Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Salmon Burgers with Lemon Tarragon Mayo


We've all heard by now that we're supposed to eat more fish. The positive effects of its fatty acids on brain healthreducing risk of heart diseaseand reducing inflammation are well established. Not to mention all those studies about the longevity of the Okinawans, who eat three servings of seafood a day on average and have more centenarians than any other people group on the planet. Whoa, whoa, whoa--three servings a day? Like breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Or maybe snack? I'm not sure how I feel about cracking open some Alaskan crab legs for my afternoon pick-me-up--although "Alaskan crab legs" is an anagram for "Large Basal Snack." And, incidentally, "Ransacks a Leg Lab." Coincidence? I don't think so. So, okay, maybe crab legs for snack. But breakfast? I've got nothing. I'll bet you there's some food blogger out there who has gorgeous naturally-lit photographs of a superfood salmon-kale-peanut-butter-protein-powder smoothie all the healthy cool kids eat for breakfast these days, but whipping up a fish smoothie just isn't my thing. So for my purposes, let's stick with seafood at lunch and dinner. 

These salmon burgers with their delicious zesty-herby sauce would be equally at home on your lunch or dinner table. They're hands-down the best salmon burgers I've ever had: light, crispy, seasoned with an excellent combination of herbs, and--perhaps most importantly--containing a hefty dose of those helpful omega-3 fatty acids (especially if the salmon is wild-caught, not farmed). While it may seem counterintuitive if you're a fish lover to stuff a pound of beautiful salmon fillet into the grinding jaws of a food processor, rest assured that the finished product is worth it. And if you're not a fish lover, these burgers just may be a great way to trick yourself into upping your salmon consumption. So go ahead, give those Okinawans a run for their money and add some fish to your diet in a tasty way. Just, you know, maybe three times a week, not three times a day. 


Salmon Burgers with Lemon Tarragon Mayo
(Adapted from The Cleaner Plate Club by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin)

Ingredients:

For Salmon Burgers:

2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. canola oil, divided
1 shallot, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1/2-2/3 c. Panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon (or 2 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon
fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. salmon, boned, skinned, rinsed, and patted dry

4 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted

For Lemon-Tarragon Mayo:

1/4 c. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1. Heat 1 tsp. canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, Add the shallot and green onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Reserve the skillet and scrape the shallots and onions into a medium bowl. Add 1/2 c. Panko, tarragon, parsley, Dijon, salt, and lemon zest to the bowl, as well as a few grinds fresh-ground black pepper.

2. In a food processor, pulse half the salmon until it begins to look like a paste. Add the crumb mixture and pulse again a few times until well combined. Add remaining half of the salmon and pulse until the mixture looks like you could easily form it into patties. If it still looks too wet, add more Panko until you reach a desirable consistency. Form into 4 patties and set aside.

3. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. canola oil over medium-high heat in the large skillet you used for the onions. Add the salmon patties and cook for 4 minutes on each side. 

4. Meanwhile, make the lemon-tarragon mayo: in a small bowl, combine all ingredients until well blended. 

5. Serve salmon burgers on toasted hamburger buns, topped with mayo and any other fixings you like!

Serves 4.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chocolate Almond Thumbprint Cookies



You know those Hershey Kiss peanut butter blossom cookies that are so ubiquitous at Christmastime? Of course you do, right? Because you're a sentient being who eats cookies, right? If whoever came up with that recipe didn't get a fat check from the Hershey company, there's no justice in this world. Those things are everywhere come Christmas. 

Do you ever wonder why certain cookies seem to get classified as Christmas cookies? I'm not sure what it is about a peanut butter cookie with a Hershey Kiss stuck in the middle that makes people think of peace on Earth, goodwill toward men. To be honest, I actually don't even like peanut butter blossoms all that much. I kinda wish the Grinch would have taken peanut butter blossoms, stuffed them in his sack, and NOT brought them back to Whoville. Maybe I'm just a chocolate snob, though. To me, Hershey kisses are for when you reach Stage 4 of Chocolate Desperation. Like when you have no dessert left in the house and you find a Hershey kiss in the bottom of your kid's Halloween bag from six months ago and you go, okay, this will have to do. This comes just before Stage 5, which is drinking chocolate syrup straight. 

