Sunday, April 22, 2018

When life hands you lemons.....

My parents were born in Germany, where vinegar was commonly used to make salad dressings, so when they came to California in the 1950’s it was vinaigrette they were used to.

Ironically it was a German couple, a distant relative of my father’s, that introduced our family to the lemon. Living only a block from the beach, we visited the Wilhelm’s in Oceanside throughout the year, making what seemed to me as a young child like a long trek from Los Angeles to Orange County. But mostly we celebrated holidays and special occasions at their house. Being about their parents’ age, the Wilhelm’s were likely surrogate parents to my mom and dad in those early years after arriving in California.
At the Wilhelm’s in Oceanside. They are on either end
and the older couple in the middle are my
grandparents, visiting from Germany.

I’m certain that Mrs. Wilhelm cooked traditional German foods at those celebrations but I know she also took on some American traditions, as old photos recently unearthed revealed pictures of Thanksgiving turkey. Mr. Wilhelm was a cake decorator, having learned that trade in Germany. What both my dad and I remember vividly is Mrs. Wilhelm’s liberal use of lemons. He recalls finding her salads so refreshing that he became a huge fan. And strangely, there must be a genetic component to this because I, somehow, took to them, too and have loved lemons for what seems like all my life.

As most southern Californians know, this part of the world has been home to the citrus industry for a long while, perhaps even since before 1804, I’ve discovered. Lemons, oranges and grapefruit have been grown, packaged, and shipped from southern California all over the country for over 200 years!

We enjoyed our share of this bounty, as well as so many other “treats” my parents had probably never known, growing up in Germany in the 30’s and 40’s. I have no idea what it’s like having to grow up with the lack of fresh food like produce. Once in this country, I can only imagine how they must have enjoyed having access to citrus and other fruits, dates, avocados and nuts. But the thing I will always associate my dad with is lemons! We put the juice on so many things, using it mostly with olive oil to make salad dressings. This is something I have blogged about before: my recommendation that you  make your own. Bottled dressings contain a lot of questionable ingredients. Poor quality oil chiefly among them. Making dressing is so easy! After following a few recipes to get the hang of it (2-3 parts oil to 1 part acid), dust off your blender and get creative. You’ll be doing your health and your wallet a big favor.

Lemons have a surprising number of health benefits, such as:
  • Improving heart health
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Fighting kidney stones
  • It contains Vitamin C for cold prevention and an immune system boost
  • Protection against anemia
  • Aids in digestion
  • Flushes out the system
How to use the juice:
  • In your daily water. Add a few squirts of liquid stevia and some ice to make a no calorie, no sugar lemonade. I do this almost every day.
  • Squeeze some lemon into iced tea
  • Drizzle garlic butter with lemon over steamed veggies or fish
  • Perk up dishes that need a little “something”. Sometimes just a little lemon adds an element that finishes the dish.
  • To acidulate cut veggies and fruits to keep them from oxidizing (browning)
  • To lighten blond hair! We used to do this when I was a kid. We’d wash my hair, then rinse some lemon juice through it, then I’d go sit in the sun to let my hair dry. Today, I’d need a LOT of lemon to take on the gray!

Me, at 3. Just got a record player for my
birthday, so I’m rockin' out!



Monday, February 26, 2018

Something different for Breakfast

Eating low carb, it’s sometimes a real challenge to find something to eat for breakfast other than eggs and protein. I don’t mind eating them once in a while, but even every other day is too often for me. I just don’t love them. I was getting pretty bored with my choices, so I started searching the internet for ideas.

I came across something I have never made before: a layered parfait kind of thing that intrigued me and looked pretty. The idea is to layer items in a mason jar at night, and then in the morning you’ve got breakfast. Since I’m a little particular (!) with what I eat, I had to improvise, taking ideas from different recipes to create something I could digest. A lot of recipes called for oatmeal, but I can’t see eating cold oatmeal, this is just too disgusting. Other recipes called for milk, which I don’t drink, or almond or coconut milk, which is fine, provided you can find one that doesn’t contain carrageenan or other thickeners/gums that can be treacherous to the sensitive digestive system. Far better to get some probiotics in to the diet anyway, so I use yogurt, or kefir, which is even better for you than yogurt. Do make sure to get plain, whole milk, cultured dairy. It’s far healthier than the low-fat variety!

