During a recent trip to Chicago I had the dining experience of a lifetime. I was the “date” to my cousin Kellie who was invited to a personal dinner party featuring world class Chef Rene De Leon. I thought this dinner party would “merely” involve indulging in his fine cooking. Imagine my surprise when he actually put us to work, chopping vegetables and stuffing dumplings. From spring rolls to dumplings to whole fish, we assisted Chef Rene in preparing a feast of flavors. I spent most of the night in awe of this amazing chef who has cooked at acclaimed restaurants such as Next & Alinea. What an incredible night with great conversation and stellar food.
A friend & I decided to walk around downtown Roanoke Saturday evening. I used to go downtown just about every weekend, but it’s been years since I spend any time there. There are all different types of stores-you can get high-end designer clothing, uniforms, ‘hippie’ attire (think tie dye). There are several art galleries, jewelry stores, bead shops, what-not or tshatshki stores, sweet shops & bakeries and so on-just about anything you want or need can be found in the 3-4 blocks of the downtown market-including a huge farmers market on Saturdays. In addition of the fresh produce, meats, dairy & baked goods you would expect to find, there are local artisans selling furniture, jewelry, soap, etc.
The most pleasant surprise was how many cool new restaurants there are! The newly renovated Market Building has NY style subs, Japanese food, burgers, salads, pizza, and a couple other cool kiosks. My favorite (and where my friend & I had dinner Saturday) was the Cuban place, Habana. You can access it from inside the market building as a grab & go option or you can get a table-inside or out, and be waited on.
I had a house salad with avocado vinaigrette. It wasn’t as good as I remember Carlos’ Brazilian cuisine dressing being, but still very tasty! The Cuban roast pork with black beans & rice was delicious. The pork was tender, and the rice & beans very flavorful. I will definitely go back!
Another place I’d like to try is the Lebanese restaurant on Campbell. I’ve heard their falafel is the best around. I’ve been to Alejandro’s-great Mexican! Nawab has an excellent Indian buffet. And in my opinion, Picaso pizza has the best pizza in Roanoke!
If you’re in the area-stop in to downtown & check out the scene. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
3⁄4c - sugar
1⁄4c - cornstarch
21⁄2c - milk
3lg - egg yolks,lightly beaten
2T - finely grated lemon zest
1 - pinch salt
1⁄2c - fresh lemon juice
2T - butter, softened
1lb - fresh berries
- Whisk sugar & corn starch in 2-qt saucepan
- Gradually add milk, whisk until smooth
- Add egg yolks,lemon zest, salt
- Cook on med-high, stir until thickens & coats spoon
- Remove from heat,stir in lemon juice & butter
- Pour through fine mesh strainer into individual serving dishes
- Cover with plastic wrap, chill for minimum 2 hours
- Top with berries and mint
For many the the name alone conjures up thoughts of deprivation and images of boring salads and overcooked, tasteless vegetables. I recently came upon this fantastic article about healthy eating “seasonal, fresh, whole food” which basically sums up how I feel about eating. While I admit to being a chocolate lover, I don’t think I have ever met a roasted vegetable I didn’t like. I love the author’s adjectives for describing healthy foods such as “ farm fresh, sweet, baby”, etc, etc.
Whether you are passionate about your food or just looking for a better way to “sell” healthy eating to your family, read on!
- Let humans cook for you, not corporations
- Corporation cooks = too much salt, fat, sugar, preservatives, coloring, etc. & aim for “immortal” food
- Treat restaurant meals as special occasions-professional chefs (albeit human) often cook with large amounts of salt, sugar & fat
Source: Michael Pollen, Food Rules
- People who cook for themselves eat healthier diets
- 3 cooking tips: patience, presence, practice
- Be patient while cooking & don’t rush
- Cooking is important for your health, your family life & your sanity
Source: Michael Pollen, Food Rules
- You will find yourself snacking on fresh or dried fruits & nuts
- Real food – not sweets & chips
Source: MichaelPollen, Food Rules
What makes the difference between a good cook & a great one? In my opinion, it’s layering of flavors. You can make a decent beef stew by putting raw beef, water, vegetables & spices into a crock pot & letting it cook all day. The meat will be tender, there will be some flavor. But how do you make a great stew? You take the same ingredients & add a few steps.
First step-browning the meat. By carmelizing the natural sugars, you’re adding wonderful flavor as well as texture & color (remember, we eat with our eyes first!).
Second step-use broth instead of water. Homemade is best, but, let’s face it-who has 12-24 hours to spend lovingly tending a pot of beef stock? If you do, awesome! If you don’t, there are great premade broths available at your nearest grocery store. I prefer ones that are MSG free & reduced sodium-it gives me the opportunity to season to my taste.
Third step-sauteing or roasting vegetables before adding to the stew. Again, the process of carmelizing the sugar adds color & flavor.
Fourth step-adding seasonings, herbs, additional flavors.
Fifth step-taste as you go! Food needs to be tasted & seasoning adjusted as it cooks. Start slow, with small quantities. Allow that stew to cook a little while. Taste it-does it need a little more rosemary? Pepper? Add just a bit. Allow it to cook a little longer. Taste it…what does it need?
Yes, layering flavors takes more time than just putting it all in a pot & turning it on. But trust me-it’s worth it!