Anyway, when I saw this recipe for a more elegant version of the Christmas classic using a chocolate ganache instead of a Kiss (and almond butter instead of peanut), I figured I'd give it a whirl. After all, I had (again) done the thing where I bought almond butter on sale with the best of intentions, only to find it still hanging around forlornly in my fridge a month later. Little did I guess these would turn out so delicious--like a delightful marzipan confection filled with cold, creamy chocolate in the center.


Why wait for Christmas to eat something that good?

In fact, while these would be great any time, they might be an especially nice gesture when baking for someone who's allergic to peanuts but enjoys peanut butter blossoms. Or for chocolate snobs who turn up their noses at Hershey kisses. Or, really, for any sentient being who eats cookies.


Chocolate Almond Thumbprint Cookies
(Adapted from the Food Network)

Ingredients:

For the cookies:

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. smooth, unsweetened almond butter
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/3 c. plus 3 Tbsp. white sugar, divided
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. sliced almonds, coarsely chopped (crushed slivered almonds will also work in a pinch)

For the ganache:

5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or chocolate chips)
1/2 c. heavy cream

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or grease well with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix butter and almond butter on medium speed until well combined. Add brown sugar and white sugar and continue mixing another 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix to combine. Switch mixing speed to medium-low and beat in the dry ingredient mixture until just incorporated.

4. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3 Tbsp. white sugar and chopped almonds.

5. Scoop cookie dough by tablespoons, roll into balls, and dredge through the sugar-almond mixture to coat. Space the balls about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes until the tops appear dry and slightly cracked.

6. Using a rounded teaspoon, make an indentation in the top of each cookie while still warm.  Allow to cool completely.

7. Meanwhile, to make the ganache, combine the chocolate and heavy cream in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 45 second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth. Let cool.

8. Spoon ganache into a pastry bag, squeeze bottle, or Ziploc with a corner cut off. Fill each cookie indentation with ganache.

Makes 20-30 cookies, depending on size. For best taste and texture, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Banana FroYo Pops


Who's ready for summer? 

.....anyone?

When you live in the Phoenix area, you don't tend to get a lot of enthusiastic responses to this question. Most of us have accepted the fact that by this time of May it already is summer and will continue to be so until about Halloween. So, okay, it's hot. But, looking on the bright side, there are lots of fun things to enjoy when it's hot. Like cooling off in the pool, taking in an air-conditioned movie, blasting Beach Boys music, and...um...going somewhere not hot. 

Also, eating frozen desserts. Like banana frozen yogurt pops. 

If you're heading into summer with kids at home, these frozen treats are a great way to involve kids in a "cooking" project they can snack on. My three kiddos got a big kick out of decorating their own pops in all manner of creative combinations. Even my son who loves to hate on bananas gobbled his up. (There's something about loving our own creations.) These do take a little time, of course, since they have two rounds of chilling in the freezer, but what better way to while away a summer afternoon? Pop these in the freezer while you go for a dip, and when you get back, out comes a cold, refreshing, and relatively healthy sweet treat. 



Banana FroYo Pops
(Adapted from Babble.com)

Ingredients:

3/4 c. plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. honey
3-4 bananas
Popsicle sticks
Toppings of your choice: sprinkles, coconut, mini chocolate chips, etc.

Directions:

1. In a wide, shallow bowl or a tall Mason jar, mix yogurt and honey.

2. Peel bananas and cut in half. Insert a popsicle stick into the cut side of each banana half.

3. Dip bananas into yogurt mixture to cover on all sides, rotating or using a rubber spatula to ensure even coating. Place on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet and freeze for 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, pour toppings into shallow bowls. Remove bananas from freezer and roll in toppings to coat on all sides. Return to baking sheet and freeze for another 1 hour.

