recreate the tofu at home. It reminded me very much of catfish that my mom made when I was younger and not a vegan, so I looked for a recipe. I'm pretty sure my mom bought a mix, but can't remember what it was called. So, I settled with making my own. Here it is:

Vegan Catfish

1 pkg. of tofu, frozen in its package, boiled until thawed, pressed and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1-1/2 cups yellow organic cornmeal
2 T. creole seasoning (I use Tony Chachere's)
Soy milk
Oil to fry

Heat about oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile mix the creole seasoning and corn meal together. Dip each tofu steak in the soy milk, then in the cornmeal mixture. Fry in hot oil until golden brown on both sides.

Serve with tartar sauce, if you like.

Scrumptious! I'll be whipping this up often!

We Are All Connected

This says so much about what I believe, and says it so well.

A Life Connected: VEGAN from on Vimeo.

Seitan With Satan

This was just too funny not to share! It does have language in it, but the recipe given is so simple!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Blackened Tofu

Blackened Tofu

1 pkg. extra firm tofu
lemon or lime juice
1 T. paprika
2 t. onion powder
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. black pepper
1/4 t. cayenne pepper (I used 1/2 t.)
1/2 t. ground oregano
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. ground fennel seeds
1/2 t. celery seed
1/2 t. sea salt
1 T. arrowroot
Olive oil

Slice the tofu about 1/4 inch thick and marinate in lemon juice for about 20 minutes, turning over after about 10 minutes. Mix all the spices together in a shallow bowl. Add each piece of tofu to the spice mixture to coat, gently tap off excess and set aside. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add tofu slices and brown about 5 minutes each side. Don't turn it over too soon or the spices may stick. Serve immediately.

I like to freeze my tofu before cooking with it, since I like the chewier consistency. I learned a tip the other day from another vegan; she learned it from an old Asian cookbook. Boil the frozen tofu until it is thawed. I removed it from the water, pressed it with a towel, then sliced it thinly. I laid each slice on a plate with a paper towel, covered it with another paper towel and put another plate on top of that to press it just a little bit more. Then I marinated it in the lemon juice. I have to say I've never had tofu absorb flavors like this before! I am SOLD on this technique. That said, however, this recipe did give the tofu a tangier taste than we preferred. I came across another recipe for blackened tofu, and this one didn't call for any marinating, just coating with melted vegan butter or even olive oil before dipping it in the spices. I am definitely going to try it that way next time!

Another marinade I found when looking later suggested this:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. garlic, crushed
4 drops liquid smoke
Pinch black pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch or arrowroot

I don't know if I'll use it for the blackened tofu dish, but I might certainly try it when making tofu steaks!

I served it with store bought cole slaw mix and a homemade sauce and store bought spicy french fries. We enjoyed it, except for the aforementioned lemony tang. The kids thought it would be good with tartar sauce, but we didn't have any or I would have whipped some up if I'd known sooner.

Another suggestion is to add about 1/2 c. flour to the seasoning mix and 1/2 c. breadcrumbs, but I haven't tried that. Not sure it is really necessary, but some might want to try it for more crunch.

Blackening food is often associated with traditional Cajun cuisine, but is really said to be a modern invention of chef Paul Prudhomme back in the 70s. The food is dipped in melted butter and then dredged in a mixture of herbs and spices before frying at high heat in a cast iron skillet. I really have to wonder if it wasn't an invention so much as an accidental discovery!

At any rate, this was a yummy way to make tofu.

Beans - Not Just For Music Making!

My daughter got back home yesterday, after a nearly weeklong conference out of state. She was able to eat vegan only once, and even that was cold. Her first question to me upon landing was, "What are you feeding me?" LOL! So I whipped up some avocado and pinto bean enchiladas for her.

Avocado and Pinto Bean Enchilada Bake

One onion and one clove garlic, diced
1 t. chili powder
1/2 t. cumin
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
Olive oil
2 c. sliced mushrooms
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. raw cashews, chopped
2 avocados, sliced
Enchilada sauce (I buy mine in a can)
Grated vegan cheese
6-10 corn tortillas

Saute the onion and garlic with the spices until onions are soft. Add mushrooms, pinto beans and cashews and saute until mushrooms are cooked. Spread some enchilada sauce on the bottom on a casserole dish, top with corn tortillas. Spread mushroom-bean mixture over tortillas, and top with sliced avocados. Layer more tortillas, pour remaining enchilada sauce over tortillas, then sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

The original recipe suggested rolling each enchilada up individually, but I decided to make it easier by layering it like lasagna. It came out very tasty if a little on the spicy side.