Here’s the same bit of advice from another person, with a little more detail…the food bloggers version of adding layers….
MAKE BETTER DISHES BY LAYERING FLAVOR
Layering flavor is a gourmet technique any cook can use. It’s all about combining, expanding and deepening flavors in a dish with spices, vegetables, meats, liquids and seasonings.
How to layer flavor
“Layering flavor” is a term that’s really in vogue thanks to a number of food television personalities. However, what, exactly does it mean and why is it important for making great food at home?
In many ways, layering flavor is something that everyone who cooks, from the chef at a five-star restaurant to the bachelor who can only make chili, does. Put simply, layering flavor just means that while building a dish, chefs add a number of different, yet complementary tastes beyond just the basic ingredients. For instance, it’s one thing in a dish to saute onions by themselves. It’s another to saute onions in a butter/oil mix with onions, leeks, shallots, white pepper and thyme. Both add flavor to a dish, but the second option layers in more.
Layering flavor has become a popular buzzword recently because so many chefs and cooks are going beyond traditional recipes and trying to build new and complex flavors into every bite. This is true for very fancy and for very simple dishes, which means that you have the opportunity to do it on any dish you might cook.
Of course, it’s hard to cover the entire breadth of layering flavor without surveying every recipe. We’ll cover some general concepts in layering you can use in many dishes.
Layering with seasoning and spices
The most important thing you can do to make your meals taste good is to season them well. Even if the recipe fails to call for it, anytime you add an ingredient, make sure it’s well seasoned. Vegetables that get sauteed, meats that get added, should all have, at the very least, a pinch of salt. A lot of chefs like to add a little black pepper as well.
Also, consider what other spices might work well in a dish. For this, you will need to keep the finished product in mind and think about how it will taste and which spices might build better flavor. When in doubt, add a little garlic as its earthy flavors can deepen a dish’s taste. You can also use stronger spices like paprika or nutmeg sparingly and only when you know it will help. Each additional spice will help layer in extra flavor.
Layering with vegetables
The choice of vegetables that go into a dish, even one where meat is the star, can often have a big impact on the final outcome. Therefore, be careful when you add vegetables that are not called for by the recipe. Even vegetables that might not seem to have a big flavor, like cauliflower or carrots, can radically alter the finished dish. However, you can usually add vegetables with similar flavors to those called for in a recipe and subtly change the dish without going too far overboard.
For instance, onions, shallots, and leeks are all used to add oniony flavor to a dish. Therefore, they can be substitutes for each other, even though the different types of ingredients all add something a little different to a dish. Red onions and shallots are sweeter. Leeks a bit more green in flavor. Vidalia onions are much sweeter. This is good, though. If you substitute or you use multiple types of onions, you will layer in new and unique flavors.
Layering with liquid
The choice of cooking liquid is vital to layering flavor because the right liquid can really affect the outcome of a dish. The rule of thumb when layering is, unless you are absolutely sure it’s necessary, never cook with water unless you’re boiling pasta. Instead, just about every dish can be cooked in chicken broth (for milder tastes) or beef broth (for strong flavors). Water is flavor neutral and can actually rob ingredients of their flavor. Broth, on the other hand, has its own taste that it can inject into the ingredients around it. Beer, soda, whiskey, etc., also can add flavors to the rest of the dish.
In fact, in some cases, you might want to hit your dish with a little broth, beer or whiskey even when the recipe doesn’t call for it. Do this only when you’re reasonably sure it will work, but that extra shot of taste can really layer in the flavor.
Layering with acid
Acid is a great way to add flavor, especially when it’s added in right before the dish is finished. Citrus juice is the most common form of acid one can add to a dish, though vinegar can also do wonders for some dishes. The nice thing about acid is that it awakens different parts of the taste buds (sour and bitter) that might otherwise lie dormant.
To layer flavor with acid, the easiest way is just to grate a little zest of lemon or lime into a dish and give it just long enough to cook so that the oils in the zest can cook out (usually a minute or so.) Just doing that will add a completely different flavor profile.
Today is Mother’s Day and I am very lucky to have an extremely thoughtful husband who just happens to understand my obsession with cookbooks/nutrition related books. So to my delight I was gifted with some new books that I will add to my “must read” pile (unfortunately that pile keeps growing but the hours in my day do not). The first gem is Mark Bittman’s new book VB6, Vegan Before 6. This is my 2nd book by Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything just happened to be one of last year’s Mother’s Day gifts).
The second book is by my favorite food author Michael Pollan, Cooked. Michael Pollan is clearly a rock star in the world of ‘foodies.” Based on the current review I fully expect this book to deliver on my expectations.
I hope you find time in your busy lives to check out these new books. If you have any personal interest in our food system and our plant (and we all should) I highly recommend becoming regular readers of these authors.
- Fish tanks – when you clean the tank, instead of pouring the dirty water out the door or down the drain, use it as a nutrient-rich solution for plants!
- Pet beds – the next time dog or cat needs a newbed, look for one made from recycled materials, and be sure to recycle the old one!
- Pet toys & treats – just say ‘no’ to allthe packaging (marketing to your pet, who –guess what? doesn’treally care!!) Buy loose, in bulk, and recycle what little packaging you must get!
Will you take a small step to help?