Aromatic Essentials

There is something special about walking into someone’s home and relishing the aroma of garlic and onions sauteing in a pan in a kitchen nearby. Garlic and onions as well as bell peppers and celery are commonly used in recipes as a sort of backbone to magically transform food into mouthwatering dishes. It is inconceivable to think you could complete cuisines such as Cajun, Indian, Mexican or African without these essential aromatics!

If you’re one of the very few who don’t cook with these gems, then consider some interesting health facts that you might not have heard of before.

  • Garlic

Nursing mothers will be happy to hear that this marvel will help their babies nurse longer and drink more breast milk. According to researchers, the trick is for mom to consume garlic two hours prior to feeding time when the aroma is strongest in the breast milk which will be much more enticing to baby. (Tricks of the Trade, Vol. I from Midwifery Today).  You can make a great peanut sauce with garlic and enjoy some healthy Vietnamese spring rolls for lunch!

  • Onion

It is well documented in medical science that onions share cancer fighting properties with garlic and bell peppers, as well as various antiseptic properties. Some websites even re-post this unsourceable statement about onions: “Egyptians numbered over 8000 onion-alleviated ailments.” Whether or not this is a historical exaggeration, there was plenty of evidence left behind by the ancient Egyptians that illustrate how much the onion was highly regarded in their cuisine and health.  Try an enchilada recipe  for a healthy dose of onion goodness!

  • Bell Pepper

According to scientists, a serious depletion of vitamin A occurs in smokers due to a carcinogen found in cigarettes. Foods rich in vitamin A, such as bell peppers and chili peppers, can protect smokers from developing emphysema or lung inflammation. Also, the high vitamin C content in bell peppers have also been seen by researchers to protect people from developing cataracts and from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. (World’s Healthiest Foods)  A good way to enjoy this aromatic is in salads or a sausage wrap this summer!

  • Celery

Celery contains a high amount of a natural steroid called androstenone, which increases pheromone levels in men when they sweat. Co-authors Dr. Judy Garman, Dr. Walter Gaman and Dr. Mark Anderson call celery “vegetable Viagra” in their new book called “Stay Young: Ten Proven Steps to Ultimate Health.”  So, get yourself some stalks of celery and peanut butter (or hummus) as a snack or in stuffing with a nice cut of pork for the ladies.

Without a doubt, there is more to these essential aromatic foods than meets the eye. There are other aromatics that are worth mentioning and exploring such as shallots, ginger, herbs, spices, peppers and others.  All have unique properties to enrich your life and, most especially, your palate.  So, cook more at home and be in control of your health!

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Spring Roll Party

A great way to spend an afternoon with friends and family is to invite them over for a culinary adventure!  I asked two of my friends, Gene and Hong, to walk me through Vietnamese spring roll making, and they both agreed to educate and share their experience with me.      

 To save money and time, Gene, Hong and I decided to share the task and cost of preparing some things at home the day before doing the spring rolls.  I boiled two pounds of shrimp, Gene BBQ’d a pork loin, and Hong brought some fried tofu from a local vendor.  Here’s how Gene and I prepared our stuff…     

 Gene’s BBQ’d Pork Loin     

  1. In a ziploc bag add ground black pepper, garlic powder and a squirt of Sriracha hot chili sauce.
  2. Add loin to mix and shake it up
  3. Marinade for1 hour
  4. Grill, sear and smoke the loin
  5. Add BBQ sauce at the end

Yvette’s Shrimp Boil      

  1. Thaw a 2 lb bag of frozen shrimp, devained and shelled
  2. Boil water and add shrimp with shell on
  3. Scoop the shrimp out when they float to the top (small strainer helps)
  4. Let them cool and then peel off the shell

(I could have put some Cajun spices to the boil but I didn’t think of it)     

On the day we planned to make these spring rolls, we first went to an Asian supermarket, and for me this was the intimidating part!  Most staff are willing to help but the easiest way is if you have an Asian friend to take you on a small tour. (Thanks, Hong!)  This author was surprised to discover fresh and inexpensive herbs there!   Compare prices at your local Asian market vs. regular grocery store and be amazed!  

