Friday, February 28, 2014

Learning to cook: Mary Berry How to Cook

It is never too late to learn how to cook. I am a vivid example that there are always second chances for born-to-fail type of chefs. In the last 5 years, I started from the scratch and succeeded to bake my own bread and challes - without a recipe, lately - and to share cooking tips with experienced ladies. As in many other situations, the determination to succeed are fundamental in the success of the project.
Even though I can consider myself middle management level, there are still a lot of things that I don't know, mostly because I did the learning by myself or from books. 
Mary Berry is a brand name in the history of British cuisine. Educated at Cordon Bleu, she is a top English presenter and food writer but also considered one of the best dressed over 50s women in the relatively fashion sophisticated United Kingdom. 
How to cook is mostly a collection of basic recipes, accompanied by practical tips about the boiling time, the quantity of ingredients needed for a tasty meal as well as some descriptions of the practicalities of some of the tools that can help to cut correctly your veggies or your lemon. 
I learned a couple of cooking tips, that I am keen to share it:
- An egg should be left around 30 minutes out of the fridge before boiling.
- Before you make an omelet or your fried egg, be sure that the fat or oil in the pan is already boiling. It will also help to prevent the egg to get glued on the pan.  
- There are different boiling times for rice: 12-15 minutes for the parboiled long grain, 10-15 minutes for basmati and around 30 minutes for the normal rice.
- Before cooking, add some salt to the eggplant as it will help to eliminate the bitter taste.
- Wash the potatoes with a brush in order to properly clean the rests of earth and other impurities.
- When you want to cut fruits with core, try to first cut them circularly and at the end, separate the halves around the core. This goes as well for the avocado, that gave me a couple of headaches and hilarious moments when I first tempted to halve it. 
With so many new tips, I know that my life in the kitchen will be much easier than never before!

Monday, February 24, 2014

What's wrong with my spinach?

I am not a very big supporter of spinach, but the main reason is that besides the classical frozen type with eggs, I have no other idea how to eat it. As a kid, I was offered the glorious example of Popeye the sailor as a possible evolution in my adulthood, but I was rather Olive's type.
Lately, we are fighting hard to eat as healthy as possible, and we try at least once the week a new green salad. I noticed that spinach leaves cannot be find easily in Berlin, and the box frozen variant doesn't look too healthy for me. At a Turkish grocery store I spotted a plastic box with fresh spinach leaves, and bought it. I only hesitate if one box will be enough or maybe we will be so in love with the green menu that will want to eat over and over again and we will not find enough spinach in Berlin to feed us.
Happy, with the box of spinach on the top of the kitchen table, we started to worry. How will be eat it? Raw, like the rabbits, or in combination with some other veggies? Would we want to make a smoothie too? 
Creative as usual, I cleaned some leaves, added some pomegranate and some boiled couscous and started to eat. My childhood intuition was not wrong. Raw or boiled, with eggs or pomegranates, spinach is not my type of taste. And left the half eaten salad in the fridge for the next days.
After a couple of days, an unpleasant metallic smell was left in the air every time we were opening the fridge. Tried several times to figure out what it is all about, but failed to identify the cause. Exasperated, I started to smell one by one the bowls and the guilt was exclusively to our spinach leaves. 

How dangerous are the oxalates

Curious to understand what happened, I did some intensive research the days after. The real story goes that spinach is very rich in iron, hence the metallic smell I felt in my fridge. What was subject of debate and scientific consideration in the case of spinach was the oxalic acid, which can be found equally in kale, chard or parsley. In the case of spinach, though, there is the highest concentration, of around 750 milligrams/100 grams. 
One of the most frequent warning I noticed, especially in the dedicated German-speaking literature is to avoid reheating the spinach leftover as it has poisonous compounds and can lead to sickness and even death. Honestly, the warning regards probably industrial quantities of spinach, and not the small portion that we usually have for daily consumption.
The oxalic acid is a common chemical compound in plants and animals, and is regularly consumed in very small quantities in different foods, such as nuts, most berries, seeds or leafy greens. The poisoning danger appears only in the case of the consumption in large amounts - probably more than 1 kg./day. A frequent consumption of such foods can lead to kidney stones.
According to the medical evaluations, oxalates, that are fungal in origin and cannot be destroyed by heat, can inhibit calcium absorption. Another possible dangers are tyroid disease and fybromalgia. 
The conclusion(s): eating 'green' doesn't mean necessarily eating 100% healthy, but if it is with measure, everything cannot be but fine.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Raspberry scones

I am trying hard to keep up with learning new recipes at least once the week. For this week, I decided to focus on the suggestions of the famous Swedish cook, Leila Lindholm. Out of many temptations, I wanted to see what the raspberry scones are all about (p.26).

I never cooked scones before, but the first experience was not only fast - maximum 30 minutes for both preparation and baking - but also delicious. Right now, I am thinking to have some cheese scones any time soon.
I tried as much as possible to follow the directions and ingredients from the original recipe, except the cocoa that I usually don't like too much in my kitchen.

Ingredients for 6 big scones:
- 480 gr. white flour
- 1/2 table spoon salt
- 1 1/2 table spoon backpowder
- 40 gr. brown sugar
- 125 cold butter (or margarine)
- 1 egg
- 200 ml. milk
 250 gr. fresh raspberries (the original recipe mentions 150 gr. of frozen raspberries, but I rather preferred the fresh ones).

Heat the oven at 250 C.
Mix flour, salt, backpowder and sugar.
Add the butter (or margarine) and knead it with the hands.
Mix egg and milk together and add it later to the big bowl.
Knead all the ingredients together and roll the dough. Take small or bigger portions and spread the raspberries. 
Bake them in the oven for around 10-15 minutes.

Bon Appétit!

