Ingredient Spotlight/ Cocoa

Extract from Chocolate  by Jennifer Donovan.

Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is derived, are a product of the cacao tree. This is believed to have originated in the tropical areas of South America, although the exact location is a source of some dispute. A relatively delicate plant, the cacao tree needs protection from wind and a good amount of shade; it usually bears fruit in the fifth year of cultivation in natural conditions. Although there are about 20 different varieties of cacao plant, only three are widely used in the making of chocolate—Forastero, Crillo, and Trinitero.

The fruit of the cacao plant, known as “pods,” contain between 20 and 50 cream-colored beans, and it takes about 400 beans to make just one pound of chocolate. The beans are fermented, dried, cleaned, and roasted. Then the roasted beans are ground to produce a thick cacao liquor, or cacao mass, and finally pressed to extract the fat, known as cocoa butter.Intro_103

Cacao liquor and cocoa butter are the essential ingredients
 in any chocolate product, and the amount included varies from around 25 percent of the product’s weight up to approximately
80 percent, occasionally more. Other ingredients, including sugar, vanilla, and milk, are added to the chocolate before it goes through the final processing stages. Generally, the sweeter the chocolate, the more sugar has been added and the less cacao liquor and cocoa butter it contains. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the higher the cacao liquor and cocoa butter content; this is widely considered to be a superior chocolate. However, chocolate preferences vary between individuals, so it is best to experiment with what you have available to see which you prefer.

Types of Chocolate
There are a number of basic categories of chocolate. The first
is dark chocolate, sometimes referred to as bittersweet or semi- sweet chocolate, or couverture. This is designed for both eating and cooking. Look for chocolate with a high cocoa content (usually marked as a percentage on the label). Ideally, the percentage should be somewhere between 70 and 85 percent, although it is important to remember what you are ultimately using it for.

The most readily available chocolate tends to range between 60 and 70 percent, which renders good results, though higher percentages do exist.

Milk chocolate, also commonly available, generally contains less than 3 percent cocoa butter and has sugar, milk powder, and vanilla added. It is not as successful in baking and cooking as dark chocolate, but you can use it as a substitute in mousses, fillings, drinks, and cookies, particularly if they are destined for children, who prefer the less bitter flavor. Again, for the tastiest results, look for good-quality milk chocolate—many manufacturers use vegetable oils, artificial flavors, fillers, and milk solids in their products. Organic varieties of chocolate are a good choice here.

White chocolate, another widely available product, is technically not chocolate at all because it does not contain cacao liquor—it is made from cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Although not a pure chocolate, white chocolate is still very popular and gives good results in cooking.

Cocoa powder and chocolate drink mixes are also derived from chocolate. ‘Dutch-processed’ cocoa, where the cocoa is treated with an alkali to give a slightly different flavor and a darker appearance, is considered to have the best taste. Cocoa powder
 is derived from the pressed cake that remains after most of the cocoa butter has been removed. It may have 10 percent or more cocoa butter content. Most commercial chocolate drink mixes (which are designed to be made into hot or cold drinks) are usually made from a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar. Both cocoa powder and chocolate drink mixes have their uses in cooking,
but, as with chocolate, the quality does vary, so experiment with the different brands and buy the best you can afford.

To know more about chocolate and be guided through a range of delicous chocolate recipes, take a look at Chocolate by Jennifer Donovan.

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Jennifer Donovan
Chocolate
Available from Nourish Books
£9.99

 

 

 

The Benefits of Plant-based Foods

– Extract from The Vegan Cookbook – 100 of the Best Vegan Recipes by Adele McConnell.

Each one of us is different, and for many people a diet based on plant foods is more suitable than one that is centered on animal produce. It addresses the moral and philosophical objections that many have to eating food from animals, and there are a number of health benefits when you eat only foods made from plants.

