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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tomato-Beet Pasta

Okay, it's time to step out of your food safety box and try something different.  Don't let the color put you off, I mean, yes, it's a toxic pink and looks like something that fairies would food fight with, but still.  I was skeptical when my friend Meredith pulled the recipe out of her file for us to try, but oooo-doggies, it was good.  There wasn't much in the way of leftovers after dinner because everyone went back for seconds (and even some thirds).  So I'm telling you, Mikey, try it, you'll like it.

Tomato-Beet Pasta

1 lbs beets
1 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped and slightly grated
1/4 med purple onion, diced
1 sweet pepper, diced
3 tsp minced garlic
olive oil
hot red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste
drizzle of balsamic vinegar, to taste
elbow macaroni
fresh grated parmesan

Chop off the beet leaves (if any) and place beets in a deep pot.  Add in enough water to cover them and bring water to a boil.  Boil until beets are fork tender.

Remove beets from water and allow to cool enough to handle.  The skin will be lose enough to peel right off when you pinch it between your fingers or rub it gently with a paper towel.

for the record my sous chef was 8-1/2 mos pregnant when this
photo was taken, normally she had lovely non-puffy hands that I
don't want to find around my neck, so I have added this disclaimer

Once peeled, rough chop the beets and set aside.

In a large saucepan, lightly saute the onion, sweet pepper and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat.

in case you were wondering, the white is not onion, it's a white pepper
that Meredith had on hand from their Farmer's Market veggie selection,
it was sweet, not as sweet as an orange pepper, but along those lines

If you want to add a bit of Zizz to the dish, throw in a couple of hot pepper flakes and continue to saute for a moment.  Add in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.

we prefered to run our chopped tomatoes through
the blender and just did a couple of seconds on
grate to get it to the texture we wanted for the dish

Turn down the heat to a simmer and allow the mixture to reduce to a thicker sauce consistency.

While that's simmering, boil up your elbow macaroni according to box directions.  When done, drain and set aside.

Mix the chopped beets into the tomato mixture, then stir and cook together for another 2-3 minutes.

Remove sauce from the heat and mix together with the prepared noodles.

Serve up a heaping dish and top with fresh grated parmesan and a loaf of crispy bread.


You can substitute canned beets for fresh beets.  Just drain them and rough chop them before adding to the tomato mixture.

For a tidge of color, you can add some fresh chopped basil to the tomato mixture when you add in the beets.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Beets

It’s one of the more underappreciated Superfoods, but it is one of my favorites so before you squinch your nose and say “yuck”, you might want to hear what good things beets can do for you.


When I use the term "beets" in this post, I'm actually referring to the root of the beet plant, which is the most edible part of the plant.

Beets have been cultivated since the BCs, starting in the Mediterranean and spreading as far east as China by the early ADs. Beets enjoyed a long reign of popularity until that upstart spinach showed up on the scene…but that’s another story for another day.

In the 19th century the beet once again became highly regarded with the development of the sugar beet in Germany which provided a sugar (sucrose) source alternative to the tropical sugar cane (which probably saved some mula on importing). Beets are still used today in producing table sugar.

You can eat your regular Joe Beet as a cooked veggie (boiled, roasted, deep-fried or sauteed) or served cold as a salad topping (if you haven’t tried it, you should).  In many European and far Eastern countries, pickled beets are both a popular and traditional side dish.

Healthwise, this is what you can look for in a beet:

Ÿ Beets are full of the antioxidant betacyanin which is what gives them their deep red color. Betacyanins are used in the food industry to make red food colorants for intensifying the red coloring of other foods like tomato pastes, jellies, ice creams, and breakfast cereals.
Ÿ Beets are high in potassium, calcium and folic acid, the latter of which is particularly good for healthy fetal development.
Ÿ The Ancient Romans used beets to fight fever and as a laxative to combat constipation (because they’re very fibrous…the beets, not the Romans).
Ÿ A cup of raw beets is high in carbohydrates but low in fat which makes them a great instant energy source.
Ÿ Beets contain a number of beneficial minerals like magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium. They also contain vitamins A, Bs and C.
Ÿ Beets have been shown in studies to guard against cancer, especially colon cancer.
Ÿ In Medieval times, beets were used in treating illnesses related to the blood and digestion. Today they are still recognized as having blood cleansing qualities.