So if you Google Mason Jar Parfaits, you’ll come up with thousands of images and recipes. The ideas out there are endless. People add granola, all manner of fruits, nuts, seeds, whatever. Some don’t look very healthy at all! I just had this today, and really liked it.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain whole milk kefir or yogurt, preferably organic
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp raw almonds
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup fresh organic blueberries and / or 1/2 banana
1 Tbsp sliced raw almonds (optional)
1 tsp honey, divided

Add the kefir and chia seeds to your mason jar, add a little honey and stir really well. Fit it with the screw top lid and put it in to the fridge overnight. The chia seeds will soak up the liquid (whey) from the kefir and expand, creating a sort of pudding consistency by morning. The more chia seeds you add the stiffer the pudding. Experiment to see what you like better. I like it a little smoother, so I don’t add too many.

In a separate small bowl, soak the sunflower seeds and almonds in the water and add the salt. Stir. Let sit out on the counter overnight. In the morning, drain the salt water and rinse. This soaking is the right way for people with digestive issues to eat nuts. They are much easier to digest and to absorb their nutrients if they are soaked. Plus, if you’ve never had soaked almonds before, you’re in for a treat: they are really buttery and tasty that way. Better than raw.

Add the seeds/nuts to the mason jar on top of the chia/kefir. The next layer is the fruit. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top if you want a little crunch, drizzle on some honey, screw the lid back on and take it to work.

At your desk, enjoy!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff, or Stroganov, is a dish most of us are probably familiar with. It seems to me to have been particularly popular in the 1960s. Although maybe that’s just because my mom loved it and we had it fairly often when I was a kid growing up. In case you’ve never had it, Stroganoff consists of sautéed pieces of beef served in a sauce with sour cream. It originated in mid-19th Century-Russia and has become popular around the world, with variations as numerous as the countries in which it appears.

We know the name derived from the Russian diplomat and minister of the interior, Alexander Stroganov, but how it came about and why is still mystery. The recipe appeared for the first time in a classic Russian cookbook in 1871. Over time, the dish changed from containing floured beef cubes sautéed and sauced with mustard and bouillon and finished with a small amount of sour cream, to include onions and tomato sauce and sometimes mushrooms.

Traditionally in Russian, Beef Stroganoff is served with a side of crisp potato straws. In the UK and Australia the dish is usually served over pasta, and in the U.S. over egg noodles. Definitely my favorite way to eat it!

The “Bible” (Larousse Gastronomique, published in 1938) lists Stroganov as a cream, paprika, veal stock and white wine recipe. And many of the recipes I looked up for Beef Stroganoff contain most of these ingredients or a version therefore. But I make mine a little differently.

In fact, I don’t use beef at all!

Consider this meat-free version containing mushrooms instead. It makes for an excellent vegetarian lunch served with a salad. Or, serve it alongside a steak or some roasted chicken for a heartier dinner. This recipe will serve about 3-4.

Mushroom Stroganoff

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound mushrooms (I like using a combination of a few dried wild mushrooms such as porcini, which I reconstitute in some hot water for about 20-30 minutes, as well as mostly fresh mushrooms, preferably the darker Italian crimini mushrooms and portobellos and a few of the regular white).
1 good sized shallot, minced
2 or more garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp dry sherry or white or red wine (whatever you have open)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 - 1 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
fresh chopped parsley

Directions:
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the mushrooms gently, stirring occasionally until they are softened and just cooked. If you have a cast iron pan, cook until they are a little browned. This will add some additional flavor to the final product.
Add the shallots, garlic and sherry/wine and cook for a minute more. Season well.
Stir in the sour cream (start with 3/4 cup and see if that’s enough for you) and heat to just below boiling. Stir in the thyme, then scatter the parsley on top. Serve over egg noodles, rice, pasta, or boiled new potatoes.

Wine recommendation: I would open just about any red wine to go with a Stroganoff especially something hearty, like a Zinfandel or Syrah. In fact, I think the pepperiness of a Syrah/Shiraz would be ideal.

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