Pinto beans and other beans such as kidney beans, navy beans and black beans are all known scientifically as Phaseolus vulgaris. They are all referred to as "common beans" probably owing to the fact that they derived from a common bean ancestor that originated in Peru.

From there, beans were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating Indian trades. Beans were introduced into Europe in the 15th century by Spanish explorers returning from their voyages to the New World. Spanish and Portuguese traders brought them to Africa and Asia.

As beans are a very inexpensive form of good protein, they have become popular in many cultures throughout the world.

Pinto beans are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other beans. In addition to lowering cholesterol, pinto beans' high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as brown rice, pinto beans provide virtually fat-free, high quality protein. But this is far from all pinto beans have to offer. Pinto beans are also an excellent source of molybdenum, a very good source of folate and manganese, and a good source of protein and vitamin B1 as well as the minerals phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper.
I remember reading an article somewhere that recommended 1/2-1 c. of beans daily were excellent for heart health. This is something I try to incorporate, typically having beans at at least one meal a day. Pinto beans' contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate, magnesium, and potassium these beans supply. Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic process called the methylation cycle. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine are an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease, and are found in between 20-40% of patients with heart disease. It has been estimated that consumption of 100% of the daily value (DV) of folate would, by itself, reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year by 10%. Just one cup of cooked pinto beans provides 73.5% of the recommended daily intake for folate. Pinto beans' good supply of magnesium puts yet another plus in the column of its beneficial cardiovascular effects. Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat pinto beans--a one cup serving provides almost one-quarter (23.5%) of your daily needs for magnesium. Potassium, an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, is another mineral that is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Pinto beans are ready to promote your cardiovascular health by being a good source of this mineral, too. A one cup serving of pinto beans provides 800.3 mg of potassium and only 3.4 mg of sodium, making these beans an especially good choice to prevent high blood pressure and protect against atherosclerosis. So, you see why I like to have my daily dose of beans! Much better than taking medication!

Beans, beans, the magical fruit is a song we probably all remember from childhood. I hear from people who complain about beans giving them gas. Well, yes, that happens. Beans contain the complex carbohydrates stachyose and raffinose, which the intestine can't absorb, but the bacteria in the colon love. The problem is most serious in people who have been eating a low-fiber diet and switch to a diet rich in beans and other high-fiber foods. Their digestive tracts don't have enough of the enzymes needed to digest bean sugars, which now pass undigested into the lower intestine where the bacteria metabolize them and generate gas. If people eat beans on a regular basis, the problem usually lessens as the body begins to produce the enzymes it needs. Now you can see why eating beans daily is not only good for your heart, but reduces potentially embarrassing social situations! LOL!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pass the Peas, Please!

As a true GRITS (Girls Raised In The South) kind of gal, I grew up on black eyed peas. I still eat them fairly regularly and always on New Years Day, right along with collard greens. So, naturally, when I came upon this recipe for black-eyes pea fritters, I had to try it!

Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, sorted, soaked overnight, drained, and rinsed (this is a VERY IMPORTANT part!)
1/2 medium onion, diced (I used a whole onion)
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1 teaspoon minced thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (I just used a whole green pepper)
1 tablespoon cornmeal
5 cups coconut oil

In a food processor, combine the beans, onion, peanuts, thyme, cayenne, vinegar, water, and salt and pulse until completely smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove the batter from the refrigerator, add the bell pepper and cornmeal, and beat with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. In a medium-size saucepan over high heat, warm the coconut oil until hot but not smoking, about 5 minutes. Lower the oil to medium high, and in batches of 5, spoon the batter into the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time. Fry, stirring around, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. If necessary, adjust the temperature to ensure that the fritters do not cook too quickly. Transfer the fritters to a paper towel–lined plate and allow them to drain.

Now, I have to be honest. The first time I made these, I thought I would be clever and use canned black eyed peas. You know, to save time. What I ended up with was a black eyed pea cornmeal mush. Tasty, but not quite the same. We ate it anyway, but with a spoon instead of a fork. You see, I had neglected to notice the part in the recipe about using dried, UNCOOKED peas. Yeah, that's a pretty important part to this recipe, let me tell you. But the flavor was just so nice I wanted to try again, actually following the directions this time. You can see the result in the picture above. The original recipe suggested serving these with hot pepper sauce, but I didn't.

