Category Archives: In the Kitchen

Recipes, health lifestyle tips and other food-related topics can be found here.

To Brew or Not To Brew…

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As many of my close friends and family know, I am a big health nut.  I love learning about new healthy techniques to keep my body strong and as free of toxins as possible.  Last year my dear friend (she knows I am completely into anything “organic” or “detoxifying”) shared a bit of knowledge she learned from a close buddy.  It was about a beverage called Kombucha Tea.

Many of you have probably heard of this drink.  It has been the latest rage in the natural-living trend encompassing our society the past couple of decades.  If you haven’t heard of it, don’t let the name fool you.  This beverage is not your typical glass of Lipton tea.  Although its origins come from ancient China (research has found that people began making it some 2000 years ago), this “tea” is a result of fermenting a bacterial culture in a brew made of filtered water, sugar and usually a green or black tea blend.  But please don’t go into hysterics at the mention of drinking something that is a derivative of bacteria.  This particular bacterium is good for your gut!

When I first heard of this beverage I drove to my local natural food store and picked up a couple of bottles so I could give it a go.  Despite the steep price, I loved it!  First off, I used to be a diet soda addict.  I craved its tangy sweetness and carbonation.  The Kombucha I tried had similar qualities.  It was tangy, with just a hint of sweetness on the finish.  The tea was also carbonated.  Here was a total replacement for the beverage I grudgingly gave up last year.

I continued to go to my local health food store and pick up four bottles every week, cringing each time I forked over the money to the sales clerk.  I justified the price for all the great health benefits this tangy beverage provided for my body.  If you are wondering what the benefits are, you can do a google search and find mutltiple websites for it.  That is what I did when I first learned of it, and the more I read the more I knew this drink was something I needed in my daily diet.

For starters, Kombucha is considered to be a great probiotic, something we tend to need more and more these days thanks to a lot of the processed foods and chemicals we are willingly (and unwillingly) exposed too.  The probiotics keep the digestive track running properly, helping cleanse the body of those nasty toxins swimming around in our gut.   Having a healthy gut also helps keep your immune system running better, so you could attribute Kombucha to that as well!  Some people claim it has cancer-curing aspects or the B vitamins and detoxifying minerals help cure other diseases.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I figure a little of it in moderation definitely can’t hurt you.  So I keep on drinking.

Talking probiotics and fermentation, I bet you are wondering what is really in Kombucha?  Kombucha Tea comes from fermenting a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast).  SCOBYs can have many names, such as “mother,” “baby” or just simply “culture.”  What you have to be aware of when buying a SCOBY is that the culture is sealed in a sterile environment with its starter liquid (which is just about a cup of Kombucha tea).  Don’t drink or make Kombucha from dried or dehydrated SCOBYs, it’s not good eats people.

Here is my healthy SCOBY that I have already used twice to make my own Kombucha:

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So how does one avoid paying the price (somewhere around $4 a bottle) on a weekly basis when we know this stuff is pretty good for us?  Simple, make it at home.  Once I did a little research online and talked to a few Kombucha-drinking friends, I realized that I didn’t have to set aside a separate trust fund to keep Kombucha stocked in my fridge.  I could just make it myself!

It is actually extremely easy to do, and after you get that first batch under your belt and work out your brewing kinks, you too can have Kombucha tea flowing freely in your home.  The best web site I have found, based on a friend’s recommendation, has been kombuchakamp.com.  This site is owned and operated by Hannah Crum, and she has been brewing Kombucha and educating countless other individuals on the benefits of this drink.  Her site is easily navigable and she even has a starter kit for first-time brewers, such as myself.  It is what I purchased before I made my first Kombucha brew.  Hannah offers lots of great video tutorials if you get stuck on something, and you can even e-mail or call her to get tips.  Her SCOBYs are 100% quality product, and she uses all organic tea blends and sugars in her kits.  I would definitely recommend visiting this site if you think you want to start making your own Kombucha tea.

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Kombuchakamp.com has easy, step-by-step guides to brewing the tea at home. Now we need to make sure you have the right equipment.  Here is what you will need to make your first brew:

–A 1-gallon glass jar, preferably with a wide opening

–Organic black, green or herbal tea blend (you can use loose-leaf tea or bags)

–A piece of cloth and rubber band, large enough to cover and secure to the top of your glass jar

–Organic sugar, turbinado is best (don’t use artificial sweeteners or “diet” sugars-it can mess up your SCOBY and interfere with brewing)

–I SCOBY with starter liquid

–A tea pot/kettle

Make sure you also have a warm, dark place to brew your tea.  Laundry room counters or the top of refrigerators are some great places.  You just need to be sure the temp is between 70-80 degrees and that airflow is consistent around the jar.