The Pleasures of A Plant-Based Diet

At the time of writing this book, I have followed a plant-based diet for four years and have never felt better. I sleep well, my digestion is in perfect working order, my skin is clear and my eyes are bright. My hair and nails grow super-fast and I always have tons of energy. Many people, through my blog and mentoring sessions, tell me that they have also enjoyed improved health after they have given up meat and animal produce. They are often surprised that a vegan diet can offer such a vast selection of foods and tastes, and they never miss eating meat. They have soon become completely comfortable with, and accustomed to, the fresh flavors of vegetables combined with the more sustaining vegetarian protein foods of legumes and nuts combined with grains.

As you change your diet, you will probably find that the amount of fiber you eat will increase, particularly if you had been following the standard diet of processed foods. Fiber is important for regular bowel movements and managing cholesterol levels. It also stops you from overeating. Processed foods, which are low in fiber, leave you feeling unsatisfied and prone to eating more.

Plants, nuts and seeds are high in vitamins and minerals, and when you eat a variety of them you will increase your body’s opportunities to benefit from nutrients and antioxidants that it may never have had in the past. A plant-based diet is low in the type of saturated fat that might be harmful to health, but it does include coconut oil, a saturated fat known as medium chain that your body recognizes as an energy source and uses accordingly. Coconut oil is not easily stored by the body as fat.

Numerous studies have shown that people who eat a plant-based diet have lower rates of heart disease and benefit from lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, a lower incidence of type-2 diabetes and lower rates of prostate and colon cancer, according to the American Dietetic Association.

Health benefits aside, a plant-based diet can widen your horizons for discovering a wealth of new flavors, textures, colors, tastes and culinary experiences.

Pan-fried sage & basil gnocchi

Preparation:
15 minutes, plus 10 minutes resting and making the cheese
Cooking: 45 minutes

Ingredients:
500g/1lb 2oz floury potatoes, such as Desiree or King Edward, cut into dice; 180g/61⁄4oz/11⁄2 cups plain flour, plus extra if needed and for dusting; 1 tbsp finely chopped sage leaves; 1 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves; 1 tbsp safflower oil or sunflower oil; 150g/51⁄2oz/1 cup pitted mixed green and black olives, chopped; 1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced lengthways 100g/31⁄2oz baby spinach leaves; 80g/23⁄4oz/1⁄2 cup drained; sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped; 200g/7oz/1 cup bottled or tinned artichoke hearts
1 handful of basil leaves, torn 200g/7oz Herbed Almond; cheese;  crumbled sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the potatoes in a steamer set over a pan of boiling water and steam over a medium heat for 15–20 minutes until soft. Preheat the oven to 100°C/200°F/Gas 1⁄2 and put a baking tray inside to warm.

Pan-fried sage & basil gnocchi

Put the potatoes in a bowl, mash them and sift in 150g/51⁄2oz/ 11⁄4 cups flour, the herbs and add a good pinch of salt. Mix by hand until just combined, adding the remaining flour. Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead for 1 minute. If the dough is sticky, add more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough is soft and workable. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over a high heat, then reduce to medium-high. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll them into long sausage shapes. Slice each piece into 2cm/3⁄4in pieces to make gnocchi. Lower the gnocchi in batches into the boiling water using a slotted spoon, and cook for 5 minutes, or until they float to the surface. Remove from the pan as they cook and lay them on the baking tray and keep them warm while you cook the remaining gnocchi.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium- high heat and fry the gnocchi in batches, keeping the cooked gnocchi warm on the tray. Add the olives and chilli to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the spinach, tomatoes, artichokes and basil. Return the gnocchi to the pan and gently toss with the vegetables. Season with pepper and serve with the cheese.

Sweet potato cups with hummus & walnut pesto

Preparation:
30 minutes, plus cooling and making the hummus
Cooking: 1 hour

Ingredients:
250g/9oz sweet potato, cut into small dice; 1 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil, plus extra for greasing;  ⁄2 courgette, cut into small dice; 3 flour tortillas; 
1 large handful of basil leaves; 1 small handful of parsley leaves
; 100g/31⁄2 oz baby spinach leaves; 
30g/1oz/1⁄4 cup walnuts; 60ml/2fl oz/1⁄4 cup good- quality extra virgin olive oil;  1 garlic clove; crushed
a squeeze of lemon juice, or to taste
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; 220g/73⁄4oz/1 cup hummus, such as Roasted Garlic & Hazelnut Hummus.

