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Eat (lentils) as the Romans do

9 Dec
Rachel Roddy’s one pot, two meals residency continues next week, when she instructs in the art of making ever-versatile Roman meatballs, followed by a masterclass in the even greater art of eating them. Photograph: Elena Heatherwick/Guardian

When I first moved to Rome nearly 10 years ago I lived in a third floor flat above a bread shop and shared a courtyard with a trattoria. After a month or so, the smell of baking bread and the clatter of plates and pans had become the everyday backdrop to my life.

Similarly familiar was the sight of laundry shunting past my window on lines strung across the communal courtyard – eeck, eeck, eeck – as they ran through the rusty pullies. My neighbours at the time were two elderly sisters who’d lived all their lives in the building and had laundry-hanging down to an art. The sequence began at about 7am when rugs were hung, thwacked and reeled back in. Cloths, clothes and sheets followed and, once a month, I was reminded that I’d never washed a seat cover in my life, as a set of them shuddered, like a surrealist photo, into the frame. I’m sure the sisters noticed my neglect. They certainly noticed that I never polished my front door, because when I did, they said: “Brava, finalmente.

Watch Rachel prepare lentils cooked two ways.
Rachel Roddy, Cook’s latest chef in residence, demonstrates the wisdom of her one-pot, two meals philosophy with a rustic Roman braised lentils recipe. Video by Michael Thomas Jones, Marissa Keating and Mina Holland.

Washing done, the sisters would set about the daily task of making lunch and the smell of pancetta in a hot pan and greens or beans (Romans eat a lot of greens and beans) rolling around in boiling water would meet those swirling up from the trattoria below. In my own kitchen, door open on to the courtyard, I did my best to join in.

Ten years on, I no longer live in that building. I am close-by, though, and still visit the bread shop on the first floor, friends on the second and the sisters on the third, usually with my three–year-old half-Roman son. Inevitably, we pause on one of the narrow balconies above the communal courtyard; Luca to kick the railings, me hoping to catch a nostalgic sound or smell. It has been a while since we ate at the trattoria, but I still feel affection for a place that provided the background clatter to my kitchen life for six years, the place in which I ate many traditional Roman dishes for the first time: carbonara, amatriciana, oxtail stew, braised artichokes and bitter greens, and then later, the minestra: thick, pulse-based soup-stews reinforced with pasta.

I say later, because I noticed and ignored all of these dishes – now my staples – on plasticised menus and daily specials boards (which I thought ironic, as they sounded anything but) for quite some time. Too dense, too beige, I’d think, before ordering the pasta with clams.

I wish I could say I came round to the satisfying pleasure of minestra by myself, but I didn’t. It was my partner Vincenzo, who, like many Italians I know, is happily devoted to these unassuming dishes. He ordered; I tasted. My conversion was slow but sure – a taste of rosemary-scented chickpea soup with ribbons of tagliatelle; another of fresh borlotti blushing with fresh tomatoes and quills of pasta; a spoonful, then two, of braised lentils, dotted with tiny tubes of pasta called ditalini or “little thimbles”.

The first minestra I made at home was the beige-sounding but reliably delicious pasta and potatoes, finished with a blizzard of grated pecorino cheese. The next was pasta and lentils, for which I sought and received a lot of advice, ranging from scant and impressionistic, to opinionated and precise instruction. I tried and tested until I found a way that worked for me and suited how I like to eat.

True to Roman traditions, these days it’s mostly simple, unfussy, nutritious food that tastes good. I like good value too. I also enjoy not cooking as much as I do cooking, so the prospect of a pan of food that provides two or three meals is very appealing. This is why a big pan of lentils, braised with a soffritto of extra virgin olive oil, onion, carrot, celery and garlic is one of the dishes I rely on most, half to be served with some pasta or rice, the rest the following day (when the lentils are even tastier) with grilled or pan-fried sausage or a frilly-edged fried egg.

These days, with no shared courtyard and no sisters, there is no-one to notice the (in)frequency of my laundry. No sisters either to notice my annual door polishing or that I’ve mastered the weekly minestra. However, I’m pretty sure that if they knew, they would approve.

Lentils served two ways

Cook all the lentils, then serve half of them for the first meal, and the remainder for the second.

residency lentil recipe
A big pan of lentils can be the base ingredient for two quite different, yet simple, meals. Photograph: Elena Heatherwick/Guardian

Serves 8
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
500g small brown lentils
2 bay leaves
Salt and black pepper

To serve
250g rice or pasta, or 4 pork sausages, or 4 large free-range eggs

1 Cover the base of a large, heavy-based frying or saute pan with olive oil over a medium-low heat, add the chopped vegetables and cook very gently until they are soft, but not coloured.

