Traditional Foods for Lent

One of the many beautiful Catholic customs is the celebration of Lent. Lent refers to the forty days that Christ spent in the desert. It is a tradition that Catholics attend Confession at least once during the Lent season. Many Catholics spend the Lent season as a forty day spiritual retreat. During this time special prayers for the Lent season are said and some of these prayers include the beautiful Seven Penitential Psalms and St. Ephraem, Doctor of the Church. Another very important part of the celebration of Lent is food. Fasting and abstinence is another tradition that Catholics follow. During the Lent season, Ash Wednesday, all Fridays and all Saturdays should contain three meatless meals and no snacking.

Traditional foods for Lent usually include meatless soup, vegetables, seafood, salads, beans and pasta. Hot Cross Buns are a favorite and are usually eaten for breakfast on Good Friday. These rules for the Universal Church during the season of Lent is based on the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Lent is also celebrated in the East. There are a few symbols that are used to represent the Lent season and they are the Cross, Crown of Thorns, Three Nails, Chalice, and Host. Purple is the beautiful color that represents Lent. Food like pretzels have a very symbolic meaning as well. The three holes of the pretzel represent the Holy Trinity. Many Catholics have special recipes for large, soft and chewy pretzels that they use to make them during the Lent season. These traditions are always passed on to their children.

In the East, local traditions vary during the Lent season. Pre Lenten festivals are a tradition as well, where festivals and carnivals take place in many cultures. One of the famous of these carnivals takes place in New Orleans and it is called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. In ancient times, the rules of Lent were more severe than based on the modern society of today. During ancient times no animals products were eaten. In some places, Catholics consumed only bread. During the early Middle Ages, no meat, eggs or dairy products were consumed because they were forbidden. Today, many Catholics choose to give up a certain food that may be their favorite during the season of Lent. Others may choose to give up going to the movies or playing games. During the season of Lent, it is a tradition for many churches to hold sunrise services.

Source:
1. Lent
2. Cookout Calories
3. The story of Lent and recipes to see you through the holy days …

Image Credit
upload.wikimedia.org

Tips for Eating in Restaurants on a Gluten Free Diet

Gluten is a protein composite that is a very common ingredient in many foods.  Wheat, barley, and rye products typically contain gluten, but it is also often used as a stabilizing agent in a wide range of products from ketchup to ice cream.  There really aren’t many foods one can know with confidence contain no gluten without inquiring.

People with celiac disease have an intolerance for gluten, sometimes to a severe degree where they will be made very sick by even a small quantity of gluten.  It is imperative that they have as close to a gluten-free diet as possible.  Some people without celiac disease may have some lesser difficulty digesting gluten, and seek to lessen or eliminate gluten in their diet as well.

As hard as it is to avoid foods with gluten, the situation for the person trying to eat gluten-free is further complicated by the fact that if other foods, plates, the cook’s hands, etc. came in contact with a food that has gluten, then even the trace amount that is spread to the food they eat can cause them serious problems.

Obviously it can be especially difficult for a gluten-intolerant person to dine in a restaurant.  But here are a few tips to at least make the process a little easier:

1.  Research food and restaurants in advance.

The more knowledge you have, the better prepared you are.  You need to know what foods always have gluten, usually have gluten, sometimes have gluten, usually do not have gluten, and (almost) never have gluten.  There are countless books, articles, websites, etc. that you can use to educate yourself on these matters.

As restaurants have become more aware of the problems some diners have with gluten (and other dietary and food allergy issues), many have become a lot more sensitive to their customers’ needs.  Nowadays you can use Google and probably find restaurants in your area advertising the fact that they have a gluten-free menu, or at least a few gluten-free items on their menu.

2.  Follow up.  Don’t assume that what’s claimed to be gluten-free is necessarily gluten-free.

If you find a restaurant that claims to have gluten-free items, that’s a promising start, but you’re not home free yet.  Call them and ask them relevant questions to make sure you really will be able to get a gluten-free meal there.

Once you’re in the restaurant, continue to make inquiries.  Make sure the server fully understands your dietary concerns and will pass them on to the person preparing your meal.  If possible, speak to the cook directly.