It might seem intimidating to think about brewing something that contains bacteria, but really it is very simple and if you follow the guidelines you will be successful.  If you haven’t tried Kombucha tea before, go out and buy a bottle to see if you like it.  And if you do, then save some hard-earned dollars and make your own at home!  You can also flavor your home-made Kombucha.  I like to use ginger, mint, fresh strawberries, goji berries, blueberries, even lavender.  The world is your oyster when it comes to flavor combinations.  Here are my two Kombuchas with ginger/mint/goji berry and POM juice/strawberry/mint.  Delish!

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To learn more about Kombucha, visit www.kombuchakamp.com

Now, for your wine tip of the day.  Kombucha is a very unique beverage, and its taste and carbonation remind me of one of my absolute favorite wines to drink:  Champagne!

Champagne may not have the health benefits of Kombucha, but I love how the tartness and bubbles remind me of this unique wine.  Not all sparkling wine is Champagne, but all Champagne is sparkling wine.  To be called “Champagne,” the wine MUST come from the Northeast region of France…the Champagne region.  Otherwise the bubbly beverage will be referred to as “sparkling wine. “

Champagne can be made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, or it can also be made with from dark-skinned grapes such as Pinot Noir.  Many Champagne wines are a blend of these grapes, which gives vineyards their distinctive flavors.  Some will be sweet (Demi-sec or Doux), some semi-dry (Brut) and others will be bone-dry (Extra brut).  Depending on your taste for wine, you choose the level of sweet-to-dry ratio.

Many people only reserve Champagne for “special occasions,” such as birthdays, graduations or weddings.  But I love to just pop open a bottle on a random Wednesday night.  Why not?  Isn’t life worth celebrating every day?  Don’t put Champagne in a separate category that restricts your ability to drink it whenever you want.  It can be a great starter wine at parties before you open the heavy-hitter red wines.  Or you can have it to go with a light seafood or chicken dish.

There are many different kinds of Champagne out there, and lots of different prices.  But if you need a go-to label, I would search Roederer Estate.  I always keep a bottle of this around my house and it won’t empty your wallet.  The flavors are outstanding, much like a Dom Pérignon, but for around $25 a bottle.  I can even buy this at my local grocery store.  There are many big-name Champagne labels, such as Krug, Bollinger and the aforementioned Dom.  But to me, the wine can make just as big a statement without a hefty price tag.  So save the Dom for your “special occasion” and open the Roederer Estate to celebrate surviving a Monday.

Until next time, cheers!

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Going Rogue in the Kitchen

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I have always been one of those individuals who will try anything once, at least when food is involved.  One of my favorite things to eat in the culinary world is sushi, but it is also the one thing I have never even dared tackle in my own kitchen.  About a month ago I was checking out at my local grocery store and noticed a young couple behind me.  On the belt stacked neatly beside my dividing bar was an entire collection of items they planned on using to make sushi.  A thought suddenly poked into my brain; if these 20-somethings could make sushi at home then why on earth could I not do this myself?

I tried not to be obvious as I threw sideways glances in their direction, taking note of all they were going to use-sushi matt, sushi rice, seaweed papers, ginger, veggies and tuna (which was frozen).  Hmmm, I think I could definitely do this.  Surely if I can bring two healthy children into this world, I can whip up a few rolls in my kitchen, right?

So I decided last week would be the time to try it.  My household was sick (I felt the need to wear a surgical mask 24/7), so I knew going out to eat would not be an option.  Normally when I cook in the kitchen I tend to go a little rogue.  I don’t necessarily follow recipes.  I might use them as guidelines, but I always change up ingredients or add extra spices my family likes.  But sushi, well, let’s say I didn’t have the guts to fly by the seat of my pants on this one. I needed a recipe, and a simple one.

One of my all-time favorite chefs is Giada de Laurentiis.  I love all the fresh ingredients and simple steps she uses to create her dishes.  Now that I had thrown down the gauntlet to myself to make this dish, there was no turning back.  I fired up my computer, logged onto the Web and searched Giada’s recipes.  Aha! I found what I was looking for-salmon hand rolls.  Even though I new I was going to switch the vegetable ingredients on the recipe (I had some in my fridge that needed to be used) there were still a few items I needed from the store.