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Sweet potato cups with hummus & walnut pesto

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Put the sweet potato in a bowl and add the oil. Mix well to coat thoroughly and tip on to a baking tray. Roast for 30 minutes, then add the courgette to the tray. Roast for a further 15 minutes, or until tender.

While the vegetables are cooking, cut each tortilla into quarters and, using a small amount of oil, grease six muffin cups. Press
1 piece of tortilla inside a muffin cup and smooth into the edges to line the cup, then add a second piece at an angle and smooth in the same way. Leave the edges overhanging, to create a tortilla ‘cup’. Leave to one side.

Put the basil into a blender or food processor and add the parsley and spinach leaves, then process until they are well combined. Add the walnuts, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and blend into a smooth paste to make a pesto.

When the sweet potato is cooked, leave the baking tray on one side to cool. When the vegetables are cool, tip them into a large mixing bowl, and combine with 2 tablespoons of walnut pesto. Spoon the sweet potato and courgette mixture into each tortilla cup and bake for 15 minutes, or until the tortillas are golden brown. Top with a large spoonful of hummus and serve with the remaining pesto. The pesto can be stored in a sterilized jar in the fridge for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.

About the Author: Vegan Cookbook author Adele McConnell is the founder of the highly successful vegan food blog, vegiehead.com, imageand was hailed as the winner of the prestigious “Vegan Food Blogger Award” by The Vegan Woman 2012. Adele loves sharing her passion for vegan food. She has released several eBooks, runs cooking classes and has also set up the YouTube Vegie Head channel, where fellow foodies can watch her inspiring, easy-to-follow cookery demonstrations online.

 

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Adele McConnell
The Vegan Cookbook – 100 of the Best Vegan Recipes
Available from Nourish Books
£14.99

Getting Started on Making Your Own Preserves

– By Emma Macdonald

Preserving is a way of making sure that fresh foods can be kept for longer, making sure they do not go to waste. This was very important in years past when the vegetable plot outside the back door provided the food that you ate each day. Preserving was a way to keep food on the table in the winter months. Today, when food is grown in huge quantities and imported year-round and commercial preserves are easy to buy, there is less reason to make preserves, yet many of us still love to do it. There is something very special about cooking a batch of raspberry jam from fruit picked from the garden, or making something delicious from foraged blackberries and apples.

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Balsamic Onions

What is Preserving?
Storing food for a long time needs a little bit of science. There are lots of methods you can use, such as curing, salting, drying and covering with a layer of fat, as well as cooking using sugar, vinegar and alcohol. All these methods help to prevent your preserves from spoiling and to last as long as you want them to.

All raw foods contain enzymes that help to sustain
life as well as breaking them down, causing food to discolour and rot over time. Preserving halts the enzymes developing any further, keeping the food at its best. Preserving also works by drying up or killing off micro- organisms (for example, moulds, yeasts and bacteria) that might enter your preserves and spoil your hard work. A high concentration of sugar, vinegar or alcohol along with cooking at a high temperature will prevent the growth
of micro-organisms.

Mould is not actually harmful to eat but it tastes
and looks unpleasant and can indicate that bacteria are present. This is harmful as it can cause food poisoning. Yeasts cause foods to ferment, which is not wanted
in your jam but can be a good thing in cider and breadmaking. In jam or other preserves, fermenting could mean that unwanted bacteria are present. Hygiene plays an important part in keeping your preserves bacteria free, which is why sterilizing your jars and lids is so important. There are many ways to preserve fruit and vegetables as well as meat and fish:

Jams
A combination of fruit and sugar cooked until they set to a soft, spreading consistency. The fruits used must contain pectin, which helps them to set. If 
the fruit is low in pectin, such as strawberries, it can be combined with a fruit high in pectin, such as lemon, to help the jam to set.

Conserves
Similar to jams but are usually a soft set. The best fruits to use are soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries; these are usually left in sugar for 24 hours to extract their juice before cooking for a short time. Some conserves are made with dried fruits, such as mincemeats.