Black eyed peas are also known as cowpeas. I remember the first time I read that name years ago, it gave me quite a giggle. What I didn't realize at the time was that cowpeas probably originated in Africa and came here with the slaves. They were often known as a "poor man's" food; the landed gentry of the Eastern seaboard considered the cowpea simply that: peas grown to feed the cows. George Washington imported 40 bushels of what he called "pease" from Jamaica in 1797 to plant in his fields for forage, but no record exists that he actually sampled them himself. He would probably be shocked to learn that his cattle, slaves, and sharecroppers not only ate them, but were enjoying such a nutritious diet. OF course, George and his buddies were the same enlightened group who declared the tomato poisonous and unfit for humans, while his poorer, but healthier counterparts were eating those with gusto too! Black eyed peas consist of an average of 24% protein, are rich in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, and are most nutritious when eaten in combination with cereals. The Southern custom of serving peas with cornbread or rice is a tradition that is actually healthy.

If you have never eaten black eyed peas, you are missing out! Fry up some of these fritters, and you'll see what I mean!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I decided some nice comfort food were on the menu tonight. Not for any reason in particular, just was in the mood. Inspired by my friend, Courtney, and her recipe, I made chicken fried portabellas with white creamy gravy, garlic mashed potatoes and oven fried okra.

Chicken Fried Portabellas

Portabella mushrooms, as many as you need
Soy milk, plain
Seasonings (I used salt, pepper and Bragg Sprinkle)
Olive Oil

For the gravy:
Earth Balance butter
Olive oil
Not Beef Bouillon cube
Soy milk, plain
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the gravy, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add some olive oil and the bouillon cube and mix well. Start adding flour, stir, add, stir, add, until you get kind of a crumbly consistency. Start pouring in and whisking the milk. Add until you get the creaminess consistency you want. Salt and pepper to taste.

To make the portabellas, dip them first in soy milk, then in the flour with seasonings added. Fry up nicely in hot olive oil until nicely browned on both sides.

Oven Fried Okra

Whole okra, frozen and thawed
Soy milk, plain
2 c. cornmeal
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
1/2 t. paprika

Dip okra in milk, then in the cornmeal mixed with seasoning. Lay on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray (I like using olive oil in a spray bottle). Bake at 400 for 35-40 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to keep them from sticking.

Play around with the chicken fried recipe, adding or substituting spices as you like. I think I might add some garlic and/or onion powder next time.

As for the okra, I had made this previously, thinking I could cheat a bit. I bought sliced okra, dumped it all in the milk and then into the cornmeal mixture, thinking to save time. What I got was more mushy and not very tasty okra at all. This time I used whole okra and dipped and battered each piece individually. MUCH better!

Chicken Fried Steak is kind of a staple here in Texas. My husband swears there is a difference between *chicken fried* and *country fried*, so I decided to do a little research. It seems chicken fried steak originated with German immigrants to the Texas hill country, who made schnitzel. Chicken fried steak was originally a way to use tougher cuts of meat by slicing the meat into round steaks and pounding them to tenderize. Recipes for chicken fried steak all require that the steak is tenderized, dipped in flour, coated in egg wash, and then dipped once again in flour. It is then fried in a cast iron skillet in oil and served with cream gravy. Brown gravy belongs east of the Sabine, while Central Texas makes it with breadcrumbs and West Texas without egg.

What about country fried steak? In most instances, it is another name for chicken fried steak (sshhhh, don't    tell my husband that!), but it might or might not have been dipped in egg. The gravy on top and side dishes will give away the origins of a "chicken fried steak". If served with brown gravy or anything else but mashed potatoes, you're looking at country fried steak.
I'm not sure which mine qualifies as. Mine is cruelty free, I didn't dip anything in egg, but did serve it with a white cream gravy, and did make mashed potatoes. I'm sticking with calling it chicken fried, I guess.
The portobello mushroom (also called portabella) is really simply a brown crimini mushroom in disguise. Evidently the usage of the two words "portobello vs. portabella" is nothing more than a marketing issue. Once the little brown crimini grows up to be about 4" - 6" in diameter he is deemed to be a portobello. No one seems to know how the name came about, but a few theories include:
•Named after Portobello Road in London which has many high end antique shops and other fashionable establishments.

•Named after a T.V. show called Portobello
•The portobello in Northern Italy is called "cappellone" which means "big hat".

Whatever the origin, it is a big brown mushroom that is very meaty, and can be grilled, oven roasted or sautéed, or in my case, fried. We like to grill them and serve them up on whole wheat buns, lettuce, tomato and any assorted other toppings we like (my daughter is partial to onions).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'm strong to the finish, 'cause I eats me Spinach!

