DIY food gifts
Looking for last minute gifts that are extra special and unique? Try making one of the following food gifts that won't break the bank, and yet show you care.
DIY gifts are always a hit!
Make each recipe your own. Choose from a variety of vanilla beans and/or alcohol for the extract recipe & different herbs and syrups for the elixir recipe.
Homemade vanilla extract
It's as easy as pie...
except not, because it's actually easier!
Follow these simple steps to make your own extract and gift to loved ones.
You can use any vanilla bean, but know that each variety will have a different flavor and quality with unique characteristics. Bourbon and Madagascar are common and full bodied while the Tahitian is fruity with floral and Mexican is spicy. Blend different varieties for complexity. And while we're at it, a note about the alcohol. Keep it neutral using vodka OR bourbon, brandy, and rum for a sweeter, caramel flavor. Don't use top-shelf either; inexpensive alcohol works well.
4-6 vanilla beans*
8 ounces alcohol*
Split vanilla beans half lengthwise. You may need to cut into smaller pieces to fit your jar, so cut according to the size of your jar or bottle.
Place vanilla beans in a clean jar or bottle, submerge with alcohol. Cover, shake, and infuse for at least one month. Store in a cool, dry place and shake from time to time.
(option to strain).
Tie a bow around the neck of the bottle and gift away? If you decide to give as a gift, be sure to write the 'use' date.
Makes 1 cup
1/2 cup mint syrup*
1/2 cup honey
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
Put all ingredients into a saucepan over low heat until all ingredients are well-combined. Pour into clean jars or bottles, and store.
*Mint can be substituted for other syrups as well. Explore your pantry or ethnic stores for other syrup ideas. Mint syrup can be purchased at Middle Eastern grocery store.
When gifting, consider pairing the elixir with gin or another spirit, club soda, citrus, and/or ice molds.
Dorayaki, simple and sweet, best enjoyed with a cup of green tea
Lately, I've been exploring various Japanese foods. Looking for breakfast, one recipe in particular one stood out: Dorayaki. It's appeared in cooking shows, and recently featured in Tasting Table, so I began to grow curious: What was all the hype about? It is just a pancake, after all. Right?
Dorayaki is not just any pancake. It's one of the most popular Japanese confections, filled with anko, a sweet adzuki red bean paste, sandwiched between two pancakes.
You heard me. Two pancakes! But they're small.
Typically, the pancakes are quite sweet, so I cut out a lot of the sugar; I don't do well with things that are overly-sweet, especially at breakfast. But if you're looking for the full-on, sweeter pancake made as intended, add the full amount (using 1/2 cup sugar instead) from the recipe below.
To make things interesting, I chose to make three different fillings. It was too difficult to choose just one: I was initially interested in trying the traditional bean paste version, but couldn't say no to a matcha green tea variation as well. It was around this time that I also noticed the abundance of ripe squash sitting on my kitchen counter, and decided to make a butternut squash filling for a third option.
Before you get off your seat to make some tasty sweet cakes, check out this clip from the popular manga-turned-anime-series Doraemon to get the full sense of what it's like to love dorayaki, below.
... and now the recipe: Dorayaki
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp honey
3/4 cup milk*
1-2 tablespoons butter
8 oz filling
*Can use animal or plant-based milk
1. Mix dry all-purpose flour and baking soda in one bowl with a whisk. In a second bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, and milk.
2. Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into the dry.
3. In a nonstick pan, apply a small amount of butter. Ladle in a some of the batter into a circle and repeat. Flip after 2 minutes, or until golden brown, and cook the remaining side for 1-2 minutes. The idea is to make them snack worthy and be consistent in shape and size.
4. Work in batches until the batter is finished.
5. In the middle of one pancake place a dollop of filling in the center. Place another pancake on top and press along the edges to create a seal, enclosing the filling. It's OK if some of the filling seeps out, messy can be good sometimes.
Dorayaki filling recipes
Adzuki bean paste filling:
1 cup adzuki beans
1/8 cup sugar
1. Soak beans overnight or for 8 hours.
2. Drain, rinse, and cover with water. Cook for about 45 minutes or until softened.
3. Puree beans in a food processor.
4. Heat a frying pan and add bean puree with sugar. Cook until all it's dry and there's very little to no moisture.
Matcha cream cheese filling:
1/8 cup honey
2 tbsp matcha green tea
8 oz softened cream cheese
1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients until well-mixed.