A lot of this is feel.  If they’re telling you “Yeah, yeah, sure, we can do gluten-free,” but they seem only dimly aware of what it even means, or they’re relying on you to tell them what foods do and don’t have gluten (they need to know all the ingredients of their foods; you cannot be expected to), you know you’re in trouble.

Talk to them enough to where you’ll know if they’re on the ball, experienced dealing with this issue, concerned and responsible enough to be meticulous about any possible contamination from other foods, etc.  You’re putting your health in their hands; make sure they’re worthy of that level of trust.

3.  Don’t be embarrassed about changing your mind.

You might think everything is fine, but then realize it’s not.  Maybe you see something in the kitchen that tells you there’s no way your meal won’t come in contact with other dubious items while it’s being prepared.  Your salad that you were assured would be gluten-free might be served with croutons because the cook or waiter forgot they contain gluten.  (If they forgot that, what else might they forget?)

Politely cancel your order and leave.  It’s not worth it to take chances.

4.  If everything goes well, give them your business in the future.

If you really did manage to get a gluten-free meal (and enjoyed it), make a note of the restaurant, what you ordered, and perhaps some of the personnel, such as who was doing the cooking.  Let them know you appreciate their effort, and that you’ll be back.

Having a short list of restaurants where you know you can dine with confidence can be a real boon for a gluten-intolerant person.

Sources:

“Gluten-Free Dining in Restaurants”

“Traveling and Eating Gluten-Free at Restaurants”

Source:
1. Dining Out – Celiac Disease Foundation
2. Yogurt Smoothie Recipes
3. Let's Eat Out: Tips for Safe Gluten-Free Restaurant Dining | Gluten …

Image Credit
downtownrob.com

Tips for Roasting Chestnuts in the Oven

Chestnuts are flattish nuts with glossy brown shells, creamy texture, and rich earthy flavor. They are traditionally served as an accompaniment to meat, but once they have cured in the refrigerator for a few days and some of their starches have turned to sugar, chestnuts have a characteristic sweetness that highlights both sweet and savory flavors.

October is the time to keep an eye out for freshly harvested chestnuts. For a first-of-the- season treat, the best way to roast chestnuts is over the coals on the backyard grill. Stir the chestnuts around as you allow the flames to lightly touch them for a deliciously smoky note.

If the grill is not an option, roasting the chestnuts in the oven is your next best choice.

Roasting Chestnuts in the Oven

* The characteristic cross-hatch cut at the bottom of each chestnut is not a bow to tradition but serves two important purposes: It keeps the chestnuts from exploring as they cook and it makes them easier to peel.

* An old, cheap plastic knife with a serrated edge is said to be the choice of chestnut experts; it will get the job done, and is easy to hold onto. Also, the hard peels will dull a sharp blade. Some roasters put the cross hatch just through the skin on the under, or round, side; others like to lay the chestnut flat and make the cut on the flat side of the chestnut. Both seem to accomplish the end of keeping the chestnuts from exploding.

* When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425-degrees.

* Arrange chestnuts on either a rack or a foil-covered cookie sheet. Allow chestnuts to roast until the skins pull away from the cuts and nut meat is soft. Roasting time will usually vary from 20 minutes to almost an hour,

* When chestnuts have roasted, mound them into an old towel, wrap them up, and squeeze hard. The chestnuts will crackle. Let them steam for a few minutes. When you open the towel, you will be able to rub away most of the peel and skin. You are now ready to taste the first roasted chestnut of the season at its very best.

Once the chestnuts are roasted:

Chestnuts become rancid quickly and are best stored in an airtight container in the freezer.

Try them as an appetizer with just a light sprinkle of salt

Traditionally, dressings and stuffings for roasts and fowl benefit from the flavor of roasted chestnuts.

Add roasted chestnuts to your favorite risotto.

Roasted chestnuts are surprisingly delicious additions to braised cabbage dishes.

Once you have tasted freshly roasted chestnuts, straight from the oven, you will think of dozens of reasons to use this wonderful nut.