I couldn't resist the quote, because tonight's supper was called Popeye Pasta. And, yes, it had spinach in it.

Popeye Pasta

Olive oil
One onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. black pepper
2 cans (I used 15 oz. each) crushed tomatoes
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. basil
1# pasta (I used whole wheat spirals)
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach

Cook pasta according to directions. Saute in oil the onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, oregano, basil and spinach. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Drain pasta, top with sauce, serve!

The original recipe called for 1/2 t. marjoram, but I realized too late I didn't have any. It also called for 1/3 c. of red or white wine. Well, I discovered a wine bottle with, I am not kidding, one teaspoon of wine left. Who leaves a teaspoon of wine in the bottle, and then puts that bottle in the refrigerator?! Argh! However, even without the suggested ingredients, the dish came out delish.

You can use fresh spinach instead of frozen, if you want. Just add it after simmering and when it wilts, pour over pasta.

Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia, from the word aspanakh (roughly "green hand"). Arab traders carried spinach into India, and then the plant was introduced into ancient China, where it was known as "Persian vegetable". The earliest available record of the spinach plant was recorded in Chinese, stating that it was introduced into China via Nepal (probably in 647 AD). In AD 827, the Saracens introduced spinach to Sicily. Spinach invariably made its way into England, where it is mentioned in the first known English cookbook, The Forme of Cury (1390). In 1533, Catherine de'Medici became queen of France; she so fancied spinach that she insisted it be served at every meal. To this day, dishes made with spinach are known as "Florentine," reflecting Catherine's birth in Florence. During the 18th and 19th centuries, spinach water was used as touchpaper for fireworks since paper soaked in it would smolder well.

Extraordinarily high in vitamin C and rich in riboflavin, one cup of cooked spinach also contains a very high level of vitamin A, folate, magnesium, potassium, as well as vitamins E, B6, K and thiamin. Folate, a mineral found in high amounts in spinach, has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and inflammation of blood vessels. The chemical version of folate, folic acid, has long been associated with lower rates of birth defects when taken orally during pregnancy. This leafy green is also an excellent source of manganese, iron, calcium, vitamin B2 and potassium. It’s a very good source of protein, phosphorus, vitamin E, zinc, dietary fiber, and copper. Plus, it’s a good source of selenium, niacin, and omega-3 fatty acids.

A lot of people aren't fond of cooked spinach, describing it as a blob of green stuff. I like to eat it raw, as well as cooked, especially in a salad. Eating raw spinach is a popular choice but not the best choice for everyone. Spinach is high in oxalic acid when ingested raw. Oxalic acids can produce damage to blood vessels. Some people may produce symptoms such as gout, arthritis, and rheumatism after eating large quantities of raw spinach. These acids can cause kidney stones and gallstones in people with lower renal functions.

However, oxalic acid can be lowered in spinach by boiling. Frequently change the water the spinach cooks in by boiling, draining the cooking water, boiling again, and then rinsing before consumption. This will greatly lower the oxalic acids present. The nutritional value of spinach does reduce with cooking, yet it still remains one of the most excellent sources for bountiful natural nutrients available. One pound of leaves can be reduced to about one cup of the cooked product. Since the iron in spinach is in soluble form, the water left from cooking will contain that element, as well as other water-soluble nutrients that should be used instead of thrown away.

Studies have shown that consumption of green leafy vegetables such as spinach may slow the age-related decline in brain function. So, eat your greens and keep working those crossword puzzles to keep your brain young and agile!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Veritable Fruit of Paradise

Many years ago I worked in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Several small, but nice, restaurants were within walking distance, so my co-workers and I patronized them often. One place served an open faced sandwich I just loved. Thinking about it for some odd reason today, I decided to duplicate it, but veganize it.

I toasted two slices of whole wheat bread and spread mayonnaise on it. We like Vegenaise. Next I put on sliced avocado, topped it with sprouts (the original recipe had alfalfa sprouts, but my husband came home with bean sprouts, so I used them) and top with cheese. You can use whatever cheese you want, sliced or shredded. I don't care for most commerical soy cheeses, but we love Daiya, so that's what I used. Pop in the oven on broil until the cheese melts and serve! Quick, tasty and good for you!