Miso pumpkin filling:
2 cups squash, skinned, seeds and guts removed, roughly chopped
1 tbsp yellow miso
1. In a pot, combine squash with enough water to cover. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until soft.
2. Puree squash and add miso.
Still hungry? Check out the miso carrot spread (within the napa cabbage wrap recipe) for another alternative filling.
Kimchi. Sauerkraut. Kefir. Tempeh. Yogurt.
What do these foods all have in common? They are fermented foods that may promote good gut health and weight loss, improve immunity and even allergies. In it's most basic sense, As Sandor Katz explains, "Fermentation is the transformation of food by various bacteria, fungi, and the enzymes they produce." Katz is the expert if you didn't know - He's the author of The Art of Fermentation, and should be on every food enthusiasts bookshelves. It's more informative than recipe-based, designed to introduce and educate one on the variety of fermented foods and beverages.
Coupling Katz with Rene Redzepi and David Zilber's new book, The Noma Guide to Fermentation, will set you up to make a plethora of delicious, nutritious, fermented foods. In Redzepi's book, there's even a how-to guide on building an incubation chamber. I'm still putting together the supplies so that I can make koji. How nerdy is that? Ha! Watch the video below to learn more about koji:
Koji aside, many fermentations do not require you to create or purchase your very own chamber to ferment at home. In fact, you can make the most basic recipes with just about any vegetable -some fruits too- without any special equipment: All you need is a vessel, scale, salt, and the produce of your choice. Simple.
And there's no need to be afraid of getting started for fear of the wrong bacteria growing: Any microbiologist will tell you that "risky" is not a word used to describe the process of a simple vegetable fermentation. The lactic acid bacteria that is found on all plants develops quite quickly when fermenting, and can out-compete the incidental pathogenic bacteria.
Fear not: When you preserve in brine, things like botulism need not be of concern.
Here's how it works: When a plant is harvested, it contains many microorganisms that continue to multiply and diversify. Aerobic bacteria get replaced by anaerobes, which includes many different types of lactic acid bacteria. After the plant becomes submerged, fermentation then begins. Carbon dioxide, alcohol, and acetic acid are also produced.
Enough with the science, let's get to the kitchen and ferment something.
fermentation: getting started
Fermenting foods and beverages is not something new. It's been around for centuries, playing an instrumental role in human evolution.
Fermentation can be summed up with four words: "chop, salt, pack, wait." (Katz).
*salt* means the amount salt = 2% of the total weight of vegetable and liquid.
As you can see from my pictures above, I chose the brine method. Next time, I'll try grating my vegetables. The objective is to expose as much surface area as possible to pull out the juice from within the vegetable. Clearly, if you take a look at the picture, I couldn't help but ferment the carrot in it's original shape, so I kept it whole. Yes, it will take longer to ferment, but the shape was too gnarly to mess with... The beets were sliced into small quarters, and the remaining carrots were cut into large matchsticks.
My advice? Keep it simple the first go around. Taste what happens to the food every few days, and when you think it has reached its ideal taste, refrigerate. You can always make another batch and play with spice and aromatics to add to the flavor.
The point is to get you in your kitchen cooking and experimenting.
The verdict is still out on all the positive health benefits of fermented foods, but it's certainly a hot topic in the nutrition world, and it continues to be studied. If you live in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, you too could participate in a gut study involving fermented vegetables. Simply contact Ky from GYST Fermentation Bar to learn more about how to join.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out my Mac 'n' Chi post for more a different way to play with home fermentations.
for the love of tomatoes
Conditions are finally perfect. Not only because the tomatoes are abundantly in season, but also because the weather has turned cool and comfortable - ideal for canning/preserving. Long hours spent over a hot stove in the kitchen is a much more enticing, and bearable, proposition after the sweltering heat of summer has been tamed by the first days of September.
Another pro? This time of year is also when you'll find the the best deals, Your local farmers market should be the first place you visit to purchase tomatoes in bulk. Quarter and half bushels ($15 on average for a quarter) are going to be most affordable and freshest, with a higher nutrient content than what you'll find at the average grocery store.
Each year, I make around a half bushel of tomato preserves in various forms: whole tomatoes, quartered tomatoes, peeled tomatoes. Hot pepper tomato jelly, and tomapple (tomato, apple) jam. And, of course, a few eaten fresh. It can take several hours to process tomatoes, but more than worth your time. Something new I tried this year: dehydrate the tomato skins and, then grind them into a powder. A dash of flaked lycopene (aka tomato skin) is a great addition to garnish soups, stews, grain bowls, even popcorn, or anything else that could use that little extra something.