56-Lemon & Lavender Marmalade

Lemon & Lavender Marmalade

Marmalades
Again, similar to jams but are made from citrus fruits, peel and sugar. The peel must be cooked for a long time so that it softens before the sugar is added.

Jellies
Made from the juice of fruit, which is allowed to drip, then the sugar is added and the jelly cooked until set. Jellies can be served in the same way as jam but they are most often served with meat, poultry and cheese.

Curds
Made from fruit juice, sugar and eggs. Eggs are added to thicken the mixture to a rich, soft spreading consistency. Curds are considered a preserve as traditionally they were made when there was a glut of fruit, but they are not preserves in the true sense as they will keep only for a few weeks in a refrigerator.

Butters
Made from fruits and sugar that are cooked slowly for a long time until their consistency resembles soft butter.

Ingredients
Choosing the best fruit and vegetables and the correct sugar and vinegar for your recipe will ensure you get the results you want. Finding excellent fresh produce has never been easier. You can forage, grow your own, shop at farm shops and farmers’ markets, visit pick-your- own and swap home-grown produce at neighbourhood swap schemes. Preserve-making is so popular that you can find unusual sugars and vinegars and other ingredients in most supermarkets, and readily online. It is easy to get started!

Equipment
I am not a great one for adding equipment to my kitchen cupboard and you can make
a lot of the recipes without lots of specialist equipment. If you have a decent heavy-based saucepan you can get going, and improvise along the way. If you want to make lots of preserves, one or two purchases will make your life easier. A sugar or jam thermometer is probably the most useful implement to buy as it can help you to find setting points accurately.

Sterilizing Bottles & Jars
The importance of sterilizing cannot be emphasized enough; it is essential so that your preserves do not deteriorate during storage. Always sterilize an extra bottle or jar in case it is needed. Remove any labels if you are reusing bottles or jars, and wash all in very hot, soapy water.

To know more about preserves, equipment and methods to sterilize your bottles or jars take a look at The Bay Tree Preserving by Emma Macdonald.

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  Emma Macdonald
  The Bay Tree Preserving
  Available from Watkins Publishing
  £19.99

 

 

 

 

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Natural Remedies to Strengthen your Immune System to Prevent Ear, Nose and Throat Infections

– by Kirsten Hartvig

The ear, nose and throat are closely linked by a labyrinth of tubes and passages. This allows infection to spread quickly from one to another. Common ear, nose and throat disorders include middle ear and throat infections (including tonsillitis) and sinusitis.

PREVENTION
The best way to prevent ear, nose and throat infections is to strengthen the immune system by eating lots of vegetables and fruit – particularly those high in vitamins A and C, bioflavonoids and zinc. Avoid common allergens, such as dairy foods (including cow’s milk in baby formulas), eggs, shellfish, wheat and peanut butter. If you do catch a cold or suffer a bout of flu, take plenty of time to convalesce after the symptoms subside and do not go out and about too early.

SUGGESTED RECIPES
Shiitake mushroom soup
For ear infections

100g dried shiitake mushrooms (or 300g fresh/bottled); 2 tbsp olive oil
2 spring onions, finely chopped
; 1 garlic clove, finely chopped; 1 carrot, finely chopped
; 2.5-cm cube of fresh ginger root, finely chopped; 1 tbsp soya sauce; 
1 tsp maple syrup
; 11⁄2 litres water with 1 tsp miso
; sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

If using dried mushrooms, soak them in plenty of water for 20 minutes, then discard the stems. Heat the oil gently in a big saucepan and stir-fry the spring onions, garlic, carrot and ginger root for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce, maple syrup and stock one after the other. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the salt and pepper and serve.

Elderflower spritzer
For sinusitis

1 head of fresh elderflowers; 1 slice of lemon
100ml boiling water; 
1 tsp honey; 100ml fizzy water

Place the elderflowers and the lemon slice in a small bowl. Add the boiling water and the honey. Cover and leave to cool. Strain and pour into a tall glass filled with ice, add the fizzy water, and serve immediately.