Here’s how we did all the prep work the day of of spring rolling…     

 Peanut Sauce Prep     

  1. Saute 4-5 shallot cloves, chopped
  2. Once the shallots are caramelized, throw in 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  3. 1 cup of hoison
  4. 1/3 of a jar of peanut butter
  5. 1 cup of water (or as much as desired in thickness)
  6. Dash of rooster sauce or Tabasco sauce to taste

Rice Noodle Prep      

  1.  Boil the rice noodles or bun (pronounced like boon) for about 5-8 minutes for a softer noodle
  2. Separate the noodles in small clumps in a large strainer for easier pickin’s
  3. Rinse the bun two times in cold water

Herb Prep      

  1. Wash the curly lettuce twice
  2.  Soak and wash twice the cilantro (Ngo), Thai basil (Que), mint (Kanh Gioi), lemon herb (Rau ram). thin leeks (He).  For a spicier mix add spearmint (Hung Cay) or peppermint (Hung Hui).

 Okay!  Let’s put all these things together!!!  

For a recipe on crispy spring rolls, check out my article on Associated Content.  

           Introduction to Asian Cuisine with Dorothy Huang
If you were ever frustrated about how your attempts at Asian cooking turn out, it’s possible you might be tempted to give up and just order in.     

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Anthony Bourdain on Rachael Ray

Another Tony Quote:

Complain all you want. It’s like railing against the pounding surf. She only grows stronger and more powerful. Her ear-shattering tones louder and louder. We KNOW she can’t cook. She shrewdly tells us so. So…what is she selling us? Really? She’s selling us satisfaction, the smug reassurance that mediocrity is quite enough. She’s a friendly, familiar face who appears regularly on our screens to tell us that “Even your dumb, lazy *** can cook this!” Wallowing in your own crapulence on your Cheeto-littered couch you watch her and think, “Hell…I could do that. I ain’t gonna…but I could–if I wanted! Now where’s my damn jug a Diet Pepsi?” Where the saintly Julia Child sought to raise expectations, to enlighten us, make us better–teach us–and in fact, did, Rachael uses her strange and terrible powers to narcotize her public with her hypnotic mantra of Yummo and Evoo and Sammys. “You’re doing just fine. You don’t even have to chop an onion–you can buy it already chopped. Aspire to nothing…Just sit there. Have another Triscuit…Sleep….sleep….”

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The One Week $25 Challenge

I’ll be conducting several challenges this year, the first is to cook and eat on less than $25 dollars from Monday to Friday. Normally, I only have coffee for breakfast and eat out for lunch two or three times a week. But for the purpose of this challenge, I will eat three meals a day. I will not be counting beverages or staples that I have on hand at all times, such as salt, pepper, butter, sugar, flour, garlic, seasonings, oil, etc.

I went to the store for the first shopping trip today (Sunday) and stocked up for breakfast and lunch for all five days plus dinner (mostly) for the first three days. I took a strategy of using products more than once such as bread, eggs, rice and potatoes. Each day I will update this post with my meals and recipes.

Here is the grocery list and the prices.

Item Cost
1 lb Chorizo 1.93
2 lb Grade A chicken thighs 3.33
12 oz Center cut Bacon 2.00
Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls (8 cnt. Tube) 0.00
1 white onion 0.33
1.1 lb Red potatoes 1.08
1 head Iceberg lettus 0.88
3/4 pound broccoli crowns 0.73
1.2 lb Roma tomatoes 1.11
1 8oz can cream of chicken 0.88
16 oz Cavatappi Pasta 1.00
16 oz. Linguine Pasta -0.93
16 oz Small Red Beans (Dry) 1.15
16 oz Long Grain White Rice 0.74
1 Small loaf white bread 0.69
1/2 dozen grade AA large eggs 1.19
8oz Monterey Jack Cheese (1) 1.67
Green Bell Pepper (2) 0.78
Calamata Olives (3) 1.04
Tomato Sauce (3) 0.29
White Onion (3) 0.33
Prime Ribeye Steak (4) 4.75
TOTAL 24.98

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Scrambled egg and buttered toast.
  • Lunch: BLT
  • Dinner: Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

I needed some cheese for the casserole so I had to pick up an 8 oz block of Monterey Jack ($1.67). Even though I tried to cut the recipe amounts back so I would not have leftovers, I still had enough for lunch the next day plus some.