2 Pick over the lentils to check for gritty bits, then rinse thoroughly and add them to the pan along with the bay leaves, stirring for a minute or two until each lentil glistens with oil. Cover with 1.2 litres of water to about 2.5cm above the lentils, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the lentils, stirring occasionally, adding a little more water if needed, until they are tender, but not squidgy – they should still have lentil integrity. Ideally not all the water should be absorbed andthe lentils should be just a little soupy –. This will take 25‑50 minutes, depending on the lentils. Season them generously with salt and pepper.

First meal

Gently reheat half the lentils. Cook the pasta or rice in plenty of well-salted, fast boiling water until al dente and then drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Mix the lentils and the cooked pasta or rice, adding a little of the reserved water to loosen the consistency, if you think fit. Serve with more extra virgin olive oil poured over the top and a bowl of grated parmesan cheese for those who wish.

Second meal

For the second meal, just reheat the lentils, then top with a grilled or pan-fried sausage or fried egg.
For the second meal, just reheat the lentils, then top with a grilled or pan-fried sausage or fried egg. Photograph: Elena Heatherwick/Guardian

Gently reheat the rest of the lentils, adding a handful of finely chopped parsley and a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil for shine. Divide between four bowls and top each one with a grilled or pan-fried sausage or fried egg.


Should I try the alkaline diet?

7 Jul

Should I try the alkaline diet?

Following the alkaline diet means eating mostly plants, limiting meat, skipping dairy, sweets, alcohol and caffeine and banishing processed food. Sounds like a healthy move, right?

Not so fast. Most of the touted health benefits of the alkaline diet aren’t research-backed. The theory behind it is that our Western diet (rich with saturated fat, simple sugars and sodium and lacking in potassium, magnesium and fiber) produces acid, driving our body’s pH down slightly, making it more acidic. So the thinking goes that having an acidic pH fuels chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and obesity and promotes ailments like bloating and chronic fatigue. Eating a diet that makes your body more alkaline staves off those health problems. Nice theory. The reality is that your body, especially your kidneys and lungs, maintains a steady pH regardless of what you eat.

Another rub: the alkaline diet isn’t intuitive. For one, some acidic foods—lemons, apple-cider vinegar—are actually considered alkaline-forming because of the way they’re metabolized. And, as with many fad diets, some healthy foods are discouraged—in this case, navy beans, peanuts and whole eggs—because of their “acidic” properties.

However, the main tenet of eating the alkaline way—to fill your diet with plants—is great. Loads of research supports a plant-focused diet for a healthy weight and better health. Plus, some alkaline diet claims like preventing muscle loss and quelling chronic lower back pain have preliminary research supporting them. The diet may also help prevent kidney stones (your diet can affect the pH of your urine and more-acidic urine can increase your risk).

Bottom line: The foods of the alkaline diet are healthy, but the diet’s purported benefits still lack scientific support.

Healthy Diet For You – Corn Soup

2 Dec

Do you want a healthy diet for your family? Well,it is a common desire for all.A healthy diet consists of different food item.Soup is a must for a nutritious diet.Include soup in your regular diet chart.You can go for both veg soups like broccoli soup,mixed vegetable soup,sweet corn soup,sweet potato soup and so on. Chicken corn broth is very popular and there are western versions of this dish as well as eastern ones. This is a very economical recipe to make and it is easy to prepare too, making it a good choice for novice cooks. Poultry and corn go together really well because the sweetness of the corn complements the mild taste of the chicken. When the fat solidifies on top of the soup, take it off. You should be left with about two and a half quarts of soup. Split the corn cobs lengthwise with a sharp knife and scrape off the kernels. Put the soup and kernels in a big pot over a moderate heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for twelve minutes or until the corn is tender.

You can also add some water if needed. The next things to add are basil and salt as per taste.As soon as it starts boiling remove the vessel from the gas.Now let the soup cool.Strain it when it cools down.Now keep the vessel on the gas again and add cream.Stir it a little and your tasty and healthy Cream Tomato Soup is ready. I had most of the other vegetables in the food supply all safely packed in the number 10 storage cans but now needed corn. Upon research the corn I discovered is was a type of corn which has the highest starch content of any corn. I later found out that there are many applications for this variety of corn for both human as well as animals. Incidentally, dent corn is one of the most grown crops in America today. Another name for dent corn is field corn so that it is differentiated from the usual table corn.