And, while time-consuming, peeling tomatoes is super easy. It can be somewhat dangerous, however, if you're impatient like myself. The heat from the tomatoes after blanching is boiling hot. Wear gloves, tough it out, or wait until they cool down (can put in an ice bath)
How to peel tomatoes
1. Score the tomatoes by marking an 'x' using a knife on the butt of the tomato.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanche the tomatoes for 30-60 seconds.
3. Remove tomatoes from water, allow to rest and cool (optional).
4. Peel tomatoes from scored end towards the crown.
5. Dehydrate skins or toss
6. Process tomatoes
Once you've got those tomatoes peeled, you're ready for canning. It's super easy, but, as I mentioned before, is time consuming. The more often you do it, the quicker and more efficient you will become. There are two methods you can follow: One uses a boiling water method, and the second utilizes pressure canning.
Prepares 2 each 3/4 lb glass jars. Double, triple, multiply accordingly
what you need
This recipe is a modification of an original Ball® Fresh Preserving recipe.
Give it a try, and let me know what you think! Share pictures and all your stories here. Or have your own favorite way to use tomatoes during this perfect time of year? I'd love to hear about it as well.
And, if you're looking for ideas, check out my pickled watermelon rinds for another unique preservation recipe.
Juicing was all the rage last year. I still have clients who ask about juicing.
What are the benefits? Should I juice? Is it healthy?
My response? When in moderation, it can be part of a healthy diet, especially when you juice at home. It's not as nutritious as eating whole fruits or vegetables, though, as you don't benefit from consuming the pulp (fiber, vitamins, minerals) of the fruit and/or vegetable your turning into liquid. However, you can use the pulp, or produce scraps that separate from the juice. You can bake with them by incorporating into crackers (e.g. as I did in the recipe below), breads (e.g. in a banana or zucchini loaf), or pancakes. Making soup stock from your produce scraps is another great idea, and especially useful come cold weather.
One of my favorite homemade juicing recipes is made with carrot, turmeric root, orange, and ginger. It's not something I prepare often, but when I have the craving (and a refrigerator full of carrots), I dust off my juicer to quench my carrot juice thirst.
Note: You can swap out the carrots for just about any vegetable. Beets, zucchini, and squash are some of my favorite substitutes.
recipe: carrot pulp crackers
Makes about 50 thin crackers
2 cups carrot pulp
1/4 cup ground chia seed
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 teaspoon black peppercorn
2 teaspoon fennel seed
2 teaspoon sesame seed
Directions: Preheat oven to 325F
In a pan, toast black peppercorn, fennel and sesame until it begins to brown and becomes fragrant, about 3 minutes.
Grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder (I use a dedicated coffee grinder) until it becomes a powder consistency. Mix with carrot pulp, chia, and buckwheat.
Using parchment or two silpats, brush one side of a sheet with coconut oil using a pastry brush. Working in batches, about 3, roll between parchment (or silpat) using a wine bottle or rolling pin. Roll as thin as possible so that it still holds together, brush with more coconut oil, sprinkle lightly with maldon salt, and bake until golden brown and cooked thoroughly, about 20 minutes.
When it's cooled to room temperature, break into pieces and serve with meats and cheese, jam, mustard, pickles, or anything else your heart desires.
Love carrots? Then you MUST try thecarrot, parsnip cake. It's absolutely delicious.
purple, yellow, or green: all snap beans are welcome
This side dish is a fantastic way to use up your green beans, and those spicy, sweet nasturtiums that grow without care for other plants. I used yellow wax beans here, but I've also experimented with young scarlet runner beans, and green string beans as well. No two bean varieties taste the same, but they are quite similar and can easily be substituted here, and in like recipes. And, as long as we are on the subject of substitutions, other edible flowers can take the place of nasturtiums in the same way: I recently discovered the lovely taste of pole bean flowers from turtle beans (soft violet) and scarlet runners (crimson red), and they are amazing. They lack the spicy, peppery punch that nasturtiums have, however, so add a few spicy greens (like arugula or mizuna) to round out the flavor.
Let's brush up on your bean-age, starting with the basics: All beans are legumes, and are further classified according to whether you eat the entire pod (called snap or green beans) or remove the shell to eat the seeds inside (called shell or dried beans). Only when the beans have a fibrous string running down the bean is it called a string bean. Dozens of green bean varieties exist, but the headliners include: green (or multicolored, snap) beans, haricot vert, scarlet runner, and yard-long beans. To be even more confusing, the yellow snap bean variety is also called a wax bean.