Dinner recipe ingredients: 1/2 pound chicken, 1/2 cup rice, 2 medium broccoli crowns, 1 can of cream of chicken)

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Poached egg with toast
  • Lunch: Leftover Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
  • Dinner: Red Beans and Rice with Chorizo

Leftovers AGAIN. I am finding it very hard to cook a single serving, but then again how can you cook 1/8th cup of rice? I guess I could have pre-cooked the rice yesterday and reserved 1/2 for tonights meal. If I try a challenge similar to this in the future, I will definately precook rice. Supplies are holding out well. I expect that when the challenge is over I will still have at least 1/2 of the rice and beans left and probably most of the pasta.

Dinner recipe ingredients: 1/2 pound Chorizo, 2/3 cup rice, 1/2 cup red beans, 1/2 medium white onion, 3 cloves garlic, Cajun seasoning.

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Fried egg toasted Sandwich
  • Lunch: Leftover Red Beans and Rice
  • Dinner: Chicken Fajitas with Spanish Rice

Ok, leftovers have become a strategy at this point, however, I do not plan to have the same dish more than twice. Once for dinner then again as leftovers for lunch the next day. I’m going to have plenty of bacon, tomatoes, lettuce and bread to work with since I have abandoned the daily BLT for lunch.

Dinner recipe ingredients: 1 pound chicken, 1/2 cup rice, 1/2 medium white onion, 1 green bell pepper, 1 Roma tomato

Day 4

  • Breakfast: Cinnamon toast with bacon
  • Lunch: Leftover Chicken Fajitas and Spanish Rice
  • Dinner: Linguine with Red Meat Sauce

Dinner turned out alright, but I do think that the Cavatappi would have been the better pasta to use.

Dinner recipe ingredients: 6 oz Linguine, 1/2 pound Chorizo, 1/2 medium white onion, 1 green bell pepper, 1 can tomato sauce, 2 oz Monterey Jack cheese, 4 oz Calamata olives, 2 cloves garlic, 2 slices of bacon, 1 egg, almost a full head of lettuce

Day 5

  • Breakfast: 2 egg omelet with bacon
  • Lunch: Leftover Linguine with Red Meat Sauce
  • Dinner: Rib-eye with Roasted Red Potatoes

Well I was able to save enough money to treat myself to a Rib-eye on day 5! Smaller than I normally have and choice not prime, but a Rib-eye none the less. I also had enough bacon left to add a few slices to the potatoes as a topping.

Dinner recipe ingredients: 8 oz Rib-eye, 3/4 pound red potatoes, 3 slices of bacon

Bonus Food

I had all of the Cavatappi and cinnimon rolls left, 1/2 pound chicken, 2/3 of the Linguine, 3/4 of the red beans, 1/4 of the rice, 1/2 of the Monterey Jack, a couple of tomatoes and potatoes, 1/2 white onion and a couple of slices of bacon. I was able to go ahead and use most of the ingredients in the next few days. I still have all of the pasta, it will keep, but I did have to throw the chicken out.

So there you have it 3 meals a day for the work week without using any processed packaged food — with food left over. Of course on Saturday I cooked a very nice mushroom risotto that probably cost me $15-20 in ingredients.

-Chef Stacy

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Anthony Bourdain on Sandra Lee

If you are reading this, you must know I’m a Bourdain fan, amongst others. Come on “Hungry 4 More”? Tony captures my thoughts on several subjects; one is the lazy lackadaisical cooking of many TV food stars. Here’s what he has to say about Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee:

She makes her audience feel good about themselves. You watch her on that show and you think, “I can do that. That’s not intimidating.” All you have to do is waddle into the kitchen, open a can of crap and spread it on some other crap that you bought at the supermarket. And then you’ve done something really special. The most terrifying thing I’ve seen is her making a Kwanzaa cake. Watch that clip and tell me your eyeballs don’t burst into flames. It’s a war crime on television. You’ll scream.

— Anthony Bourdain

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