It is a simple recipe with very few vegetables, some shredded pork and a clear broth. In the original recipe you would find no milk products such as cream or cheese, no seafood or chicken what so ever. Concluding this article I would like to present to you two versions of this soup. The first recipe being the original Native American recipe while the second is t4eh modern, updated version. I now give you the Navajo Corn soup recipe. Once you see it boiling, add the quinoa and reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Make sure the pan is covered. Uncover and then add the water and corn, add the spinach leaves and soy sauce. Let it simmer for a few minutes and add salt and pepper according to your taste. You can serve this quinoa soup as is or with a poached egg on top. In the meantime brown the meat slightly and add the garlic and onions to the pan. Sauté together until the combo is tender. Drain off any of the excess fat and add the pork, oregano, salt, pepper as well as the remaining 6 cups of water. Simmer over the stove for about 1 hour or until such time as the corn and meat become tender.

Foods for Fall

12 Nov

Fall – or more specifically, the autumnal equinox – marks a unique point in the year when daylight and nighttime become equal again in length after the long, light-filled evenings and early mornings of summer. After the autumnal equinox, day becomes shorter than night, and in anticipation of this change, the plant world starts to move inward during the fall. Grasses turn from green to brown, with their energy moving downward and inward toward their roots. Fruits, leaves, and seeds start to fall from trees and bushes as these plants start to close up and prepare for the drop in temperature. The expansive green leaves of lettuce give way to the final maturing of the root vegetables and their much more densely-packed sugars and starches.

Autumn is also a season marked by increased cooling and drying. The extremely watery fruits of summer give way to the drier carrots, and potatoes, and seeds of all kinds. And the cooler temperatures give an edge to foods that stand little risk of freezing in comparison to the water-rich fruits and vegetables.

All of these natural changes in the world around us give us clues about the best foods to eat during the fall. We too will need more concentrated energy in the cooler autumn weather, and the denser foods of the autumn harvest – the root vegetables (including garlic, onion, carrot, potato, sweet potato, yam, and burdock), as well as the dense above-ground squashes and gourds (including winter squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin); and the dry, energy-rich nuts and seeds (including walnuts and sunflower seeds) are all part of the fall’s best food choices.

A final natural trend in the fall would be increased cooking and baking in the kitchen. In contrast to the light and cooling foods of summer that help to counterbalance the season of highest heat, autumn begins to initiate that transition into cold weather that makes us eager for a bowl of hot soup or steeped tea. Autumn is therefore a time for celebrating warm moist odors pouring forth from the kitchen, providing a perfect balance for the cooler and drier fall nights and drier fall harvest. This increased time in the fall kitchen is also a good perfect time for getting well-organized in preparation for the winter meal plan. Canning, drying, freezing, and pickling of foods harvested during late summer and early fall are perfect activities for a time of year when nature itself is getting ready for the upcoming months. In contrast to summer, when there can be an almost chaotic abundance of foods popping up everywhere you look, fall marks the season when you have to start thinking in a more organized way about your kitchen and your upcoming winter meal plan. Of course, most of us have year-round access to the foods of spring and summer during the winter and fall. However, this doesn’t mean that we should ignore the natural passage of the seasons and adapt our meal plan accordingly. It can also be fun to transition our meal plan to traditional autumn foods, and it can make us feel much more at home with the seasonal transformation going on around us.

Why Kebab is Better Than McDonald’s

28 Oct

Have you ever been to McDonalds? How about a kebab restaurant? McDonald’s is the place where kids are usually taken first time they go eating out with their parents. Some time ago my parents told me when I was kid they tried to postpone our trip to McDonald’s as much as possible. Then, when we finally went to McDonalds, I got addicted. This probably has happened to you, too. But then, on the later date, we were introduced to something else… and this something was kebab.

Since then, kebab has always been close to our hearts, right? This raises a question: why. The taste is obviously number one but what if we dwell a little deeper and research. I think not supporting multinational, immensely rich corporation must be amongst the top reasons. McDonald’s has a shitloads of money already and it operates succesfully in many countries so why not to support your local kebab? They probably need money more than McDonald’s and are pleased to have you as their loyal customer.

