Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The tradition of King Cake

In honor of Fat Tuesday, let’s talk history.

What is a King Cake? Why is there a baby inside of it? What is it made of?

The tradition of King Cake is very, very old. Think 12th century France: exploding populations, no more Vikings, High Middle Ages, new spiritualism and Romanesque art. In France, the season for King Cake stretches from the celebration of Epiphany, a day of opulent feasting that honoring Baby Jesus, until Carnival, or what we know as Mardi Gras!

In the US the cake is named for the 3 Kings who brought presents to Baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Some say this Catholic tradition is the root of the plastic baby buried within the pastry. Others insist it is a secular flight of fantasy, much like the rest of Carnival. The best story comes from the heart of the festivities: In the 1950’s a bakery in New Orleans got an unusually large shipment of tiny plastic babies from Hong Kong, and thus began the tradition.

The cake itself is based on a brioche dough (eggs and butter…yum) formed into a long roll then twisted to make a spiraling circle. Then its covered in the traditional colors of carnival: white, green, purple and gold

Yes! I got the baby! That means that I am crowned the “Queen of the Party” and will have good luck for the next year. Finding the baby means I have to bring throw my own party next week, It’s tradition. ☺

Get your debauchery on….

Monday, January 28, 2008

Food of the week: Beets

Leave it to the Romans to produce the greatest discoveries...Aqueducts, indoor pluming, and beets! Though the sweet and earthy beet is thought to originated in North Africa, the ancient Romans were the first to cultivate the velvety red root for food. Later, in the 19th century, beets were used for their high sugar content in Poland, home of the worlds first sugar factory.

Thats a bit of history on the luxurious and brilliantly colored vegetable, now here is why you should ate as many as you can!

Not only are beets high in anti-oxidants, contain 13% DV of fiber, 27.5 % DV of Manganese (think healthy bones, healthy nerves) and help prevent heart disease but they also perform two very cool functions....
  1. Beets prevent birth defects- Even the thought of a baby is along way off for me, a diet rich in the B Vitamin Folate, encourages normal tissue growth (especially in the spinal column) of a fetus.
  2. Beets keep our livers safe with super chemicals like glutathione peroxidase and glutathione-S-transferase . These extra-scientific compounds allow the liver to identify and eliminate the toxins we put in our bodies.
You can eat beets in a million different ways.
Try ordering beet-apple juice at a local juice bar. Or enjoy beets with feta in a salad with a thyme vinaigrette. Don't forget to always save the greens when you buy beets, they are great sautéed with a little garlic!

Click this link for Grilled Flank Steak with Beets, Greens and Horseradish

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stocking a College Pantry Part 2: Dinner with Friends

It is scary to try out a brand new recipe on your friends, but if you can't make them your guinea pigs, well, what good are they! Last week, I made Chicken with Shallots, Prune and Armagnac in a small, ill-equipped apartment kitchen. Using a skillet as a dinner plate, and a soup pot as a salad bowl, it felt very college, but truth be told, everything turned out magnificently.

Though the recipe involved a few ingredients that don't pertain to the college kitchen (prunes, brandy, fresh thyme), there are two new additions to the "Virtual Pantry"

Shallots: A type of onion the shallot has a pungent garlicky scent and flavor. Sauté them in olive oil before making a soup, a sauce or to flavor the oil before browning meat. They are also really wonderful in salads, either fresh or crispified. Shallots are a great source of Vitamin C and fiber. They also contain six times as many phenols, cancer fighting phytonutrients, than their mild cousin the Vadalia.

Chicken Broth: Could you get an ingredient more versatile? You can use this broth to extend a sauce, to stove-top cook chicken (like this recipe) or to form the base for your own soup.
Try adding this flavorful broth to mashed potatoes for a richer, more luxurious flavor without adding a lot of fat or calories

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stocking a College Pantry Part I: Team Dinner

Last Thursday, I made a simple turkey-tomato sauce over linguine for my club Lacrosse team. I had to go shopping for the essentials, and I got to thinking, what ingredients should the College Kitchen always have? Every week, I am going to add to my "virtual pantry." These are the first four ingredients....

Ground Turkey: Keep it in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for 3 months, but make sure you have it handy! Turkey delivers over 32 grams of protein in just 4 oz and half the daily dose of selenium and vitamin B.

Canned Tomatoes: ESSENTIAL! you can use diced, chopped, whole roma, whole roma with basil, anything you want. The key it so always have them on hand to make a quick sauce, soup or pasta. Tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse -- low in calories but high in cancer-fighting anti-oxidants as well as Vitamins A and C to help fight off the sniffles.

Parsley: This versatile herb is chock full of anti-oxidants, vitamin C, Vitamin A and Iron! It also contains folate and vitamin B to keep your heart healthy. Parley can go on top or inside of almost anything (think cottage cheese, salad, sandwiches, omelets) and works with most ethnic cuisines including Moroccan, Greek, Italian and Spanish.