Sage mix for sore throats
For throat infection

1 tsp sage; 
1⁄2 tsp cleavers; 
1⁄2 tsp fresh ginger root, finely chopped;  300ml boiling water

Place the sage, cleavers and ginger in a warmed teapot, add the water, and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.

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Kirsten Hartvig
Eat to Boost Your Immunity
ISBN: 9781848990029
£12.99

 

The Seasonal Kitchen: Spinach

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Although it is available for most of the year, spinach is one of the highlights of spring. Then its tender young leaves make such a refreshing change after the sturdy greens and hearty roots of winter. First cultivated in Persia, but now a staple of cuisines worldwide, spinach is a versatile vegetable. The soft baby leaves can be used raw in salads or make a lovely addition to risottos, stir-fries and even mashed potato; larger leaves, sautéed with a little garlic, then seasoned and served with a squeeze of lemon, make a delicious accompaniment to grilled meats and fish.
Spinach has a natural affinity with butter, cheese, cream and eggs, but is also delicious matched with various herbs and spices. In India, a blend of spiced spinach and potato is often served with rice or flatbreads. In Spain, it is cooked with garlic, raisins and pinenuts to make a popular tapas dish, while in the Middle East it is added to stews and used in fillings for pies and pastries.
Choose fresh-looking leaves, and avoid any that are yellowing, wilting or becoming slimy. Cut off tough stems and always wash well in cold water to remove any soil or grit. Then shake off as much water as possible, patting the leaves dry on kitchen paper if necessary, before cooking in a dry, tightly covered pan for a few minutes, until they have wilted. Spinach gives off a lot of liquid while cooking, so always drain well before serving or using in a recipe.

SUPER GREENS
from The Juice Diet by Christine Bailey

Light and refreshing, the burst of chlorophyll and protein in this juice is incredibly nourishing and helps cleanse your body and boost liver function. It’s a wonderful juice to keep you feeling light and vibrant.

Ingredients
1 large handful kale leaves
1 large handful spinach leaves
2 pears
1 lemon, peeled
150ml/5fl oz/scant 2⁄3 cup coconut water ice cubes, to serve

Method
Juice the vegetables and fruits, then stir in the coconut water and serve over ice.

Health Benefits
Coconut water is often called the “Fluid of Life” containing a balanced proportion of the electrolytes potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium, which help the body achieve correct fluid balance. Wonderfully revitalizing, it is the perfect isotonic drink for rehydration following exercise.

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 Christine Bailey
 The Juice Diet
 ISBN: 9781844839483

 

A Delicious Afternoon Treat to Taste Beetroot’s Earthy and Rich Flavour

(Extract from Nicola Graimes’s book Veggienomics)

Out of the many vegetables to choose from it may seem strange to pick beetroot, but its earthy, sweet flavour and vibrant magenta colour means it lends itself to so many savoury – and even sweet – dishes. Beetroot is a close relative of chard and spinach, so be sure not to waste the leaves, as they can be prepared and cooked in the same way. Nicola Graimes invites you to try beetroot in the traditional cup-shaped cakes.

Beetroot and Goats’ Cheese MuffinsBeetroot Muffins

Makes: 12 | Preparation time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients: sunflower oil, for greasing; 280g/10oz/21⁄4 cups plain flour;  1⁄2 tsp sea salt
; 2 tsp baking powder; 
1⁄2 tsp bicarbonate of soda; 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten;  300ml/101⁄2fl oz/scant 11⁄4 cups natural yogurt;  85g/3oz butter, melted
; 115g/4oz goats’ cheese, crumbled
; 225g/8oz cooked beetroot, coarsely grated;  2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5. Lightly grease a 12-hole deep muffin tin with oil (or you could make 6 large muffins using large paper muffin cases).
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.
  3. Mix together the eggs and yogurt and beat in the melted butter. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then gently fold in the goats’ cheese and beetroot until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds and bake for 20–25 minutes, or until risen and golden.

To experiment with more cooking techniques and ingredients, take a look at  Veggienomics: Thrifty Vegetarian Cooking by Nicola Graimes.

 

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Nicola Graimes
Veggienomics: Thrifty Vegetarian Cooking