Avocados have both monosaturated and polyunsaturated fat and contain potassium. Mono and polyunsaturated fats, when consumed in moderation and eaten in place of saturated or trans fats, can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk for heart disease. Avocados are one of the few fruits that provide "good" fats. Avocados contribute good fats to one's diet, providing 3g of mono and 0.5g polyunsaturated fat per 1 oz. serving. Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit. So, not only are they good for you, but they taste good, too! I'll slice them up and eat them as is, or mash them to make guacamole. I love them cut up and dumped into my salads, too. The Mexican restaurants here will stuff them and fry them. I haven't tried this yet, but might give it a go sometime.

The word 'avocado' comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl ('testicle', a reference to the shape of the fruit). Avocados were known by the Aztecs as 'the fertility fruit'. I guess calling it a veritable fruit of paradise isn't too far off the mark! LOL!

If you've never used avocados before, and are unsure how to handle them, it's pretty simple. Buy those that are soft but not mushy to the touch. They need to give a little. If they are hard, just bring them home and let them ripen on the counter until you get the desired squishy state. I use an orange peeler I probably got from Tupperware to get inside. I peel around from the top all the way around, then take the other end of the peeler, insert until I feel the seed and work my way around again. Just twist and it opens right up. Use a spoon or your fingers to pop out the seed, then take a serving spoon to scoop out the flesh whole. You'll have two nice halves to do with what you want. Compost the skins and seed.

You can find all kinds of sites telling you how you can grow an avocado plant from the seed. None of them ever worked for me. What did work was tossing the seed in my compost pile. I got several little trees! If you decide you want an avocado tree, know that they are VERY slow growers, but can get very tall, so plant accordingly.

I hope you enjoy the sandwich and find other yummy ways to use your avocados!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bean There, Done That!

While reorganizing my pantry, I came across a large canister that I had placed bags of beans and rice in. I pulled it out, and put the beans in smaller, different containers. Most of the beans have come from farmer's markets. The one I chose to make for tonight's supper are speckled butter beans.

I put the in the crockpot last night, covered them with water and left them to soak overnight. This morning I drained the soaking water, covered them again with plenty of water, added a packet of dried onion soup and chopped up some elephant garlic. Cover, turn to low and off we go. After about six hours I turned the temp to high, just to make sure they would be done in time for supper. They were. They were delicious! I made a batch of wild pecan rice and homemade from scratch cornbread. It's been a long time since I've eaten like that, having grown up on a good pot of beans and cornbread. A yummy Southern meal!

I will definitely use this method to cook dried beans again.
The speckled butter bean is a little bigger than a lima and is higher in iron, fat and calories. Just like many legumes, butter beans provide a great source of fiber and protein. Eating them is a great way to lower cholesterol and especially good for those with diabetes. They provide a nice amount of magnesium (good for the cardiovascular system), folate, the trace mineral manganese, and iron. Butter beans also contain phytochemicals, which may play a role in cardiovascular protection and cancer prevention. One of the phytochemicals in butter beans, saponin, may have antifungal, antibacterial, cancer-fighting and cholesterol-lowering effects, notes Florida State University.

I make an effort to eat beans every day for either lunch or supper. The benefits are just too fantastic!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not!

As is typical for me, I start on one thing only to get side-tracked onto another. At least this time it flowed along the same lines! I was going back and forth from the fridge to gather up everything I needed for tonight's meal. In doing so, I see, for only the hundredth time, produce that needs pulled out and probably composted. I get the crockpot going and start pulling out all the produce I can find, and drop it all onto the counter, planning to dump all of it into a bowl to take out to my compost. I pull out the first items. Fruit. Hmm, this doesn't look too bad. Cauliflower is next. A little trimming, but still usable. Lo and behold several vegetables later, I've got a slew of veggies that are still in pretty good shape! I cut them up into small pieces, trimming away any parts that are bruised. Mix them together in a casserole dish, pour over some melted vegan butter. Next I pull out some vegan sour cream, mix it with some Daiya cheddar, slather it one top, pop it into a 350 oven for about an hour, and voila! Vegetable Casserole! It looks beautiful and tastes lovely, so I got a nice hot lunch for my efforts, and my compost pile did, too! The fruit I just peeled and sliced for dessert. Easy peasy!

Because of the wildlife in abundance in our suburban backyard (really!), rather than just dump the goods on top of the compost pile, I like to make what I call worm soup. I drop all the veggie trimmings, coffee grinds, tea bags, etc. into my blender, give it a whiz and instant worm soup! I pour this on top of my compost pile. Before I add it to the pile, I always say:
From the Earth you came
To the Earth you shall return.
Go with thanks.

It just seems appropriate to me to give thanks to the food that didn't directly feed my family, but will do so indirectly.
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