Ingredient list in hand, I perused the seafood section of the store…no sushi-grade salmon (I live in Missouri, enough said).  But there WAS frozen tuna, which is what the young couple had purchased for their sushi.  I grabbed two small steaks from the freezer and threw it in the cart with the rest of my purchases.  The recipe called for asparagus, but I knew I had red bell pepper, carrot and cucumber at home.  Why buy more items when I needed to use what I already had in the fridge? I was going rogue on sushi now.

Here was my sushi 101 checklist (rogue-style):

-Frozen Ahi Tuna steaks (about 4 oz each)

-Fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

-Short-grain brown rice (you can also use white rice version)

-Sushi matt

-Seaweed papers

-Pickled ginger

-Soy sauce

-Toasted sesame oil

-Wasabi powder

That afternoon, recipe in hand, I julienned my ingredients and cooked the sushi rice accordingly.  I defrosted the tuna in cold water in the fridge, which is how you should always defrost your seafood to avoid spoiling the meat. This usually takes several hours, depending on the size of your fish.

Once everything was ready, it was time to start rolling.  Sushi matt in hand, I started to assemble my ingredients one-by-one.  Giada’s tips were easy to follow and it only took me about 20 minutes to make six or seven rolls.  This gave me enough time to pour myself a glass of vino and whip up a quick meal for the kids (they are not sushi eaters).

A few pictures to show you:

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I have to give my better half some kudos on this adventure in the kitchen.  He loves sushi, but has never ventured to eat the homemade kind.  He didn’t even bat an eyelid when I told him what I made for dinner.  He just grinned and dug in like it was a plate of steak and potatoes.  All in all, the sushi was a success, and now I know I can make my own rolls at home.  The world is my oyster when it comes to this area of cuisine…wonder what I will make next?

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Not bad, huh?  If you are feeling adventurous in the kitchen, here is a link to Giada’s salmon hand rolls:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/fun-salmon-hand-roll-recipe.html

Even though I changed the ingredients, it gave me a good guideline to follow for my first sushi-making experience.

As I mentioned before, this recipe lends itself for some wine.  So here is my wine recommendation to have with your own homemade sushi.  I would opt for a sauvignon blanc when it comes to this type of dish.  These wines are crisp and clean, so they won’t distract from the flavors of whatever roll you are making.  Even if the sushi is spicy, this is still a great wine to pair.  Tyler Florence, in conjunction with Robert Mondavi, has a great sauvignon blanc on the market that only costs between $15 and $20, depending on where you buy it.  I found it at my local grocery store.  You will taste grapefruit and sweet lemon, but the wine is very balanced and smooth.  For more information you can look up Tyler Florence, or visit www.wine.com.

Until next time, cheers!

New Year’s Resolutions…are they worth it?

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Look at the calendar-it is crazy to realize we are already at the end of January.  With each new year, it is customary to make resolutions.  Silly little requirements we place on ourselves to try and make our lives better, our health better or to just let go of bad habits.  But in all honesty, as you approach February, how are you doing on your resolution?  I can tell you how mine is going…terrible!  Ugh, each day I get up and say to myself:

“Self, you can do this.  Eat better, work out more…yell at the kids less…do more yoga.”

By the end of the day, not only have I devoured a package of dark chocolate (that is supposed to be good for you, right?), I have also missed a work-out because my son wouldn’t nap and then had a scream-fest with my 6-year-old daughter on why we don’t disrespect mommy and daddy with words.  Ah, another day and another failure of the resolutions.

So here is my idea on resolutions.  Simply don’t make them.  It just automatically sets you up for failure!  What I have discovered over the years, after long conversations with my girlfriends, is to set realistic goals.  Goals that you can master one tiny step at a time.  Not many people do very well going cold-turkey, right?  So if your vice is soda, cut out one soda for the week.  The next week, cut out another, and so forth.  Gradually you will reach your ultimate goal of giving it up.  All too often we are pressured to fit into a perfect mold, a cookie-cutter shape.  But usually the real beauty we miss (especially women) is that we are all unique.  So why do we want to conform to one set standard?

All too often I am just as guilty as the next Jane Doe in feeling I should be thinner, have less wrinkles or drink more juices.  I could write hours and hours on this topic, but I don’t want to bore you when I am just getting started on blogging.  I am sure this item will come up again and again in later posts.  So stay tuned, or send me some comments and we can chat.

And because I think every new year deserves a new wine-here is my wine tip for the day. For those of you determined to give up desserts, you may not want to leave out cherry pie. Okay, not an actual pie, but a delicious, fruity California Pinot Noir with the name “Cherry Pie.” It is a wine to drink alone, with poultry or any kind of red meat. Try it and you will immediately fall in love with a different kind if “pie!”

http://www.cherrypiewines.com/wine

Until next time, cheers!