All I can say is….the snow has to end eventually. For all of you living outside my sunny bubble of Los Angeles, you have my sympathies. I have deliberately not instagrammed a single smoothie bowl or icy shake out of respect. Maybe some of you will come for a visit next winter.
My daughter goes to school in Texas and even she is over the cold, snow and ice. She’s coming home tonight with a few friends for Spring Break. They originally planned to go skiing somewhere and I guess they thought, “Hmmmm, we could go to some more snow and cold weather or we can go to Southern California and walk around in our shorts. Hmmmmm…..” Smart girls. And super exciting for me! I can’t wait to see her, and to make all her favorites while she’s here. It’s a mother’s dream to cook for appreciative and hungry children. 😉
I have a few more favorites I’ve been sharing in my classes this week. But before we get to those, since you’re here, would you kindly take 15 seconds out of your busy day and nominate me for a Saveur Food Blog Award if you enjoy my blog? I think the category of Best Special Interest Blog would be fitting. Thank you so much! Here’s the link (and I promise it takes 15 seconds!) http://www.saveur.com/article/
Staub Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
People always ask me what cookware they should buy either because they are starting from scratch or they need to replace what they have had for too long. I cook everyday both in my house and other people’s houses, so I have tried almost every brand out there! And one thing I know for sure is that quality cookware will last you a lifetime and it will help you cook better. I avoid non-stick cookware coated with Teflon, PFTE’s and PFOA’s because they are toxic. And I also avoid untreated aluminum pots and pans because they will leach metals. Basically I stick to stainless steel, cast iron and enamel cast iron for most of my cookware.
There are several brands to which I am loyal, and one of them is Staub which makes very high quality enamel cast iron cookware. Trust me when I tell you that your Staub pieces will get handed down to future generations. I know they are expensive, but I have tried cheaper, imitation, made in China, enameled cookware and it started to chip and fall apart after 2 weeks. Are you kidding me???
I have had my Staub pieces for my entire marriage and I use them all the time and they still look and perform great. I am so smitten with this cookware that I just acquired two new pieces this week — this 7-quart cocotte and this 2 handled fry pan which I have already started using in my classes! The key is the enamel cast iron finish on the inside, which is ideal for searing, roasting, and caramelizing. The enamel comes in a matte black finish which doesn’t show stains or scratches. My favorite pieces are the cocottes which are perfect for stove-to-oven dishes and come with heavy lids that are designed to retain moisture inside the pot for ideal flavor and nutrition. They even have these mini cocottes which would be so cute for individual servings of oatmeal, pot pie or crisp. Plus, they come in an assortment of great colors that looks so chic on your stovetop. All my pieces are in the graphite grey color which I think is very elegant and understated. Even though they say you can put the pieces in the dishwasher, I always wash by hand.
You can find Staub at most kitchen stores including Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Amazon too!
While the name might be a little funky and hard to pronounce, za’atar is a spice blend that should be making its way into everyone’s kitchens! Za’atar originates in the Middle East and is a blend of roasted sesame seeds, sumac, and dried herbs. Since it’s a spice blend, za’atar is different from region to region, from manufacturer to manufacturer. I like this image above that I found on Fine Cooking.
It adds a punch of flavor and a little crunch to dishes and I love using it on things like pita, grilled eggplant, eggs, avocado toast, soups and stews. Lately, my favorite way to use it is to sprinkle it on roasted carrots, which is a dish I taught in last month’s classes that people went nuts for. Not only does this spice act as a flavor booster but also provides nutrition as well- sesame seeds contain a good dose of calcium, magnesium, and copper.
My favorite one that I have tried I found on amazon by Zamouri Spices. It’s just the right flavor and texture for me, with not too much sumac. You can also make your own to taste. Start with a combo of 1 Tablespoon dried thyme leaves, 1 Tablespoon sumac, 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon sea salt.
BloomThat Flowers on Demand
I was so surprised the other night when one of my students brought me the loveliest bouquet of flowers, which were wrapped tastefully in a piece of burlap and tied with a grosgrain ribbon. Flowers always make people happy, especially pretty flowers. So I always ask, “where are these from?” I was fully expecting her to tell me the name of a local florist, but instead she said, “BloomThat!” Bloom what???
