By Megan Kian
With these past few sticky and extremely hot days it’s been hard to find a way to cool down. At home in New Jersey my dad has a garden where he loves to grow a variety of different vegetables, fruits, and herbs. One of my favorite herbs that he grows is mint (I also love his basil). It is such a fragrant herb that it had me feeling refreshed with just the smell! Mint was originally used as an air freshener to rid rooms of unpleasant smells. It is a great source of antioxidants including vitamins A and C, and has a long nutritional history for its use in aiding digestion. In cooking, it is not as common to see mint used in main dishes, but it can be used as an accent in sweets. I decided to use the mint from my dad’s garden to make mint chocolate chip ice cream! Here is the recipe that I used from David Lebovitz:
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups packed fresh mint leaves
- 5 large egg yolks
- Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
You’ll also need an ice cream maker to make this delicious ice cream!
- In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup heavy cream, salt, and mint.
- Once the mixture is hot and steaming, remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour to infuse the mint flavor.
- Remove the mint with a strainer, then press down with a spatula firmly to extract as much mint flavor and color as possible. Once the flavor is squeezed out, discard the mint.
- Pour the remaining heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer over the top.
- Rewarm the infused milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then slowly pour some of the warm mint mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.
- Cook the custard, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
- Immediately strain the mixture into the cream, then stir the mixture over an ice bath until cool.
- Refrigerate the mixture thoroughly, preferably overnight, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Add in as many chocolate chips as you like!
- When finished, cover and freeze until firm.
How do you like to use mint?
The other day I wrote about roasting fennel and mentioned that it made for a great side dish with roasted beets and onions. The truth is, I have yet to find a vegetable that doesn’t taste good roasted! Since beets and spring onions are in season, that’s what I had on hand and they were so easy to cook up.
Many people shy away from cooking with fresh beets because they are afraid it’s too much work (or that their entire kitchen will be stained from them!). But cooking with beets really isn’t difficult, and once you have fresh beets it’s quite hard to go back to the canned variety. The easiest way to cook them is as follows:
- Rinse beets and scrub to remove any dirt if they came fresh from the farm. (If your beets come attached with beet greens, cut off the greens and save for a salad.)
- Toss beets with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in a 375 degree F oven for about 20-30 minutes, until they are fork tender.
- Remove from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to remove the outside skin. It should come off very easily. (If you’re afraid of staining, you can wear plastic gloves while removing the skin.)
- Serve roasted beets as a side dish or add to a salad (I especially love the combo of beets and goat cheese!).
Here are before and after shots of spring red onions and farm-fresh beets:
Looking for another beet recipe? Try this Beet and Beet Green Gratin that Nutritioulicious intern Jo made last summer!
FYI: Consumption of beets can turn your urine and stool a red color. So if you start peeing red and you ate beets within a day or two, don’t worry!
Do you like beets? What’s your favorite way to eat them?
I have never liked black licorice. Years ago when I tasted fennel, I was immediately turned off because all I tasted was black licorice (the same reason why I never liked anise). Over the years I found that my preference for fennel was based on how it was prepared. My two favorite preparations for fennel are raw in a salad with oranges and red wine vinaigrette (a great combination) and roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Although I will now eat fennel when I am out at a restaurant, it is not a vegetable I ever buy. Until now. As part of my CSA share I have received full stalks of fennel.
They weren’t really big enough to use to make a salad, especially once I cut away the fronds and stalks, making a fennel soup (which was recommended by the farmers) just didn’t appeal to me, and while the fennel dip I made a few weeks ago was good, I wanted to do something a little simpler. So the easiest thing for me to do was roast the bulbs. Since roasting is one of my favorite go-to cooking methods for pretty much anything, I figured this was the easiest solution. I just tossed the cleaned bulbs with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted for about 20 to 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. It made for a great side dish with other roasted vegetables, including red onions and beets.
Nutrition Note: Fennel has some radical-fighting antioxidant benefits thanks to vitamin C and phytonutrients like quercetin. It is also a good source of fiber, folate, and potassium, which among other things help promote heart health.
Do you like fennel? How do you use it in the kitchen?