Nutrition-wise, all types of beans are good sources of protein, fiber, potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, and iron. Try to get in 3 cups a week for optimum health.
Read more about a bean nutrition overview here.
snap bean & nasturtium salad
4 cups, string beans cleaned
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade (sliced thin)
1/4 cup fresh mint, chiffonade (sliced thin)
1 cup packed nasturtium, flowers and greens removed from stem
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil with a pinch of kosher salt. Add the string beans and cook (blanche) for 3 minutes. Immediately, remove from heat, drain, and cool down the beans under running water. You can add ice to help lower the temperature faster. When it's cool, add the remaining ingredients with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve and enjoy.
If you like this salad, then check out the salad niçoise. It's a game changer.
cabbage ins and outs
Cabbage varieties: bok choy, cannonball, choy sum, Chinese/Napa, green, Portugal, red, & savoy -to name a few
Season: summer - autumn - winter
Taste: bitter/sweet, pungent and peppery notes with crunchy flavor
Nutrition: 85% CHO, 12% protein, 3% fat
Volume: quiet to moderate
Technique: bake, broil, braise, grate, pickle, raw, steam, stuff [overcooking brings out pungent, sulphuric notes]
cabbage + apple
cabbage + carrots + ginger + mint + rice wine vinegar
cabbage + ginger + lime
cabbage + potatoes + turnips
Cabbage Pairings: build your own recipes by using complimentary flavors from these foods
APPLES, including JUICE & CIDER
OIL, especially OLIVE, sesame, vegetable, walnut
how I cook & eat cabbage
How do antioxidant properties of raw and processed [i.e. fermented] cabbage compare?
The answer to this question is not simple nor clear, and like most nutrition recommendations, results may vary. Factors that influence the nutritional value of cabbage are based on season of harvest, cabbage variety [red vs. green], amount of salt and time spent in brine, & cooking methodology (Martinez et al., 2009; Chun et al., 2004). However, if one were to compare raw cabbage and sauerkraut using nutrition analysis, one would discover that raw has slightly higher, nonsignificant levels of antioxidants.
So, how does this all make sense? The key to understanding why the analysis shows a discrepancy is because they are not considering all the factors mentioned above, which can be time consuming, tedious, and maybe impractical.
Let me sort this out for you.
After a short review of articles, I can say a few things with certainty:
things are growing...
Seeds are sown, the seedlings are planted, and every morning I rise to look at my plot of greens growing outside my window as I sip my morning coffee. It's easy to tend. The hardest part is waiting for my prized produce to finally appear.
As for my other garden plot one mile away, well, that's another story. That's where they feast. That's where I fight daily for the crop: Me vs the rabbits.
There's a fence around the perimeter, but that doesn't always keep them out. Can I blame them for wanting to taste the bounty? Truthfully, no, If I tasted those buttery soft leaves of tennis ball greens (lettuce varietal) once, of course I'd keep coming back for more.
And, luckily, I had the forethought to plant the majority of leafy greens at the plot growing outside my window, where less rabbits reside (at least that I know of). This week, I harvested, and indulged in, French breakfast radish and fresh arugula.
No evidence of tampering from neighboring animals noted. Woot woot!
In an earlier newsletter, I highlighted radish and the varietals subtle differences from one another, French breakfast being my favorite: It's got a perfect spicy balance from the first to last bite, and a watery crunch to wash your palate. I enjoy them most on their own with a couple granules of salt crystals and other times over an artisan slice of bread with whipped European butter. Curious? Try it for yourself, recipe as follows:
baguette aux radis
4 tablespoons European butter, unsalted at room temperature (see below)
1 tsp flaky sea salt
10 radish, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cup arugula
1 tablespoons herbs like tarragon, chives, basil *optional
Slice baguette lengthwise and then into quarters. Spread the butter on one side of the bread, layer on the radish, sprinkle salt over radish, and then the arugula (option to add herbs at this point). Finish with top slice of baguette. Serve.
I'm a dietitian and diabetic educator, but that doesn't mean I don't like OR don't eat the good stuff. European style butter is made from cultured cream and slight fermentation. This results in a unique flavor with a higher fat content than what you find from most American dairy farmers. There are many to choose from including, Kerrygold, Plugra, President, and Beurre de Baratte. You can order them online or find them at specialty grocers. The object of my desire from these is the Beurre de Baratte. It's made by a young cheese master, Rodolphe Le Meunier, a genuineMeilleur Ouvrier de France making butter the old-fashioned from churning. Everyone raves about this French Normandy butter because of it's unique nutty, umami flavor. It's even wrapped in a gold foil to give you that extra posh at a fancy dinner party. Better yet, it makes an excellent gift to that ultimate foodie friend of yours.