Beets have been used to make wine.

Some people pee pink after they eat beets.

When you buy beets, look for those that are firm and not wrinkled. If you store them with their leaves still attached, you can only keep them in the fridge for 3-4 days (reason being that the beet’s job as a root is to supply moisture to the leaves). If you de-green them, then the beet will keep for a couple weeks.

Interestingly enough I read somewhere that round-bottom beets are sweeter than flat-bottom beets...huh, so many comments, none appropriate, let's move on.

Beets are best when eaten fresh and you want to make sure to not overcook them when you do cook them because the heat will destroy all the nutrients you’re trying to take advantage of.

ONE WARNING – if you are prone to kidney stones, you will probably want to avoid beets. Because they are chocked full of oxalic acid, several sources indicate that they have been identified as a contributing factor to kidney stone production.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is it Chili in here?

Got this new recipe that I just had to share.  Went to a Southern Season's cooking class this week featuring authentic firehouse cooking.  The main attraction was a Cincinnati-style chili.  I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with Cincinnati-style, but now I can say that I'm a big fan.

Unlike Texas-style chilis, Cincinnati-style is thinner, uses beans as a garnish and not a recipe component, and is usually served over noodles, but the most stand apart characteristic is its spice blend.  It may sound strange, but it is strangely delicious.  Just try it and see!

Captain Greeson's Cincinnati-style Firehouse Chili:
The K2 Variation

1 lb lean ground turkey
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 cup (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1-1/2 tbsp dark chocolate, shaved
pasta of your choosing

Cook the ground turkey, onions, and garlic in a deep pan over medium-high heat until the meat is cooked through and crumbles.  Drain.

before the crumble/after the crumble

Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, spices, and chocolate to the pan and bring mixture to a boil.

Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Allow to cook for at least 1 hour so that the flavors can blend.

While the chili is simmering, boil up some pasta of your choice.  I choose rigatoni, the Captain served it with rotini, but if you want to go truly native and do it Cincy-style, whip up some spaghetti noodles for the dish.

When the chili is ready, serve it over the noodles and then top with grated cheddar, kidney beans, chopped onion, and/or oyster crackers and you're ready to dive in.


The variation between the Captains recipe and my version went like this, he used:

ground beef (versus ground turkey; you could also use Morningstar Griller Recipe Crumbles if you wanted to make the dish vegetarian)
2 cans of Mexican-style tomatoes (versus just one, and I chose Hunt's Diced with zesty mild green chilies)
1-1/2 tbsp cocoa powder (versus shaved dark chocolate)

I used one square of chocolate for the chili

In case you didn't know, 1 tbsp = 3 tsp, so 1-1/2 tbsp = 4-1/2 tsp.

The chili also goes good with fresh baked cornbread and would probably make the perfect chili hot dog chili.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Tomato

So quiet and unassuming, the tomato is a staple in most household kitchens, but what do we really know about this simple fruit?  (Yes, I said fruit.)  It seems that these still waters run deep, so let's go diving.


Tomatoes are indigenous to the Andes where they grow wild on long vines, all yellow and cherry-sized. These were the tomatoes that the Spanish Conquistadores brought back with them to the Old World. The Italians were the first to actively cultivate varieties of them, followed much later by the French, but eventually tomatoes became the basis of many European cuisines.

Tomatoes got the reputation for being poisonous when they first made their debut, but that's because as a member of the nightshade family, their leaves and stems do contain a toxin called solanine.  Since those were not used for culinary purposes, people finally caught on that tomatoes were good stuff.

In the U.S., Thomas Jefferson was the first to cultivate them stateside. It took a long while for them to catch on as a food stable, but these days tomatoes are the third largest veggie crop in the States (though as we all know, technically…not a veggie, it’s a fruit).