By Megan Kian
On the fourth of July as I was ready to dig into the feast before me, my nose picked up on the scent of an earthy mint that was being emitted from the leaves of basil resting on top of freshly cut mozzarella. Not only is basil one highly aromatic herb and packed with flavor, but it also provides several nutritional benefits. Basil carries a number of B vitamins, which play a role in the body’s cell metabolism and energy production. Basil also contains important minerals, including magnesium, iron, and calcium. Last and definitely not least, basil contains volatile oils that aid in fighting against bacteria and inflammation.
Basil isn’t just that smooth green leaf that you sometimes find as a garnish. It comes in several varieties, including some that are characterized by a purple color rather than green. If you’re looking to become a basil connoisseur or are just curious what to use the next time you cook, here is a list of the most common types of basil that are used in the kitchen:
Sweet basil – Sweet basil is by far the most commonly used and most popular type of basil. It is very prominent in Italian dishes such as on pizzas, used in salads, or prepared to create different sauces, including pesto.
Thai basil – As the name indicates Thai basil is mostly found in Thai or Vietnamese dishes. This type of basil is characterized by a licorice and mint flavor.
Lemon basil – It releases a very lemony scent and is found in dishes native to Thailand, Indonesia, and Laos.
Cinnamon basil – Due to the chemical cinnamate found in this particular type of basil, a strong cinnamon odor and taste can be expected from this basil. It is used mostly in hot drinks and added to fruits for a sweeter flavor. Cinnamon basil is recognizable by its purple flowers.
Basil is a versatile herb; if you’re looking for a way to incorporate basil into one of your meals try a mozzarella salad topped with basil or a homemade pesto sauce!
Do you like basil? How do you use basil in your kitchen?
By Jo Bartell
Asparagus is one of my all-time favorite vegetables, so you can imagine how excited I am to have it fresh from the farmers market this time of year. I picked up two bunches of large asparagus for $8.00 this week and I can’t wait to eat them!
Asparagus is low in calories and high in fiber, with 30 calories and 3 grams of fiber per cup. It’s also a great source of folate, which is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system, and extremely important for pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant. Just one cup provides over 65 percent of the recommended intake for folate! I also love eating asparagus at this time of year because it serves as a natural diuretic. This means that it helps get rid of swelling, bloating, and water retention, which is important in the summer heat — especially when we’re out in our bathing suits!
By the way, it’s no myth that asparagus can make your pee stink! The jury is out on what exactly causes the odor, but it’s one of many substances in asparagus. Not to worry though — there are no health risks associated with asparagus consumption and urine odor.
Here are some of the ways I will be preparing my farmer’s market asparagus:
- Roasted asparagus.
- Drizzle a little olive oil over the spears, sprinkle on a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and toss.
- Roast on a baking sheet at 400o F for 25 minutes.
- For a cute addition if serving these to guests, try taking a bundle of about six spears and tie them together with a scallion!
- Grilled Asparagus. A great recipe for your summer BBQs.
- Take asparagus and place side by side, then pierce asparagus with 2 wooden skewers, forming a raft to place on the grill.
- Combine a little olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic, some lemon zest, paprika, and pepper in a bowl and then brush over the asparagus.
- Grill these up and you have a simple, nutritious and delicious addition to your meal.
- Added to omelets and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
- Blanched and eaten cold as part of a crudités platter or on top of a green salad.
How do you enjoy asparagus?
By Megan Kian
A recent NY Times article, “Food With Health Benefits, or So They Say” (May 14, 2011), questioned the role of functional foods in our increasingly health conscious society. What exactly are functional foods? They are foods that claim to have a health-promoting or disease-preventing property beyond the basic function of supplying nutrients. For example, yogurts that claim to help regulate your digestive system or cereals that claim to help support your child’s immunity are functional foods.
The issue with functional foods is the accuracy of the health claims. Although companies are legally allowed to make these health claims (as long as they are supported by some sort of scientific evidence), you still have to wonder how truthful they are. It seems that many of the declarations companies make are just advertising ploys to increase sales of these foods. The best way to shop for healthy food in the supermarket is to take these claims with a grain of salt, read the fine print on labels, and stick to what you know is good for you.
What do you think of functional foods?