Source:
1. How to Roast Chestnuts > Start Cooking
2. Are Onions Good For You
3. How to roast chestnuts | BBC Good Food

Image Credit
fs.christonium.com

Tips for Buying Gourmet Foods Online

For those with a taste for the finer things in life, the Internet has changed everything. High-quality, gourmet foods that were once difficult to find are now only a click away. Following are a few tips for buying gourmet food online that will save you time and money, and ensure you get just what you’re looking for.

Relax

The blessing of buying online is convenience and ease. Secure sites can be identified by ‘https’ in the site address, or a gold padlock icon near the address bar when you make your purchase. Also, any gourmet retailer worth their kosher salt will have shipping methods in place to ensure the freshness of your order.

Research the item you’re looking for

The point of gourmet food is to find the best. Again, the Internet comes to the rescue on this one. Search gourmet sites and forums for information and opinions on the best brands for the product you want. This will aid you as you are faced with the plethora of products available online. Another great place to glean information is gourmet magazines or books, and even newsletters from online retailers e-mailed right to your inbox.

If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask

Online retailers should be responsive to your questions, and are usually more than willing to help you find that special something. They can also clue you in to seasonal and specialty items.

Shop around

There are several gourmet vendors at your fingertips thanks to the Internet, and many of them carry the same items. This gives you the opportunity to easily compare products and prices with the click of a button. Don’t be afraid to shop at a few different stores; some may have better prices and quality on different gourmet products. A few retailers to get you started include Dean & Deluca, ChefShop.com, igourmet.com, and Zingerman’s.

With these simple pointers, gourmet shopping online is easy…giving you more time to enjoy the epicurean fruits of your labor.

Source:
1. Where to Buy Artisanal and Specialty Foods Online: 7 Great …
2. Are Seedless Grapes GMO
3. Gourmet Buying Guide to Food, Tools, and Cookware

Image Credit
i.huffpost.com

Tips for Cooking Squash

Have you seen those large yellow squash in the market? They look like a cross between a yellow zucchini and a watermelon, and are called “spaghetti squash.” They are called that because when they are cooked, their flesh separates into long strands that look like bright yellow spaghetti. They taste similar to other summer squash, and being bright yellow, are probably loaded with beta-carotene.

Here are a few ideas:

Cut the squash in half (lengthwise will probably give you longer strands, but it doesn’t really matter) and scoop out the seeds. To cook, you can:

1: Pierce the skins multiple times with a fork, and place them cut-side down in a glass or ceramic dish with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of water. Microwave on high until soft to the touch. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 1/2 an hour or more, depending on the power of your microwave and the size of the squash.

2: Place in a baking pan with a little water and bake at about 350 degrees for around an hour (again until soft, depending on the size of the squash). Start with them cut-side down, but you might be able to turn them halfway through.

3: Place cut-side down on grill, and cook, (covered) for about an hour. You will probably want to brush the squash and or the grill with a little olive oil first, and I would recommend an indirect heat method.

Once they are cooked, you take a fork and rake the flesh out of the skins. This raking should break the flesh into lots of long strands. I like the strands with a little butter and maybe salt and pepper as a side dish, but if you want you can toss them in a skillet with a little minced garlic cooked in a good extra virgin olive oil. Heck, you can even add a few garden veggies and a light tomato sauce (say a pomodoro sauce) have a light (vegetarian) summer meal.

Bon Appetit!

Source:
1. 4 Easy Ways To Cook Squash: {Plus Tips} : TipNut.com
2. Subway Diet
3. Winter Squash: How To Cook It – Allrecipes Dish

Image Credit
whatscookingamerica.net

Temperature and Wines

It is extremely important to serve a wine at the correct temperature. It is not enough to open a bottle, pour wine in a glass and swallow it in one gulp. Wine is probably the only drink to talk about before tasting and after drinking or at least after the first sip. There is a whole ritual that anyone interested in wine can observe even though he is not an expert.. As we talk about the best temperature we are not meaning herein the so-called picnic wine to quench one’s thirst, the one you can drink at the top a dune overlooking the sea when the sun sets before crunching greedily on a sandwich.