And as for health bennies, well they include:

Ÿ Tomatoes contain oodles of dietary lycopene (a carotene antioxidant) which is the chemical that makes tomatoes tomato red, but it also fights heart disease and is an agent that offers protection against prostate cancer.  The riper and redder a tomato is the higher the concentration of lycopene.
Ÿ Interestingly enough, processed tomatoes (canned, sauced, ketchuped) contain even more lycopene than raw ones. This is because cell walls break down during the cooking process which releases and concentrates carotenes. By eating tomatoes with a small amount of fat (like oil), the lycopene is better absorbed.
Ÿ One medium tomato provides a quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults.
Ÿ Fresh tomatoes are rich in potassium which helps regulate body fluids, as well as control blood pressure and heart rate.
Ÿ Tomatoes are recommended for use in controlling cholesterol.
You want to buy tomatoes that are bright red and plump, avoid those with wrinkly skin or discoloration (also avoid the super squiggy ones).
Make sure to store them in a cool, dark place. You can store overripe ones in the fridge, but to make sure to get the full tomato benefit package, it’s best to eat them when they’re fresh.
“Tomato” is a derivation of the Mexican Nahuatl word “Tomatl.”
When Heinz introduced its Keystone Catsup in 1876, it was considered the “delicacy of condiments.” In 1906, they came out with the first artificial preservative-free ketchup.
Joseph Campbell produced a condensed tomato soup in 1897 which helped make tomato a household staple (and spurred the company on to making beaucoup bucks along the way too).
Salsa has actually surpassed ketchup as the most popular condiment in the U.S.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leafy Salad with Balsamic Strawberry

It's an interesting fact that by adding a bit of balsamic vinegar to fresh strawberries, you can actually enhance their strawberryness.  So that's what today's recipe is, very simply, Balsamic Strawberries.  You can serve them as a savory-sweet topping with mascarpone or on a slice of pound cake, or, as I've chosen to, serve them as a salad topping.

Leafy Salad with Balsamic Strawberry


1 lb fresh strawberries (1 lg container)
2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
fresh cracked black pepper

Salad accoutrements (suggestions only)

Boston red leaf lettuce
Purple cabbage
Purple onion
Honey roasted almonds
Olive oil

Instead of rinsing the strawberries, just wipe them off with a damp cloth (keeps them from getting mooshy).

Cut off their green caps then quarter or halve them and put them in a small bowl.

Add in the balsamic vinegar and give your pepper mill a couple of good twists (2-3).  Mix everything together well and refrigerate for 2-3 hours to let the flavors blend.

Tear up some lettuce, add in your accoutrements of choice and top with balsalmic strawberries.  You can use the vinegar from the bottom of the container with some olive oil to dress the salad.

Simple and delicious.  Serve it by itself or as part of a dinner.


When it comes to salad toppings, here's a little trick I picked up from Mom.  Most grocery stores these days have a pretty decent fresh salad bar (in NC, check out Kroger, Whole Foods, & Harris Teeter).  Go ahead and buy a head of your favorite lettuce and then hit the salad bar for a smattering of your favorite toppings.  That way you can get a few slices or a pinchful of something without having to commit to buying the whole vegetable.  Saves waste and allows you to vary your toppings or try something you might otherwise not.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Strawberries

Continuing with our February Superfood love fest, this week let’s look at that lush delicious treat known as strawberry.


Strawberries, which share family ties with the rose (Rosaceae), aren’t even really a true fruit (true fruit = seed surrounded by flesh) because their seeds (about 200 of them) are on the outside of the flesh. But when something tastes this good, why trifle with technicalities.

Strawberries go really well with wine and champagne, and as a duo are considered to have aphrodisiac qualities.  But besides their total tastiness, they have many health benefits too.

In ancient Rome, strawberries were used for medicinal purposes such as alleviating symptoms of kidney stones, inflammation, diseases of the blood, throat infections, bad breath, attacks of gout, and fever. In the Middle Ages, an infusion of strawberry leaves was used (and still is) to treat diarrhea.

These days:

Ÿ Strawberries are recognized as having more vitamin C than some citrus fruits.

Ÿ They are also high in fiber, folate, potassium and antioxidants, making them a natural means of reducing the chances of heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers.