BloomThat is a unique floral concept — take a few simple, but tasteful floral design concepts and deliver them in 90 minutes or less. You know that dinner party you are going to tonight? Have you bought a hostess gift yet? I’m sure you can think of a hundred reasons to order a BloomThat bouquet or SUCCULENT arrangement! You know how much I love succulents! And believe me, these are all reasonably priced (bouquets start at $35,) especially considering shipping is FREE. The bad news is that they are only in these markets right now: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, SF-Peninsula and East Bay. Buggers if you don’t live there, but maybe you want to send some sunshine to someone who does. I asked the guys at BloomThat if they would offer my readers a little discount to try their service and they were super sweet and said, “SURE!” Use code BLOOMITFWD for 20% off your first order. You’re welcome!
Seasonal Produce: Asparagus
I remember when I was a child seeing asparagus in the market for the first time, I knew it was spring! So I actually associate asparagus with a feeling of excitement! Sadly, it is in season for such a short time. I saw some local asparagus at the farmers market this week and said to myself, “get out those asparagus recipes!”
Asparagus is such a fun vegetable to cook with- it can be roasted in the oven to get nice and crispy, blanched to give it a fresh crunch, pureed into a silky soup, or even shaved with a peeler and eaten raw as a salad. Asparagus has a unique trait that not many other vegetables have- it has a very high respiration rate- meaning that it is takes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide very fast. Because of this trait, we want to store our asparagus properly and consume it within a couple of days of bringing it home from the market. I always show my students that the best way to store asparagus is by trimming the ends as you would flowers when you get home from the market, and setting the bunch upright in an inch or two of water. This helps the asparagus maintain it’s freshness and nutritional value.
The list of nutritional benefits of asparagus is extensive- it is such a beneficial vegetable- but I like to note its content of the phytonutrient inulin, which is a beneficial nutrient for our gut. It’s so important to include these types of veggies in our diets! Pick up some asparagus this weekend at your local market (make sure it’s local and not from Mexico,) and check out some of my recipes below as well as others from around the web.
Asparagus Salad with Feta, Walnuts and Mint Vinaigrette (one of my all-time favorite salads EVER)
Asparagus Ribbon Salad from My New Roots
Grilled Asparagus and Creamy Lemon Quinoa from Green Kitchen Stories
Sesame Asparagus Salad from Love and Lemons
Superfood Spotlight: Garlic
Love it or hate it, the humble garlic is just as powerful for adding flavor to food as it is for our health. Garlic is part of the lily or Allium family. There are countless studies documenting the power of garlic to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral benefits. Garlic is rich in variety of powerful sulfur containing compounds. Although garlic contains almost 100 nutrients, the most important in terms of health benefits seems to be the sulfur compound allicin—an amino acid. Allicin is doesn’t actually exist in fresh garlic, but it is formed the instant cloves are crushed, chewed, or cut. Allicin is credited for the superbiological activity of garlic as well as its odor. In addition to allicin, a single clove of garlic offers a ton of compounds with health benefits, including saponins, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, polyphenols, and arginine. In addition to these compounds, garlic is a good source of vitamin B6 and also of vitamin C.
If you can’t tolerate raw or lightly sauteed garlic, try roasting a whole head and squeezing out the softened cloves which can then be mixed into almost anything. Click on my recipes for White Bean Dip or Cauliflower Soup with Roasted Garlic to see how to do that.
I buy whole heads that feel firm with no visible blemishes. Sprouting (an actual light green sprout coming from the top) is an indication that the garlic is older. I don’t personally think it affects the digestibility of the garlic, but some people might disagree. I peel garlic once a week or so and store it in a glass jar in the fridge where it will last for at least a week.
People ask me all the time what I think of preminced garlic, either fresh or frozen. Honestly, garlic isn’t that hard to chop or mince. But if it’s something you hate doing and preminced garlic will help you cook, then buy it. Just please read the labels and make sure you aren’t buying garlic with added preservatives. That would be a deal-breaker for me!