Eating edamame

The name 'edamame' didn't tell me too much at first, although I spent one full year in Japan. It is the reason why I was very keen to taste it when offered the opportunity to meet again the Japanese cuisine. Used in the Japanese cuisine, since the 13th century, it is usually used as a side dish and in combination of various salads, including together with quinoa or can be the European equivalent of salted peanuts accompanying the beer. 
It is eaten cooked, after being boiled in a salty water. Compared with the dry and mature soy beans used for the preparation of tofu, edamame has young soy beans, almost melting in the palate. It has full taste, that can be compared with pistachio. 
The first problem for the clumsy European is how to eat it: do we need to eat it with the pod - no, of course not - or only the beans - yes, of course? Opening the pod is a piece of cake, especially when edamame is freshly cooked: one needs only to squeeze a bit and the beautiful tasty beans are there. The taste is delicious and addictive and after I savoured two full bowls, I need to start checking where I can find to buy some as soon as possible. 
It can be served hot or cold, but I would rather prefer them hot. 
Besides the taste, edamame is also rich in proteins, Vitamin K, carbohydrates and manganese. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Creative stuffed zucchini

Last Shabbos, I wanted to prepare something new relatively fast for a veggie Friday evening, using only the ingredients I had in the house. 
The result was not only unique, but equally tasty.

4 medium sized zucchini, cut into halves
7-8 black olives
250 gr. cooked quinoa, for around 15 minutes
10 cherry tomatoes
salt, on taste
150 gr. roasted almonds
150 gr. goat cheese, cut into cubes

Fill the quinoa, and add the olives, tomatoes, almonds and cheese.
Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes, at 150C.

Preparation time, around 15 minutes

It serves 4. 

Bon Appétit!

Baked bananas

Many years before, I avoided as much as possible oily recipes, because I felt that it was not good for my liver, nutrition and, last but not least, diet. Nowadays, from time to time, I like to prepare things that might not be healthy, but once in a while, can be tasted.
First on the list, baked bananas.
As in many other cases, I tried to do a serious research about how I can prepare them, and ended up, as usual, again, creating my recipe.
I used 4 big bananas, cut into small pieces.
4 tablespoons of oil in the pan, heated at maximum temperature, at least 3 minutes before throwing the bananas in.
5 tablespoons of flour
1 egg white

Wash every piece of banana in the egg white, and cover it in flour after.
Add to the pan and bake it on both sides.
To be served with a bit of honey or confectioner's sugar.

The preparation and cooking is within 30 minutes.

Serves 3.

Bon Appétit!

Red beets ideas

I rarely have red beets in my menu, because I am not fully used with the taste and the possible combinations. Once in a while, it's good to try something new, and a couple of weeks ago I tried to do two recipes in a row, which is a special event. Blame a good friend who treated me recently with a really good red beets salad.

The first 'creation' took me around 15 minutes to prepare and 1 hour to cook. In the case of both recipes, boiling the red beets took the biggest amount of time, around 1 hour, at the highest temperature.
For the salad, I used the following ingredients, after peeling and cutting the cooked 2 small red beets into pieces of various sizes:
- 2 tablespoon of pistachio oil
- 2 tablespoon of za'atar
- 1 tablespoon figs vinegar
- 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds
It can be served with meat, or veggies. Is very fresh and tastes very good. It serves two.

The 'red' hummus is a recipe that I spotted regularly on various veggie blogs. I tried my own version, that haven't been extremely impressive, but mostly because for me - and probably not for me - hummus has a special flavour, texture and colour too.
The preparation takes around 15 minutes.
The ingredients used:
150 gr. chickpeas, cooked for around 45 minutes
2 small redbeets, cooked
2 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Chickpeas, and after red beets went to the mixer. After, I added all the other ingredients and mixed together.

It serves 3.

It goes very well with fish, meat, pita and eggs, for the early morning breakfast or a long dinner.

Bon Appétit

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beauty corner: What's wrong with the silicone in shampoos?

A couple of months ago, I purchased a shampoo, not the usual type I used to be faithful too, and noticed a special mention about the absence of silicone. Not familiar with the issue, I decided to do a bit of research and clarify the problem.
What I discovered during a short online investigation. The latest studies and researches consider that silicone has a negative influence on the hair health. As it is no water soluble, the hair should be cleaned a lot of time before it goes out. The first consequence is the split hair. Used in excess, it prevents oils and moisture from penetrating into the hair. It brings more damage than a regular use of the hair drier. 
Its scientific name is dimenthicone, a class that comprises several types of derivates, with various degrees of danger for the hair. The usual endings of silicones are: - ane, - cone, - corol, - col. For instance, among the most dangerous are: cetyle dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, stearyl dimenthicone. It is used as ingredient for smoothing products, as it makes hair looking less fizzy, conditioners and moisturising masks.    
A little bit afraid about the effects of those substances, I paid a visit to the Rossmann store nearby in order to check the main shampoos available. Some of the big companies do have both with or without silicone products. Dove, for instance, which I used to try for short periods of time, includes silicone in the Oil care, as it does the Panthene Pro and Oil conditioner from the same company. The Liquid Silk from Gliss Kur, does it too, as it does Head and Shoulders too. Citrus Pure, from Garnier, as well as Herbal Essences, Isana Totes Meer, Alterra, Swiss O-Par, Lavera are free of such ingredients. In a cosmetic shop I discovered new silicone free shampoos from Anemarie Borling, Schoenenberger, Henna Shampoo, Extracta Hair. 
Even though many of the usual shampoos, with a high concentration of silicone, are usually less expensive than those from the second category, there are many affordable variants too, as for instance Alterra and Isana Totes Meer, who are under 3 Euro.
As in the case of the food, is always very important to know what we are using, and to make the right informed decisions.