Ÿ Strawberries contains zeaxanthin which is good for eye health. Studies have found that one can reduce the risk of developing Macular Degeneration (by 36%!) by eating at least 1-1/2 servings of fruits daily so for the sake of your eyes, throw some more strawberries in your diet!

Ÿ They promote iron absorption in the body.

Ÿ One cup of strawberries (8 oz.) is only 55 calories AND contains 140% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C.

Ÿ Strawberries are packed with flavonoids, two of which types help keep bad (LDL) cholesterol from oxidizing and damaging artery walls.

Ÿ They also contain ellagic acid which binds cancer-causing chemicals making them inactive.

When you buy strawberries make sure that they’re loose-packed. Strawberries are very delicate and easily damaged. Make sure to pull any bad strawberries out before storing because in this case one bad “apple” will spoil the whole barrel.

You want to choose strawberries that are plump and shiny and deep red. Unlike some other fruits, strawberries don’t continue to ripen after you bring them home, so avoid the unripe ones (ones that are discolored or white).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spicy Brandied Cherry Parfait

Yes, it is just as good as it sounds, so without further ado (and because I need to finish eating it before the froyo melts)...

Spicy Brandied Cherry Parfait

1 lb cherries, pitted
3 tbsp brandy
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar (not packed)
3/4 tsp allspice
1 cup water

Rinse the cherries and remove the stems and pits.

If you don't have a cherry pitter (and shockingly I discovered it's one of the few things I don't own), the quickest and easiest way to get the pit out is to make a cut all around the cherry, twist the two sides in opposite directions and then with a quick dig with your finger it'll come out.

Set the cherry halves aside.

In a saucepan, stir together brandy, sugar, brown sugar, allspice and water until sugars are mostly dissolved.  Bring mixture to a hard boil.

Add cherries to the mixture and continue to boil for 1-2 minutes then reduce heat and continue to cook for 35-40 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed or evaporated.


Remove cherries from heat and allow to cool.

Serve up with your favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt.  Tah-dah!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Good and Good For You -- Cherries

Everybody associates the color red with the month of February and that is why I've chosen to focus on red-colored Superfoods for the next couple of weeks. First up…


Cherries have long since been associated with love and romance (let’s blame Shakespeare, shall we? “Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow!”) which would explain why they are a popular item in February.  Kind of wacky considering that their prime growing season is actually June-Aug (we usually get New Zealand imports the rest of the year).

Based on cherry pits found in several Stone Age caves in Europe, they’ve been enjoyed as an eating treat for a long, LONG time. Cherries were also a favorite road trip snack for the conquering troops of Rome who carried them through Europe and England.

But cherries aren’t just a pretty face in the fruit crowd, they have been shown to possess a number of health benefits too, including some for your heart (and who doesn’t want a good heart).

Doesn’t matter if you serve them up fresh, frozen, dried or juiced, cherries got the health goods.

Ÿ Cherries in your diet can help lower body fat (especially belly fat), lower inflammation, and lower cholesterol, all of which are high risk factors associated with heart disease.
Ÿ They’re rich in antioxidants which is great on the anti-aging front.
Ÿ Cherries, especially tart ones, contain melatonin which has been found to be an aid in the anti-aging battle – it helps prevent memory loss, delay the aging process, and regulate your body’s natural sleep patterns (which includes overcoming jet lag!).
Ÿ They’re a good source of soluble fiber as well as being non-fat and sodium-free.
Ÿ Of the two types of cherries – sweet and sour – the sour ones are lower in calories and higher in both vitamin C and beta carotene than the sweet ones.

One of the best known types of sweet cherry is the Bing, a variety developed in 1875 by grower Seth Lewelling who named it for one of the Chinese workers in his orchard.

Good cherries should be large (1" or bigger), plump but hard, glossy and dark in color (for their particular variety). Avoid cherries with bruised or cut skin.

Cherries should be stored in the fridge, unwashed, and loosely packed in plastic bags (like they come in from the store) and should last up to a week. Just remember to wash them before eating them.

To freeze cherries, rinse and drain them and then spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer overnight and once the cherries are frozen put them in a heavy weight plastic bag. They should keep for up to a year.