Saturday, February 28, 2015

Honey, Honey, do do do do do do.

Ah, the unmistakable tune of the Archies. For the full nostalgic experience, click here. I was reminded of the song when I used the honey cleansing method this morning. As per my last post, I've been thinking of doing an oil cleanse for quite some time since my regular cleanser ran out. When researching the topic of homemade cleansers, I stumbled across the oil cleansing method as well as the honey cleansing method.

According to Wellness Mama, the honey cleansing method is similar to that of oil cleansing but easier. As opposed to mixing oils and removing them from your face with a steamy washcloth, the honey cleanse method simply involves rubbing a teaspoon of either raw or Manuka honey on your face, leaving it on for 5-10 minutes and then washing it off with warm water.

I was a bit more comfortable using the honey cleanse method as opposed to the oil cleanse as my skin is naturally oily. While I believe that oil dissolves oil, I was a bit more comfortable starting off with honey which is a bit easier to travel with. Ergo, I melted some raw honey, rubbed it on, rubbed it off and my skin felt great! After my shower, I was surprised at how refreshed my skin felt. I even had my fiance feel it to confirm its softness. While I'll admit some "beginner's luck" to the honey, I can truly understand why some adhere to this method. Also, it's hard not to savor the flavor as the honey washes off your skin. It can sting your eyes though so close them tight!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lavender Blue

"Lavender blue, dilly, dilly..." Thus begins the name of a silly song I hated playing on the piano long ago. As I've aged, however, I've noted the amazing benefits of lavender, mainly as an adaptogen, an agent that aids in adapting to stress. (Mid-week blues, anyone?) Referring back to my last post, I noted the benefits of common household items in our beauty routine. Here, I'd like to expand on and oil that is often used in "big beauty" brands but can be made in the comfort of our own homes. This oil, as you may have guessed, is lavender oil.

Lavender can be grown easily in many locations. Where I spend my summer in Connecticut, lavender may not grow for the many miles it does in Provence, France but can be easily adapted to the environment. Lavender is a pretty hardy shrub and can act as either an annual or perennial, depending on where you plant it. If you have an apiary, lavender serves as a source of pollen for bees to produce delicious honey. In general, it is an easy "staple" crop for your potted or in-ground garden. In addition to lending a beautiful fragrance, lavender can produce a beautiful oil, as its presence in many an expensive essential oil tells us. Here's the thing, making an essential oil of lavender is difficult. What is much easier is making a lavender infused oil. 

Lavender infused oil is relatively easy to make. A few of the elements you would need include either fresh or dried lavender, (your local farmer's market or L'Occtaine should carry this product.) olive or safflower oil, a mortar and pestle and cheese cloth. Relatively simple ingredients for something which would otherwise cost you an arm and/or leg at you local health food store. To make a lavender infused oil, you can access the recipe here. To use, you can give as a gift, apply as massage oil or use as part of your oil cleansing routine. You can access the oil cleanse on the Wellness Mama blog. Enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Three Kings of Winter

There is a triumvirate of chefs I've been watching lately. Obviously, they are on most people's radars but I've been watching them on YouTube religiously. They are: Eric Ripert, Jamie Oliver and Marcus Samuelsson. I've had a big crush on Marcus Samuelsson for a long time. Now owner of the Red Rooster in Harlem, he got his start in the U.S. at Aquavit, a Michelin starred restaurant in Manhattan. It was through Aquavit that I became reacquainted with a chef that I loved for so long (not that I met him or visited the restaurant-this is strictly a one-sided relationship). I went to visit the Aquavit restaurant (online) to view their menu. I can't remember where but I had previously come across information on Swedish cuisine which noted the long tradition of foraging and pickling as a way to find and preserve food during long winters. Not remembering this original source of information, I looked at the aforementioned menu to get some ideas for cooking during the American winter months. Aquavit now has a new chef, Emma Bengtsson, but I continued watching Marcus Samuelsson on the Food Network - call it a high/low combination. One place I was pleased to see Marcus Samuelsson was on Eric Ripert's YouTube show, Avec Eric. On the show, Eric Ripert interviews and cooks with a number of famous chefs and Samuelsson happened to be on the first episode I watched. Later on, Ripert showcased an amazing dish which seemed to carry traditional Swedish roots. Co-owner of Le Bernadin in New York, Ripert is generally known for his work with seafood which is, coincidentally, a staple of Swedish cuisine. On another YouTube episode featuring Sweden, Jamie Oliver, points out how it's capital, Stockholm, is basically a patchwork of fourteen islands, delivering the bounty of the sea to many a doorstep. Therefore, in Avec Eric's episode, "A Dream Dinner with Chef O'Connell," showcases a recipe for black bass with mushroom. A delicious dish which would make any good Swede blush.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spice It Up