We are talking about the choice of a correct temperature and therefore the atmosphere in which we find ourselves namely the dining-room. The dishes are known. The hostess has made her choice and will be cooking the dishes. Eventually it might be an important family gathering and a restaurant owner may have been called in to deliver the meals, quite a luncheon then.

However and whatever the way meals will be coming from out of your own cooker or from an external specialist, you have decided to serve your own wines because you have some good bottles lying in your cellar. Even though you are not a specialist you have indeed some knowledge over the fact that there must be a good match between the meals and your wines. Your reputation is at stake in a way !

 Ideally, you will proceed as follows:

 – A few days before this “luncheon”, you will take care of your selection. It is assumed that you already have the wines in your cellar or that you will be purchasing them from a fine wine-shop in your district..

– The day before the meal, bottles must be brought from the cellar into the dining-room and be put up on a furniture. 48 hours would be preferable so that the wine can adapt itself to the room temperature at least for the first 24 hours. Of course we are talking about red wines that need not be refreshed !

 – The day the ceremony open the bottles and put the corks back onto the bottle neck. This is meant to aerate the liquid and have the bouquet expand. Let us not forget that he wine has been kept locked up for a very long period or several years as may be the case. This operation is meant to have the bouquet develop and the temperature of liquid matching slowly that of the room. However there is a warning: our aim is not to overheat the wine just because the room temperature is 23°C since the hostess is cold, has got a cold or a headache and needs the heaters to be turned on. We are talking about a normal temperature, namely 19 or 20 degrees. There is no question of overheating a red wine

 – Let us summarize now the conditions against each existing categories (red, white, rosy, sweet wines, champagnes):

– red wines like Bordeaux: between 16 and 19 ° C. At this temperature, the claret will be releasing a pleasant bouquet.

– light red wines like Beaujolais: between 11 and 13° C. It is practically the cellar temperature. Therefore, you will not bring the wines out of cellar 48 hours in advance as said before but will take them in the dining-room a few minutes before service. In doing so, we will avoid trying to refresh them a bit in cold water.

– white sweet wines like Sauternes: between 5 and 8.

– dry white wines: serve between 6 and 12 ° C.

– rose wines: same as dry white wines as white and possibly at 12 °C if the alcohol level is high in the bottle (ie: 13% by volume indicated on the body-label).

It is important to treat the wine correctly from beginning to end and thus avoid the refrigerator if you want to chill a wine (maximum 2 hours), avoid ice cubes, overheated rooms, avoid placing a red wine near a heat source to accelerate its rise in temperature. Do not put a white or rose wine in the freezer to accelerate cooling! As far as white wines are concerned, whether dry white or sweet white, rose or champagne, use an ice bucket filled with cold water.

– champagne is also to be served between 6 and 8 degrees.

If you follow these instructions you will be praised for your knowledge on wines and your wife will certainly be honored with compliments on the service of meals along with wines. Your reputation will be growing as a wine specialist and in the long run people will know that upon crossing your doorstep that “inn” is indded a good place for food and wines.

Source:
1. Storage of wine
2. Magic Bullet Reviews
3. Wine Serving Temperatures – SkyBar

Image Credit
www.wineanorak.com

Tips and Tricks to Make Vegetables Taste better

Convincing Your Picky Eaters to Love Their Vegetables

Everyone has that picky eater who just insists they hate vegetables. It might be the “meat and potatoes” guy who refuses to eat asparagus, or the super finicky six year old that just isn’t going to budge no matter what you do.  Dinner time becomes a frustrating battle in serving a healthy meal that will actually be eaten, rather than simply pushed around the plate.  Whatever shape or size your challenging eater comes in, there are ways to get them on board with eating more nutritiously.