5. Serve immediately or store in the freezer in Ziploc bags.

Makes 6-8 banana pops.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spiced Red Lentils


In my last post, I shared about what I had learned from writing a research paper on the multifunctional spice turmeric and its many potential medicinal uses. Today I thought I'd share a real-life example of how to incorporate turmeric into your diet. (Because turning research into dinner always sounds like a good idea.) This red lentil side dish was a real sleeper hit at our house. It's a classic example of don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover--I mean, how often do we expect something that looks like a pot of rust-colored mush to turn out to be full of restaurant-quality deliciousness? Not often, yes? But that's just what happened the night we gave this recipe a try. 

As for myself, I would never have started cooking with lentils if it hadn't been for a half-finished bag my vegetarian brother left at our house after one of his visits. Being a neurotic food-user-upper, I knew I had to find a purpose for the remaining legumes in the bag. But how to do so was kind of a mystery to me, because prior to that, my only mental associations with lentils had been the following: 

1.) Thinking of them as "those tiny beans that people from other countries eat" (my inner 'Murica coming out)

and

2.) The line in the musical Funny Girl: "When a girl's incidentals are no bigger than two lentils, well, to me that doesn't spell success." (Don't tell my husband that quote or he's gonna start using it about me).

So figuring out how to cook and serve lentils was a real education. And as it turns out, a useful education, since turmeric is such a health-beneficial spice. (Again, see that last post.) As discussed in that post, turmeric is best absorbed by the body when paired with black pepper. This red lentil dish does so with a 2:1 ratio of turmeric to pepper. 

Looks like they like each other. Turmeric and pepper, sittin' in a tree...

In my research, I found out that a typical amount of turmeric in the dietary supplements people take to experience its health benefits is between 400 and 600 milligrams. With this in mind, I was curious--how much benefit would be gained from eating this red lentil dish with only a 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric in it? A half teaspoon doesn't sound like a lot. Would it be at least the same as one dose of turmeric in supplement form? To find out, I had to do a little finagling involving my food scale. Since a teaspoon is a measurement of volume and milligrams are a measurement of weight, they don't convert. The half teaspoon had to be weighed to determine how its content might compare to a supplement. 

See, honey, that food scale is good for something!

The verdict? One half teaspoon of turmeric is equivalent to 2 grams (my spoon weighs 18g--don't get too excited), or 2,000 milligrams. So if you ate the entire batch of spiced red lentils (good for you in the turmeric department, bad for you in the bathroom department) you would get a whopping five times the capsule amount. But if you, like a normal person, eat a regular serving--say, 1/5th of the recipe--you'll get about as much as if you took one turmeric supplement. As someone who would rather eat than take a pill, I call that good news. While I don't expect it to keep me from getting cancer, it's a nice way to incorporate a health-beneficial spice into my diet from time to time. Maybe over the long term, it will work some magic.

But I digress. The important thing is mainly that these lentils are incredibly, aromatically delicious. Served with a tortilla-crusted tilapia and a drizzle of red pepper-shallot aioli, they were HEAVEN. My husband talked about this dinner for days afterward. I could also see them pairing well with grilled chicken or pretty much any Indian dish. Give them a try even if you think you don't like turmeric--your taste buds and your health will thank you.

Spiced Red Lentils
(Adapted from Myrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz. chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups red lentils, thoroughly rinsed
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
salt to taste

Chopped basil for garnish, if desired

Directions:

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté about 6 minutes or until onion is tender. Add broth, lentils, turmeric, cumin, and pepper.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender and have absorbed the broth. Season with salt to taste and garnish with basil, if desired.