Multi-grain or Whole Wheat Pasta: Dried pasta lasts virtually forever. Compared to white pasta, Multi-grain has omega-3 fatty acids (good for your heart, also found in almonds, salmon etc.) extra protein and almost double its count. If you are trying wheat pasta for the first time, a great resource for foodie info, recommends

RONZONI Healthy Harvest, $1.79 for 13.25 ounces
The only pasta that tasted "undeniably wheaty" without a gummy or grainy texture.

Check back on Thursday for Part II!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The Evanston Athletic Club is a wonderful form of therapy because while I sweat profusely on the treadmill, I can watch Ina Garten in her lovely Hampton's abode cooking fabulous and friendly meals for her loved ones. God save personal tv's in cardio machines. Anyway....

Today, Ina reminded me of something. Saffron, the pungent and sunset-colored spice is actually the dried stamens of the Crocus flower. When I think of saffron, I immediately associate it with riches and bounty beyond imagination. Not surprising. This thin thread costs, on average, $1,000 per pound reaching $5,000 for the really good stuff. It takes up to 75,000 plants just to get this much! Talk about labor intensive. My 13-year-old brother gets board after 15 minutes at the Berry Patch rooting around for blueberries, I'd like to see him in the fertile fields of Egypt back in the days of Pharaoh!

As a college student, finding a place to cook is hurdle number one, then comes shopping with no car, followed by purchasing ingredients on a collegiate budget. Saffron is simply not in the cards. I'm reserving it for summers of bouillabaisse, paella and risottos. But there is no harm in abating my curiosity......

The earliest record of saffron dates from the 7th century BC in upper Egypt, a region formally known as Assyria. Cleopatra was the first celebrity to discover the energizing effects of the spice. This gold plated (and underage) queen bathed in saffron infused water to stimulate her sex drive and receive heightened pleasure from her sexual partners. Honestly, you'd think college women would at least shell out the dough for this!!

If college women don't want to relax in a yellow colored-tube, we might consider saffron for our mental health. A study cited in Health Magazine from the Journal of Enthopharmacology found that people who received 30 milligrams per day for six weeks reaped the same benefits as those taking depression medications like Prozac. This happened because saffron enhances mood lifting neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine.

Some centuries later, around 330 BC, Alexander the Great used a saffron ointment to heal his battle wounds. If Cleo was right, you've got to wonder what this lotion did to a powerful man with a big sword.

The spice found its way to Europe in the 14th century AD, charging onto the medical scene to fight the BLACK DEATH! Brought to the west via big, big, boats, the theft of one vessel set off a 14 week saffron war, and so called "spice adulterers" who corrupted the spice for greater profit, were sentenced to jail, public shame and even death.

Saffron has been used to aid digestion, cure measles and treat liver, kidney and gallbladders diseases. It also contains a very high amount of crocin, an antioxidant which inhibits the growth and propagation of cancerous cells.

After finishing my jog at the gym, and after Ina had completed her apple turnovers and fingerling potatoes for supper, I jumped on my bike in search of my computer and enough money to feed my ever-growing appetite. I'm getting close to searching the couch cushions for quarters to satiate my craving for Saffron Chicken!

I think somewhere in this legacy, there is a novel, or perhaps a motion picture staring Russel Crow.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Food Of The Week: Honey

“Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge. We are perpetually on the way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind.” Nietzsche

Honey, the beautiful aurulent liquid is near and dear to my heart. I eat it on everything. It graces the top of my ice cream, freezing just slightly into chewy toffee-like strands; it melts away winter mornings inside my tea cup before the sun as thought about rising, and it finds its way into my carrots tossing me into my memories of after-schools snacks.

Luckily for this sweet tooth, I've found a local man at the Minneapolis farmers market who's bees are experts and artist at their w
ork. The group of hives is called Ames Farm. Ok, so it used to be small the first time I met him and now you can buy it all over the Midwest.

It’s logo looks like this:

Ames Honey is called “single source” honey, which means it is raw, and unfiltered; preserving beneficial vitamins, enzymes and yeasts which processed honey does not do.

Here is how it works: the bees frequent a particular field to pollinate a particular type of flower. The flavor of honey produced depends on what flower is in bloom. When the sweet clover is fresh in early summer the honey is sweet, mild with hints of herbal or cinnamon flavor. Later, when the buckwheat is sky-high the honey takes on an earthy flavor with anise and black currant tones. No so much a toast honey but great on a cheese plate served with a goat or sheep cheese.

Also, different honeys have different colors. Clover honey is very light and transparent; where as the deeper buckwheat is dark with a purple hint.

But why is it good for you?

This fall, CNN reported that “A teaspoon of honey before bed seems to calm children's
coughs and help them sleep better” Turns out, honey works better than cough medicine.
As I did last week, let me remind you I am not an MD; (Though I am devastating intelligent and some people think I look like Meredith Grey--I’m not one of them) go to the article to read more….