The biggest challenge of getting your family to love their vegetables is taste.  Everyone has their likes and dislikes, but even more, if what you have served is a limp, tasteless blob on the side of the plate, no one is going to be excited about it.  Offering up tasty alternatives will make a difference.  Try using spices and herbs. For example, drizzle a little olive oil and garlic salt over asparagus and lightly broil it, leaving it to a slightly crunchy texture.  A little lemon juice squeezed over your vegetables will give a light, refreshing taste to what might otherwise be bland.  If your guy likes spicy foods, try adding a few sliced jalapenos, or a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.  The key is to know what your family likes, and try alternatives that meet what they like. Try a little honey mixed in with sliced or baby carrots for a sweet alternative.

Try disguising your vegetables.  Add finely grated carrot to your spaghetti sauce or soup base. As well, crush your tomatoes instead of chopping them when you add them to spaghetti sauce.  That child that hates tomatoes, but loves ketchup won’t even notice them.  Try zucchini bread as an alternative to banana bread. Don’t tell them what they are eating. Give it a fun, funky name – Funky Monkey Bread, or something similar, that will delight your child’s imagination. Puree vegetables to add to sauces, soups, stews or even pasta dishes for an extra punch of nutrition that will also hide the flavor and texture of that much hated vegetable.  Another example to think about: puree cooked cauliflower and mix it in with your mashed potatoes, or finely chop spinach and add to a homemade dip.

Some other alternatives may be stuffing vegetables such as squash boats, peppers, tomatoes, mushroom caps, or even artichokes.  Try slicing a yellow squash in half, scoop out the center to make a “boat”, then finely dice the squash, mix with a little bread crumb, some crumbled bacon, a sprinkle of cheese, and stuff the boats, then bake it just until the cheese melts. 

While frying might not be the healthiest alternative, try something new as a special treat.  Lightly coat long green beans with your favorite wet batter and fry them just until the batter is golden brown, then serve with your family’s favorite ranch dressing or dipping sauce.  This kind of compromise will have your family excited about boring, tasteless green beans for once.

Sometimes with children it’s all about presentation.  If you serve them cooked, soggy vegetables, it may simply be a textural issue for them. Small children are learning all about the things they do and don’t like.  If your child doesn’t like cooked squash, try slicing it and serving it raw with ranch dressing for dipping.  Arrange raw vegetables on a plate in the shape of a smiley face, or something else that will bring a smile to your child’s face.  You are more likely to get them excited about eating that carrot for once.

Finely diced onions and mushrooms, sautéed with a little minced garlic is a great topping alternative to grilled steak or fish.  Plus, the aroma of that trio will have your family’s mouth watering, even if they claim they don’t like eating them.  Thinly slice eggplant, squash and zucchini, brush it with a little olive oil, or for a different taste, try sesame oil, or a hot/spicy oil and grill just until they have those nice grill marks on each side.  In other words, try other cooking alternatives.  A very light stir fry of crunchy vegetables mixed with your family’s favorite herbs and spices may go over much better than steamed.  Experiment.  Try tossing in a few chopped pecans or walnuts.  If something doesn’t work for you, try another alternative.

The key is don’t let past frustrations force you to give up.  Think about what your family enjoys and find ways to successfully introduce healthier alternatives in a way that is friendly to your family.  It may take several attempts and some major failures, but eventually you will find what brings them to the table and makes your entire dinner experience a much happier and healthier one.

Source:
1. 14 Ways to Make Veggies Less Boring – Prevention
2. Butter vs. Oil: Which Is Better?
3. 6 Ways to Make Vegetables Taste as Good as Potato Chips*

Image Credit
www.europeandme.eu

Melon Soup Canteloupe Honeydew Watermelon Chilled Soup

Melon soup adds a colorful touch of elegance to a summer luncheon, tailgate party, or picnic. Served chilled, it is as easy to pack in a cooler as it is to make for an after school snack for the kids. Full of summer’s bounty, melon soup can be a low calorie, low sodium and vitamin packed starter, an afternoon treat, or used as a novel cocktail mix. 

This is a forgiving recipe in which exacting measurements are not necessary. An average sized cantaloupe yields about 3 cups of fruit, a honeydew slightly more and of course watermelons vary drastically in size, color and flavor. Feel free to experiment with combining ingredients by smell, texture and flavor, it will still turn out well. The yogurt gives the melon soup a slightly tart flavor and builds the nutritional base with low fat, dairy based protein. Preparation time is only about 15 minutes.