Makes 5 cups.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Spotlight on Spice: Turmeric


About a week ago I wrapped up one of this semester's classes toward my associate's in Nutrition: Research in Complementary and Alternative Nutrition Therapies. Not gonna lie, it was not an awesome class and unfortunately I did not learn as much as I had hoped about this up-and-coming field. (Lots of emphasis on the Scientific Method, which I believe was covered sufficiently in my 8th grade science class.) Still, one piece of real learning took place in writing the final for the course, a short research paper on a commonly used dietary supplement. There are of course thousands of these food-like substances to choose from--just stroll down the supplement aisle at Whole Foods--but I decided to write my paper on turmeric, having heard rumors of its anti-inflammatory properties. Since I have several friends and family members who suffer from inflammatory autoimmune diseases, I have been curious to sort fact from fiction regarding this particular spice. The research process was an enlightening one, so I thought I would share a bit of what I learned here on the blog. Turmeric is, after all, a food--and a delicious one at that!

For a little background: turmeric is a rhizomatic herbaceous relative of ginger and has been used for centuries in a variety of medicinal capacities. Native to East Asia, the turmeric plant is typically ground to a rust-colored powder known for lending its warm, slightly bitter taste to many Indian dishes. Its healing use dates back nearly 4,000 years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Marco Polo first described the spice in 1280, but mainstream Western interest in its healing powers has arisen only relatively recently, correlating with the increase in popularity of herbal supplementation.

One interesting fact about turmeric is that it contains a compound called curcumin, which can be extracted and is sold as its own separate dietary supplement. Curcumin is the "active ingredient" in turmeric, giving the spice its many purported medicinal functions. However, since bioavailability of curcumin is generally low and can be aided by black pepper, it is believed to be most beneficial to ingest turmeric as a spice in food also containing black pepper, or in a supplement packaged with black pepper. Fortunately for those of us who like Indian cooking, most Indian dishes that use turmeric (which is a LOT) also call for black pepper. Makes you think the Indians are on to something, what with that 4,000 year history...

The healing effects, both genuine and purported, of turmeric are numerous and diverse. Maladies treated with turmeric throughout history and at present include rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, digestive conditions, diabetes, wound healing, chicken pox, jaundice, inflammation, menstrual problems, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. This list is by no means exhaustive. If you can name a medical problem, you can probably find someone out there who believes turmeric can help it. So what does the evidence show? Is this sunny spice a cure-all or another over-hyped placebo?

The research—and there is quite a lot of it—surrounding medicinal uses of turmeric is somewhat conflicting. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that “there is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition” because of the lack of clinical trials and testing on human subjects. This skeptical outlook may be overly cautious, though, since numerous peer-reviewed studies have appeared in recent years showing evidence of effective treatments using turmeric. For example:

  •  A study published just this month reveals that curcumin complements the action of DHA on the brain, enhancing its synthesis and leading to anxiety prevention
  • Another study determined turmeric supplementation to be an effective therapy for maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis.
  • Yet another recent study found that type 2 diabetes patients who received turmeric supplements in addition to their oral medication experienced marked decreases in fasting blood sugar compared to a control group. 
  • Turmeric has been shown to work as well as NSAID pain medications for treating osteoarthritis of the knee. Over two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds within the spice work to block the COX-2 enzyme, which promotes pain, swelling, and inflammation. 
  • Over 50 studies have addressed turmeric's effects on Alzheimer's disease, indicating that it contains agents that can block the substance that produces plaque on the brain. Quite likely, this explains why elderly villagers in India who consume turmeric in sizable quantities have the lowest rates of Alzheimer's in the world.

Without a doubt, this list does not cover all the research into the benefits of including turmeric in your diet, but even if the uses listed above were its only advantages, I'd still say it's a golden powerhouse of a spice. I'm happy to find ways to incorporate it more frequently into my cooking. Look for a turmeric-spiced red lentils recipe coming in my next post! And if you're interested in recommendations for using turmeric as a supplement, ask your doctor--or check out Dr. Andrew Weil's recommendations here. (Though I should probably say, so no one sues me, this post is not intended to be medical advice.) I won't be surprised if, as research continues, turmeric becomes accepted into the usage canon of mainstream medical practice. What a wonderful example of food's potential power in our bodies for health and healing!