It started out like most Sundays: Woke up, brewed a liter of French press coffee, read, and eventually pulled myself out of bed and into less-casual attire. It was time to 'adult'. You know, do the things you're required to do like laundry, pay bills, send important emails, and, if you're like me, run a business (which translates to always being busy). On this particular day, however, I decided to keep my adulting to a minimum and enjoy the rest of the lovely Sunday sun and do a bit of cooking before going on yet another food adventure.
But what to make for breakfast? Biscuits? Soft-boiled eggs? Swirled poppyseed Babka? Wild mushroom frittata? I searched my pantry and refrigerator for ingredients that might grab my attention: "Choose me. No, no me!" They said, "You know you can't resist my fresh, herbaceous charm." And how could I ignore the herbs? They that spoke the loudest of my ingredients, just begging to be used in my next meal. One by one, I reached for them all: one bunch cilantro, two bunches parsley, two limes, and jalapeño and garlic.
Into the blender the ingredients went with a pinch of smoked Hungarian paprika, toasted, ground coriander, just a pinch of citric acid (helps preserve the bright green color), a touch of kosher salt and cracked black Tellicherry peppercorn, and a large handful of toasted almonds. As I pulsed the ingredients to marry them in flavor, slowly streaming in the olive oil, I daydreamed of it's use as a dipping sauce for vegetables, accompaniment with mushroom, elk meatballs, and four bean salad.
I call this creation: Green Romesco
If you're a romesco purist, I know I have you squawking, "This can't be romesco! Where's the tomato and red bell pepper?" True, there aren't any of those ingredients, but I can't help but think of this as it's younger, spicier sister. You can easily swap out one sauce for another, and it's good to challenge your palate. Sometimes, I'll even add mint, or other hot green peppers -poblano, say- to this recipe to further its complex flavor profile. Regardless, you'll end up drizzling, draping, dashing this sauce on just about anything - from meats to fish to vegetables, and everything in between.
Prepares 2 cups.
1 bunch cilantro
2 bunches parsley
1 lime, freshly juiced
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp Hungarian smoked paprika
1 tsp toasted, ground coriander
pinch citric acid
1 whole jalapeño (seeds can be removed)
kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1/3 cup almonds, toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Combine all ingredients into a blender and slowly add oil and water until you've reached desired consistency.
Even though I'm no longer five, I still enjoy my classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or, even more nostalgic ants on a log as a snack. I'm sure you do it as well, but wouldn't it be nice to jazz it up a bit? After all, food is fun, meant to be enjoyed by you and more importantly, your taste buds.
(Some of you may remember my 2017 experiments with peanut sauce here: Peanut Sauce)
I've put together a list of my favorite recipes that use nut butter spreads made with atypical ingredients (i.e. not only peanuts). Feel free to mix and match: There are endless nut and seed spreads available for purchase now in local grocery stores, and my hope is that these recipes will expand the way you view the application of them. You can, and should, play around and swap out the 'vehicles' as well, i.e. instead of endive leaves as the base, try apple or cucumber slices.
Let's get nutty:
nut butter series
Peanut Butter Bites
½ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon five spice powder
½ cup apple, small dice
4 celery stalks cut into 4” ‘logs’
1 tablespoon celery leaves minced
1. In a small bowl, mix peanut butter and five spice. If it’s too thick to stir, you can add water to thin it out, adding drop by drop.
2. Assembly: on each celery, spread peanut butter leaving enough room to top with apple and optional minced celery leaves.
Sunflower Butter Bites
½ cup sunflower butter
1 pear, cut thinly into matchsticks
4 radish, pickled or fresh, cut thinly into matchsticks
1 tsp black sesame
25 rice crackers
1. In a bowl, mix pear and radish with black sesame.
2. Assembly: on each rice cracker, apply sunflower butter, then the pear/radish mix.
Almond Butter Bites
½ cup almond butter
½ cup shredded carrot
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tablespoons raisins
20 endive leaves
1. Mix almond butter in a bowl with a couple tablespoons of water if too thick and add cinnamon.
2. Assembly: On each endive leaf, spread almond butter and top with shredded carrot and few raisins.
What do you make with nut butter? I'd love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment below with your favorite nut butter variations, and don't forget to share this with your friends so they can add their voice to the conversation as well.