Ingredients

3 cups canteloupe, chopped into large chunks

3 cups honeydew melon, chopped into large chunks

3 Tbl sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon, (about 2 Tbl)

2 Tbl fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup orange juice or, grappa (sweet Italian brandy)

1/4 cup honey or agave nectar

1 cup yogurt

2 Tbl yogurt or creme fraiche for garnish 

8 – 10 mint leaves for garnish,

Directions

Place the chopped melon, sugar, lemon juice and mint leaves into a blender and puree until just small chunks are left, about 1 minute. Add the orange juice or grappa, honey or agave nectar and yogurt and blend for about 1 more minute. Pour into a glass pitcher and keep chilled until ready to serve. Garnish with a small dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche and a mint leaf. Makes about 8 to 10 cups. Keeps for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

Melon soup is excellent served as is, or with prosciutto wrapped bread sticks, chunks of ham, or grilled chicken. Watermelon can be used in place of the cantaloupe and honeydew for a variation. Sweeteners such as Splenda can be substituted for the sugar without affecting texture.

As a cocktail mixer, melon soup is versatile and easy to use. Some may choose to omit the yogurt and honey. Light rum can be added over the rocks, or blended with ice for a frozen drink. Vanilla or fruit flavored vodka mixed with melon soup makes a tasty martini. The mint leaves or melon balls on a cocktail stick make an attractive garnish.

The Impact of Basil Downy Mildew on Italian and Thai Food in the us

Italian food typically uses sweet basil, while Thai basil is generally preferred in preparing Thai food.

The blight affecting Italian and Thai food is the dangerous basil downy mildew disease, which has recently developed an outbreak in the United States, including some eastern states, such as New Jersey, and New York, as well as, the southern state of Florida.

What does the basil downy mildew disease look like? The first evidence of this blight occurs when the top of the leaf starts to turn yellow. Underneath the basil leaves, the spores appear darker in color, to almost black, showing the growth and spread of this disease on the basil plant.

Basil downy mildew can quickly spread to other plants when the wind picks the spores up dispersing the spore particles through the air. This scenario is especially frightening to those gardeners and restaurants, which rely heavily on basil for their food preparation, particularly in their pesto sauce.

Italian pesto sauce is traditionally made with fresh basil as the key ingredient, along with extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pine nuts.  Traditional pesto sauce is mainly green, although a red pesto sauce, using sun-dried tomatoes is another variety that has increased in popularity.

The basil downy mildew blight greatly impacts the preparation of Thai food, since Thai cuisine is known primarily for using fresh basil, rather than dried herbs as their main ingredient.

Thai red and green curries, soups, and salads all rely on large quantities of fresh Thai basil for their recipes. Thai food attributes the unusual basil flavor in many of their dishes to Thai basil, which resembles sweet basil in appearance, but has a distinct anise flavor.

Since many of the authentic Italian cuisine and signature Thai dishes rely on fresh basil as a primary ingredient in their recipes, the basil downy mildew disease could have a negative effect on the overall preparation and service of these dishes.

This plant blight can affect both professionally prepared food, and food people enjoy making themselves at home.  Fresh basil is almost always preferred, in lieu of dried herbs, for a richer and better tasting quality of seasoning.

If the basil downy mildew becomes widespread many people will feel the repercussions in terms of food preparation. If a shortage of basil threatens the local grocery store, changes will have to be made in substituting the fresh basil , for a dried version of the herb, changing the preferred taste and quality of many authentic Italian and Thai cuisine choices.

Some people have even chosen to harvest all of their basil and make pesto ahead of time, then freeze it, to avoid losing their entire fresh basil crop. Avid pesto fans don’t want to lose their key ingredient of using fresh basil in their sauce, or those individuals who prefer sprinkling fresh basil on the top of their favorite Italian or Thai dishes.

Basil downy mildew can threaten the fresh basil crop if this blight continues to grow, affecting many authentic Italian and Thai food cuisines that depend on using fresh basil.