Supporting your local kebab is good for employing people. Human mind tends to go dull if you don’t do anything and having a job is good at preventing from becoming dull. McDonald’s can also employ you but you have probably heard about McJob, “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement”, a term from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

When you go to McDonald’s do you think the meals are good for you? They are not, and kebab is healthier than McDonald’s to some extent. McDonald’s clever tactic is to serve soft drink – one of the worst health offenders – with every meal. They get the money and you get heaps of sugar. Deep fried, heavily salted french fries are usually served along and with only one buck you get larger size. In kebab restaurants, however, soft drinks and kebab is sold separately and it’s so much easier to choose water for drink. Kebab with salad (no bread or french fries) is a real choice, while going to McDonald’s for a salad is like going to a whore for a hug.

Chicken McNuggets are one of the most popular items in the McDonald’s menu. I’ve tasted them and they were not bad until I saw picture of pink goop they are made of. Chickens are turned into that goop so that sophisticated nuggets can be created and served to the customers. I think the pink stuff looks gross! The rotating meat spit you see in the above photo looks OK and at least it wont be soaked in ammonia. Pick a kebab, not the Pink Panther nugget!

As a kid I was very excited about toys that were included in Happy Meals. Looking back, I was a victim of McDonald’s unethical marketing strategy. Kids love toys so what is better way to lure them in than offering those widgets for free. Now, how many kebab restaurants do this? I’ve not seen any. I think that targeting children in a such way is wrong and overly selfish.

Remember when your mom cooks your favourite food? She knows what you like and talks nice things to you. The atmosphere is calm and relaxing and you can smell good aromas floating from the stew. I call this food with love. McDonald’s, on the other hand, does not have such things. I almost call it “food with hate”. Order, eat quickly and get out. Grunts. Kebab places usually don’t have mom cooking either but they surely feel more nice and cosy!

This is why I think kebab is better than McDonald’s! Sometimes I opt for a hamburger but it happens rarely. Kebab is the number one choice. Or maybe I missed a point somewhere or am totally lost? I’d appreciate if you could tell me in the comment sections below!

Organic Grocery Store

30 Sep

It’s similar to the organic certification for food processing plants. Hadn’t thought of that either? Well, that box of organic crackers you just bought is full of organic ingredients (insert bucolic images here) but what else makes those crackers organic? A lot, actually.When you hear the word “organic” what do you think of? If you’re at all familiar with organic farming, then you probably know that a certified organic apple has to be grown according to certain standards – such as no toxic or persistent pesticides.

Makes sense. You might also know that certified organic beef comes from cows that eat certified organic feed and steer clear (no pun intended) of antibiotics and added growth hormones. All that makes sense too. So, when someone says “organic,” bucolic images of farms, orchards and pastures probably come to mind. Bustling urban grocery stores? Not so much.Well, like those apples and that beef, Whole Foods Market stores are certified organic. “Wait, what?” – you may ask – “A grocery store can be certified organic?” Yes, it can and we are.

Though, I admit it’s a little confusing, especially since not ALL the products in our stores are organic. Basically, our certification means that we ensure the organic integrity of the organic products we sell from the time they reach our stores until they are safely tucked into your shopping cart.

Courtney Mudge is the Organic Certification Manager for Whole Foods Market. She’s a 5th generation Texan who grew up on a ranch in the Hill Country. When she’s not coaching our stores on organic integrity, she’s being crafty and searching for the perfect taco.


What’s old is new again , Lodge Cast Iron

2 Sep

Whenever I’m shopping for a new skillet or sauté pan, the first thing I do is lift it. Usually, the cheaper the pan, the lighter it feels. Meaning there’ll be very little metal between the flame and whatever it is you’re cooking. You want a pan with a satisfying heft to it—otherwise, you’re going to be scorching stuff on the bottom before the rest of the food even has a chance to get warm.

Cookware doesn’t come much heftier than cast iron. That solid, lift-with-your-knees weight assures even heating, great heat retention and generation-spanning durability. This sturdy, no nonsense cookware is enjoying renewed popularity these days among a whole new generation of cooks.

So I was pleased to hear that the best cast iron out there is still made right here in America, in the town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee (population 3,300 or so), where it has been since William McKinley was president.

Lodge Cast Iron is the last cast iron cookware company still in daily production in the United States. And refreshingly, this wonderfully hefty cookware doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. To find out more about the innovations that have kept this culinary tradition alive—and made their cookware the industry standard.