Spice it up, suckas. As of late, I've been looking for ways increase my daily spice intake. While formerly viewed as an accouterment for dishes, adding an extra kick, spices also carry weighty health benefits, as I've stated before. While I may not have all spices on hand which a recipe may call for (I've been lacking in the cardamom department lately) I can usually find a substitute or simply readjust my proportions to create a new flavor profile. After reading a few recipes, such as the one for braised chickpeas with carrots and yogurt topping, I came to find new spice combinations which could be used. Instead of using only sweet or savory spices, they could be combined to add to a depth and complexity of flavor. Now, a combination of cinnamon, cumin, ginger and turmeric usually show up in my dishes. Besides adding flavor, these spices can reduce inflammation and pain (boo headaches), aid in the regulation of blood sugar or even help cure the common cold. What's not to like? As stated a few posts back, I typically combine the above spices and, if cooking vegetables, throw them in the pan one the veggies have softened turning to coat. As you may not know, I am a vegetable fiend and generally feature them as the prime element in any dish. In the winter, cauliflower and kale are my best friends but I often miss out on the presence of protein. Since I'm not a huge fan of meat, I often turn to beans to add some variety to my diet. I was raised with a father who ate chickpeas on the daily so it's pretty much my go to bean. However, I came across some cashews and limes which needed to be used ASAP and decided to make chipotle-spiced cashews and pecans with pretzels. As I only had cashews on hand, that's all I used and adjusted the proportions of seasoning accordingly. I figured 3 tbsp. of cayenne pepper (which I substituted for chipolte) was a bit much for only one cup of nuts. The recipe came out well, if not a little burnt, however, as I was making it, I realized, "what a great way to incorporate spices into your diet." While the above recipe called for chipotle, cumin and garlic among other spices, there's not rule one couldn't use paprika, turmeric and/or cinnamon in any combination they choose. In this case, it's important to know the flavor profiles of your spices. So far, I've divided them into neutral, spicy and sweet. Proportionally, as I may have referred to in a few posts back, I found that many recipes use one part neutral spice (such as turmeric) to 1/2 part sweet (like cinnamon) and 1/2 part spicy (such as cayenne). Suffice it to say, I didn't cross study too many recipes to find this combination but, in addition to the chickpea and yogurt recipe above, I also looked at Daniel Boulud's chicken tagine recipe. More on flavor profiles to come.

In My Solitude...

Table for One is a photo blog which features people dining alone. Since this is one of my favorite pastimes, I figured I'd feature it here. Since college, I have enjoyed dining alone. For me, it a way to unwind and reflect.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Spice Rub(bish)

Besides my last post discreetly sticking it to big food, this blog has begun to turn away from herbs and spices to focus more on oils and vinegar. Luckily, I came across a "condiment" yesterday which combines such categories. Before featuring the components of za'atar, however, I'd like to tackle a subject which highlights deep issues in the food world: spice blends.

While spice blends (a combination of herbs and or spices) aren't bad in and of themselves, to me, they point to the fact that much of our (even fundamental) foods can be pre-made and pre-packaged out of dried and more tasteless materials. For as much as I reference the Williams-Sonoma websites for its abundance of foodie knowledge which I eat up vigorously (no pun intended) one look at their pantry section shows a parade of spice mixtures and rubs which could easily be made at home with whole ingredients. While Whole Foods carries an elitist connotation (and believe me, I can't afford to shop there) its name implies something right about food, mainly that the closer it its original state, the better the food is for either yourself or the environment (or both!). Take one walk down the spice aisle at your local grocery store and you'll see a lot of ground spices and dried herbs. While these shiny glass bottles of herbs and spices are often expensive, they are also several steps removed from their original state being either ground or dried and then, sometimes blended. This is my issue with spice blends, while herbs are sometimes dried to be preserved and herbs are sometimes ground for convenience, the spice blend goes on step further in charging consumers extra for something they can easily do at home. While one might argue convenience in the name of spice blends, grinding and blending our own spices whether by lemon zester or mortar and pestle forces us as cooks to experiment with proportions and find our own "sweet spot" of flavors.

Studying up on the proportion of seasonings is, in my mind, an important task of any cook. One must begin to learn the flavor profiles of each seasoning in order to distinguish how much "sweet", "spicy" or "salty" they want to add to a dish. In my own cross study of various seasonings, I have found two things:

1. know which foods you're working with

2. know your own tastes

In short, there is no silver bullet to the alchemy of spice blends. If you know the flavor profile of the food you're working with, you'll know how to adjust your spices accordingly and to suit your own preferences. When working with carrots, as I have been doing a lot these winter months, I tend to use cinnamon as my dominant spice in order to highlight their inherent sweetness. If I wish for a more savory dish with the vegetable, I'll feature more cumin than cinnamon. (Note: If sauteing your vegetable, herbs and spiced should be added after your vegetable has been softened in oil or butter and tossed in the pan for 1-2 minutes so as not to have anything burn). For a recipe I studied to get an idea for spice proportions, you can go here (braised chickpeas with carrots: yum). So, without further adieu, here is a recipe for za'atar, a middle eastern spice blend which you can make with your own ingredients in the kitchen. In the spirit of adjusting and studying one's own proportional preferences, I only provide general guidelines as to the amounts of spice in the mix. Feel free to adjust spice levels to your own liking. Whichever combination you choose, however, know that you will be doing your body great benefit by imbuing it with sesame seeds, thyme, sumac and a little salt, ingredients that can lower your cholesterol, protect your liver and increase the percentage of healthy fats in cells.

2 parts dried thyme (or fresh thyme that has been dried)
1 part toasted sesame seeds (recipe here)
1/4 part ground sumac
dash of salt

While you can simply combine the above ingredients, you may want to combine the thyme and sumac first and grind together in order to infuse flavors. Once all ingredients are combined, use as you wish. I like to put some of the mix in olive oil as a dip for breads but you can add the mix to soups, stews and sauteed vegetables.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Getting Canned

According to the Washington Post, big food companies like ConAgra and Kellogg, which specialize in manufactured food are taking a hit due to consumer tendencies. According to the article, mellenials are leaning towards fresher foods and away from the center aisles of the grocery store. #Happiness. You can read the article here.