So here are some sweet facts and stats

Honey is
1. Really high in anti oxidants: no cancer
2. A great food for athletes because when taken before a workout, it maintains optimal blood sugar levels for two hours post sweat session.
3. A wound healer and topical antiseptic: a study in India found that 91% of first degree burn patients were infection free within a week when they were treated with honey where as only 7% were clean from conventional treatments
4. The best sweetener for people with Type II diabetes or high cholesterol… like me. According to my cholesterol levels, I should be an overweight seventy year old smoking male. Weird.

If you're look
ing for a new way to try
using honey, try this Moroccan dish!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Restarant Review: Blu

In early January, the temperature has inexplicably climbed into the fifties in Evanston IL. I'm dreaming of flip flops and tulip blossoms while trying to keep in mind that winter has just begun. But this doesnt' mean I won't take this opportunity to indulge in a little warm-weather noshing.....SUSHI!
In July, 2007 Evanston was treated to a sushi heavy hitter. Blu, lead by Chef Sang Lee, formerly of Moda, presents a menu capitalizing on fresh fish. There are 30 options for sushi/sashimi and several dozen signature roll options, covering all the classics and branching into territory unknown for this sushi lover. Tobiko, I learned is flying fish roe, one of Chef Lee's specialties. Lee's menu also includes fare from the fields, like Black Angus Beef and soy braised duck, but the focus is clearly on the fish.

Our meal began with the Hamachi Tataki: six pieces of seared yellow tail slightly encrusted with pepper corns and topped with a fine mince of tomato and cilantro. The fish sat on a ribbon of cucumber wrapped into a tight spiral around a chiffonade of greens in a plum reduction and topped with mint. It was delectable. the tuna was perfectly cooked, accentuating its velvety texture and allowing its flavor to shine unobstructed. The concert of tastes played beautifully off each other, the plum adding depth and dimension, while the mint dotted each bite with bright staccato notes The refreshing cucumber was fun to eat left me ready for more.

Despite the excellence of our first course, the miserable service throughout the meal was beginning to take its toll.
Water glasses went unfilled, food waited on the bar for delivery, and our waiter new nothing about the wine list. When my mother inquired about a Pinot Gris, she was informed that it was a "white wine." Well, yes, this, we clearly knew.But then our next round of deliciousness arrived. We sampled mackerel, tuna, and red snapper, all of which were outstanding. The personalities of each fish were allowed to shine with a three to one fish:rice ratio. Perfect.
However, my enjoyment was interrupted because we lacked a single nagiri bite and waited over fifteen minutes for it to arrive. By the end of the meal, I was tired and my mother was irritated. Walking out of the restaurant, beneath the Chuhuly-esq light fixtures, it was clear that the new establishment needs to iron out the kinks. However, the food itself was so good, it easily trumped the abominable service. I will return open minded and empty stomached.

Click Here For A MAP

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Food of the Week: Fennel

I adore fennel. It is fresh and bright, but after cooking takes on a comforting earthy quality that is perfect for the sub-zero temperature in Minnesota in early January.

“I hate fennel,” said my father. “It tastes like licorice!” And he’s right— licorice, anise and fennel all share a compound called anethole, which happens to be extremely good for you. Anethole reduces inflammation, and protects against cancer. Quite a tricky little compound! By shutting down a process called tumor necorosis, cancer contaminated cells cannot communicate among themselves, thus inhibiting their devious activity.

Anethol has yet another wonderful property, one especially near and dear to the hearts of college students, and New Year’s Eve partiers everywhere. The compound has been shown to protect the liver from toxic chemical damage. This means alcohol, so eat up you party animals!

Fennel is a great source of folate, potassium and fiber. We all know fiber keeps us “regular” and our arteries clean, but folate and potassium? Folate jump starts red blood cell production and supports the nervous system. Potassium can lower blood pressure, as well as maintain good muscle and nerve health

The coolest part about fennel is its history. The first name of the bulbous veggie was “marathon” because it was discovered in the ancient battle field. The ancient Greeks tell the tales that Prometheus stole

knowledge in the form of a fiery coal from the gods by concealing it in a fennel stalk. He was subsequently punished by having his liver eaten by an eagle. Maybe if he had eaten the fennel instead, the anthole might have helped him!!

After I began to experiemnt with the white layers of the fennel bulb, my father realized that it is quite a treat. Personally, I’ll eat fennel with anything, but it is particularly wonderful in a soup, such as Fennel-Potato with Smoked Salmon. The fennel mellows as it is cooked, the molecular structure breaks down releasing its natural sugars which marries harmoniously with the salty salmon garnish. Might i suggest a piece of rye toast and a bit of cheddar cheese on the side?

Try this aromatic recipe to fill your kitchen with flavor: Braised Pork with Fennel and Orange.

If you don’t like licorice, it doesn’t mean you won’t like fennel. Sautee it in butter, add it to a salad with avocado, garnish it up with some mint!

Give this bad boy a try. He packs a punch.

For more information on Fennel, click here.

Fennel link on YouTube: