Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Skillet Meals with Chicken

I receive Whole Foods email newsletter. I like to keep abreast of What's on Sale and I tend to take advantage of the deals listed in the newsletter.

However, the deal I'm about to mention wasn't listed in the newsletter. It was written on a sandwich-board sign in front of my neighborhood WFs and I rearranged my Saturday morning schedule just so I could take advantage of the $20 store voucher on offer.

As dictated by the sign, all I had to do was turn up at the WFs parking area between 11 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. on Saturday and test drive a Subaru. (I also had to volunteer my email address and I have received a couple Subaru marketing emails since, but only two.)

After the test drive, I received my voucher whereupon I popped into WFs and spent it, but sorry Subaru, I didn't then dash over to your dealership and buy one of your cars.

I spent the $20 on protein items, enough to last me about 10 days. And I think most of the meat protein I bought with my voucher was on sale -- so it was a double-deal day for me!

Yesterday, WFs email newsletter announced a one-day sale on whole natural chickens. I may take advantage of this deal too, since I love to have chicken pieces on hand for creating easy skillet meals.

Cast iron skillets are terrific for creating flavorful, one-pot style meals as pictured above. I have two skillets, one that was made in Taiwan, which my mother gave me for my birthday one year (she always gave practical gifts, like kitchen ware and bath towels, unfortunately), and my mother's skillet which I inherited when she died.

The made-in-Taiwan skillet is not as good as my mother's skillet; it's not as solid, and even though it's bigger (and thus it's good for preparing meals for 2 or more), I rarely use it because it feels too flimsy.

The funny thing about my mother's skillet is that it's made in the U.S. but she bought it in Australia. And then when I inherited it, I bought it back with me to the U.S., which means the skillet I use most in my kitchen is the transpacific one.

I've already posted the recipe for the skillet chicken dish pictured at the top; it's Chicken and Tomatoes with Lime.

The veggies in the skillet to the left are squash which once chopped, went into making the dish in the pic just above and to the right. Seasonal green veggies simmered in chicken stock with herbs and a chicken leg -- it's terribly easy, delicate in flavor, and it takes no time at all to make.

Skillet Chicken with Seasonal Greens & Herbs
For stove-top skillet-style casseroles, I use the dark meat, like the thighs or whole quarters, since they remain succulent when simmered.
1) Add chicken pieces to your skillet with enough water to gently simmer chicken for 45 mins. Add a couple smashed garlic cloves, a piece of peeled ginger root (optional). Place lid on skillet.
2) While chicken is cooking, chop an onion and your choice of seasonal greens, like squash, kale, bok choi, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and for additional color, you might like to add some chunks of pumpkin or chopped carrots.
3) Around the 45-min mark, remove the chicken pieces from the skillet and put on a plate. Cover with foil and keep warm.
4) Toss veggies into chicken broth and gently simmer about 15 mins or until veggies are done.
5) Add some chopped fresh herbs like parsley and basil, or parsley and tarragon, or sage and parsley -- whatever you fancy. Mix the chopped herbs through the veggies.
6) Place chicken pieces on top of veggies, dot with a little butter, and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To Serve: Buttered rice, buttered jacket potatoes or oiled pasta go well with skillet meals, particularly if there's lots of juice to mop up with the rice, potato or pasta.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

White Tea with Chamomile, Ginger & Lemon Mint

So far this week I've posted two tea recipes using the black teas Assam and Ceylon as the base, and then yesterday's tea recipe called for herbs only, in particular, tulsi or holy basil.

At the base of today's recipe is green or white tea.

White tea is increasingly popular, but beyond tasting a subtle difference between white and green, I had to use google to find out that white tea is labeled such because the leaves are picked when they're basically still buds covered in fine, white hairs.

Whereas green tea leaves are harvested later, when the leaf is no longer covered in white hair, has matured, and thus is fully open.

Also, green tea leaves are partly fermented whereas white tea leaves are not fermented. (Black tea is fully fermented.)

Apparently the less fermented the leaves the greater the antioxidant levels in the leaves with white tea having the highest concentration of healthful antioxidants.

I discovered that tea leaves with obvious little white hairs still on them are considered by tea connoisseurs the "Rolls Royce" of white tea; an example would be Silver Needle Tea.

The tea used as the base for today's recipe isn't the Rolls Royce of white, actually it can be any white or green tea of your choosing.

White Tea with Chamomile, Ginger, & Lemon Mint
Into a tea pot toss the following:
1) A heaping teaspoon of white or green tea
2) A heaping teaspoon of chamomile (you could use a plain chamomile tea bag or buy dried chamomile in bulk).
3) A half teaspoon of freshly chopped or grated ginger root
4) Several lemon mint leaves and if you don't grow lemon mint, you could use regular mint with a little grated lemon peel for zing.
5) Fill tea pot with 2 cups boiling water and let tea steep for 3-5 mins, depending on your preference for a subtle or stronger flavored tea.

And that concludes my posts on brewing your own teas. All the recipes I've shared have come via Cindy Lawrence, a Boulder-based Yoga Therapist. As per Cindy's suggestion, you can either source the herbs used in the teas from your garden or you can buy them fresh or dried.

The spices used in the various teas can be purchased in bulk and then they're best stored in glass, canning jars with screw-top lids.

Or you can buy the spices already in small bottles. I buy my spices in bulk; I like to pick and pay for only what I need and then decant them into glass jars once home.

A wide assortment of black, green, and white tea is available loose from various online tea stores or your local organic grocer, like Whole Foods.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tulsi Tea with Calming Herbs

Yesterday I brewed a large pot of chai and then I drank several cups over the course of the afternoon.

That evening I had enough caffeine and chai spices in me to blast a small rocket into space. In other words, I didn't sleep well last night.

Today, I'm feeling an aversion to black tea, in fact caffeine of any kind. So the tea recipe I'm sharing is non-caffeinated and calming.

My friend Cindy, whose tea recipes these are, has made a variation of this particular brew for me on a number of occasions. Even though I generally choose a strong-flavored black tea over herbal, I have to say, I've always enjoyed the aroma and delicacy of this one.

Tulsi Tea with Calming Herbs
Into a tea pot toss the following:
1) Several leaves of holy basil or tulsi (from the garden or you can buy it dried).
2) A sprig of fresh rosemary
3) Half a stick of ground cinnamon
4) 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh lavender
5) About 6-8 cardamom pods, slightly ground. If you don't have a mortal and pestle, use the back of a wooden spoon to grind the pods on a wooden cutting board.
6) About four allspice or four black peppercorns
7) 1 teaspoon of dried ground licorice (not in pic above)
8) Pour 2-3 cups of water into pot and steep for about 10 mins.

Steeping will result in a subtle, delicate brew. For a stronger, more intense flavor you can put spices into a pot on the stove, add water and simmer on low for about 10 mins. Try both methods and note the difference.

In Australia a "cuppa" tea is usually had with a small biscuit (cookie) on the side. It's a British tradition we inherited. In fact the tradition of breaking for a mid-morning and late afternoon cuppa with a biscuit or piece of cake or crackers with cheese is still common, more so in rural areas than in the cities.

My mother always had several tins in the pantry filled with either home-made cookies or some sort of slice or fruit cake, all of which were on hand to have with a cuppa.

When I had afternoon tea with my grandmother (my mother's mother), who liked to imagine an affinity with the now deceased mother of Queen Elizabeth (they were born the same year), it was quite a performance.

The table was set with fine tea china (cup and saucer) including silver teaspoon and a side plate for the cookies she like to have with a cuppa. I recall enjoying these teas with Nana because of the melt-in-the-mouth butter cookies she'd serve; they were far fancier than the oatmeal drops my mother made for tea (my version in the pic above).

Afternoon tea was a ritual for my grandmother. It involved setting the table and boiling the kettle longer than need be. Fortunately she'd remove the whistle while she'd warm her teapot with hot water from the kitchen tap.

While the teapot warmed, she'd place several cookies on a platter, pour milk into a small jug, and retrieve her Orange Pekoe Fortnum and Mason tea tin from the cupboard. She'd add a teaspoon of tea to the pot per person, so that's 3 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea for two people, and then fill the pot with boiling water.

Nana had a selection of knitted, crocheted, and hand sewn tea cosies which fitted over her teapot; one of those cosies would go over the pot which she would then place on the table where she'd insist it must sit and steep for at least 5 minutes.

At this point, I'd usually be frothing at the mouth with impatience, but in the manner of traditional Japanese tea ceremony, English-style afternoon tea is a lesson in patience.

Now this next step is important, because I do believe it changes the flavor of tea: Nana always poured her milk into her cup first. She would then slowly pour her tea over the milk, stopping at the half-way-up-the-cup mark to return the pot to its upright position (presumably to let the water in the pot swirl around the tea leaves one last time) before resuming filling her cup.

I have no clue why, but adding tea to milk affords more tea flavor than adding milk to a cup of poured tea.

And once our cups were filled with tea, Nana would stir hers with her silver teaspoon (she wasn't stirring in sugar because she didn't have sugar in her tea, I think she just liked this final step in the ritual).

I'd follow protocol and offer my grandmother one of her cookies before helping myself, and then finally we'd sip our tea. But dunking one's cookie was an absolute no-no!

Enjoy your tulsi tea with calming herbs -- however you choose to brew and serve it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spicy Chai Tea

Continuing this week's theme of brewing aromatic teas with herbs from the garden and tea and spices from the cupboard, today's cuppa befits the cooler fall weather we're experiencing in Colorado.

Chai, a spicy Indian tea, is one of those beverages that has become so mainstream in parts of the U.S. that you can now buy it made up in cartons, like juice or milk.

Though beware; the carton variety is very sweet.

The first time I had chai tea was in the early '80's in an Indian restaurant in my neighborhood in Melbourne, Australia. Chai and mango lassi were two of the reasons my friends and I chose to eat Indian on Friday night after work.

I remember both beverages being sweet. The lassi was cold yoghurt blended with fresh mango whereas the chai was hot, slightly spicy and milky. They're both great accompaniments to Indian food since the sweet flavor and dairy counteract the hot, drying spices.

The chai my friend Cindy has made me, and subsequently taught me to make, is far spicier and thus more warming than the chai available in Indian restaurants and now in cartons.

This is because she's heavier-handed with the spices and prefers a stronger brew of tea as well.

To the left you'll see the spices, tea and sweetener (sugar) used for brewing several cups of spicy chai. Milk is not in the picture but it is part of the recipe.

Spicy Chai Tea
1) If you're using cinnamon sticks (as in jar above), break one in half and grind in a mortal and pestle. Toss the ground pieces into a pot.
2) Do the same with 6-8 cardamom pods (or you can use cardamom seeds if you prefer).
3) And into the pot toss 6-8 cloves.
4) And 6-8 black peppercorns.
5) Add 1/2 inch of grated ginger root.
6) And then add about 2 cups of water to the spices and simmer for about 10 mins.
7) Now add 2 cups of milk simmer a little longer.
8) Turn heat off, add 2 tablespoons of Assam tea and sweetener--either sugar or honey--and steep 5 mins.

To Serve: Using a tea strainer, pour tea into cups. Add additional sweetener if you wish, or rather than adding sweetener, you might like to serve a plate of sweetmeats with your tea.

The platter to the left contains dried prunes, almonds, rice cakes, a date bar cut into pieces, and chocolate-covered raisins -- delicious accompaniments to chai on a cold day for afternoon tea.

Note: If you're storing whole cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods or any other spices, they are best stored in glass. You can save your glass jars and reuse them for storing or you can buy canning jars to store spices.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ceylon and Lavender Rose Tea

Last week I wrote about preserving fall's harvest, in particular making the most of an abundance of peaches and tomatoes.

At the end of the week, I shared my favorite trick for preserving herbs, and it's not drying; it's

I blend herbs with olive oil and then pour the mixture into small containers for short-term storage (a couple of weeks) in the fridge or into ice-cube containers for long-term storage (several months) in the freezer. Herbs blended with oil and frozen keep both their color and flavor.

This week I'm going to share a number of recipes for creating aromatic teas using green or black loose-leaf tea, fresh herbs, dried herbs, and dried spices.

These recipes come from my friend Cindy who has been brewing her tea concoctions for me for years. This past weekend I took pictures of her herb garden, and recorded Cindy as she listed the ingredients and method for making her top five teas.

This first recipe is one of my favorites because it's floral and sweet; and it calls for black tea with cream and honey, which I love.

The picture above and the two below are the herbs used in this tea growing in the garden. At the top is rosemary (with thyme to the left, though thyme isn't a part of this recipe). Below are roses and to the left of the roses is lavender.

To the left again is the quantity of rosemary, lavender, rose petals, loose-leaf tea, and honey used to create a single serve of tea. Cindy suggested Ceylon tea as the basis for this recipe.

Ceylon and Lavender Rose Tea

Into a tea pot (which has been warmed with hot water) place the following:
1) A sprig of fresh rosemary.
2) A teaspoon of lavender harvested from the stalk (or if you don't grow lavender, purchase it dried).
3) Several fresh rose petals, though again, if you don't have access to fresh roses, you can buy dried petals.
4) A teaspoon of loose-leaf Ceylon tea.
5) Pour a cup and half of boiling water over the tea and herbs and allow it to steep for about 3 mins.

To Serve: Into a cup pour half and half or cream or whole milk; using a tea strainer pour tea and then stir in a teaspoon of honey.

I'm actually sipping a cup of the above brew as I write. Because I prefer strong tea, I steeped the tea for more than 3 mins. However, this enhanced the rosemary flavor, which overpowered the lavender and rose flavors.

And I ended up adding more cream and hot water to dilute the strength of the Ceylon tea. Try playing around with the strength of flavors till you arrive at something that suits your palate!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tips on Freezing Herbs

Whether you buy herbs or grow your own, do you ever find that you have more than you know what to do with?

If you grow your own herbs the "abundance" issue is particular to this time of the year when one's veggie and herb garden is ripe for harvesting.

I had to laugh when a friend turned up for afternoon tea recently with a hostess gift of a bucket of basil. And that wasn't a typo, I did type bucket and not bunch.

In the hot, dry Colorado climate, basil will grow like a weed during a good growing season. Boulder's local community garden Growing Gardens, has in years past run a "Best Pesto" competition -- a great way for basil growers to make use of buckets of the green stuff.

I find that there's only so much pesto one can eat before the distinctive flavor becomes too much. In other words, pesto is not the sort of condiment that I can eat day in day out until all the summer basil has been eaten.

If I have lots of basil on hand (because a friend happens to drop by with a bucket full) and I don't intend eating it all at once, a trick I employ is this: In the pic to the left is a frozen container of basil which has been put through the blender with olive oil. That's it!

I'll freeze small containers of the blended oil and basil for use later, especially over the fall & winter. When I need basil, I simply unfreeze a container and keep it in my fridge and use spoonfuls to flavor soups and casseroles or I'll use a whole container as the base for making pesto, salsa verde, or tapenade.

You can try this method with other Italian herbs like tarragon, rosemary, (pic below), sage, thyme, and parsley. In fact, I often blend basil and parsley with oil for freezing. I like the combination; they're great flavor pals. Basil can be intense but combined with the parsley its intensity softens.

You could even do an Italian herb and garlic combo, blending the lot with olive oil and freezing the herb paste in ice-cube containers for use in winter stews, soups and casseroles.

Dill (on the far side of the plate in the pic to left) is a very delicate herb with a delicate flavor so I don't blend it with olive oil before freezing. I simply pop the whole stalk in a plastic bag and freeze it as is, breaking off frozen pieces when I need a little.

You can freeze all of the above herbs in plastic bags, rather than blending them with oil. They do tend to brown slightly, but I find freezing locks in the flavor.

During the winter, I'm more likely to cook with Italian herbs so brown edges and leaves are not an issue the way they would be if I wanted to use the herb as a pretty garnish.

I prefer freezing fresh herbs over drying them. I like that it locks in the flavor and color (more so when blended with oil). And freezing herbs is not as messy as having stalks of drying herbs hanging around in the kitchen or the pantry. That said, drying herbs give off a wonderful aroma (until they're completely dried), and make wonderful herbal potpourri.

Next week, I'm going to combine resources with my friend Cindy, the bucket-of-basil girl mentioned above. Cindy has a wonderful gift for combining herbs from her garden with spices from her pantry and creating the most delicious teas. She's offered to share some of her recipes with me for posting on this blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What to do with an Abundance of Peaches

This week I'm posting ideas on what to do with an abundance of harvested produce.

Yesterday it was tomatoes, today it's peaches, and tomorrow it will be herbs.

This time last year I spent the afternoon at a friend's helping her pick peaches from her tree, collecting still-good peaches that had fallen to the ground, and then sorting through them extracting the wormy ones and putting the rest into a colander to be washed and peeled for cooking.

Catherine wanted to make peach chutney and given that chutney is big in Australia--we use it like Americans use Ketchup--I was happy to help out and supervise, which meant taste-testing along the way to ensure that the flavor was just right.

When I last saw Barbara, my urban-farm friend, palettes of Palisade peaches filled her kitchen; she was preparing to make peach-pie filling that she intended freezing.

Though you can't beat a fresh peach, there's no reason not to enjoy their flavor all winter long by either
  1. freezing
  2. drying
  3. canning or
  4. cooking your peaches into
In the same the way that Catherine and I spent the afternoon making chutney last year, bringing friends together and having a peach-pie filling party, or jam-making party is a great way to celebrate fall's harvest bounty.

And once the cooking or canning or bottling is complete, everyone gets to take home a bottle or some pie filling.

Peach Chutney
Add the following to a large pot:
  1. 4 cups cider vinegar
  2. 4 cups loosely-packed brown sugar
  3. 1 cup raisins
  4. 1 large chopped onion
  5. a couple gloves finely chopped garlic (optional)
  6. about 1 inch of a fresh ginger bulb peeled and grated
  7. 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  8. 1 teaspoon curry powder
  9. 1 & half tablespoons chili powder (optional)
  10. And about 4 lbs of peaches, peeled and chopped into chunks
Bring the ingredients to the boil, turn heat down to med-low and place lid on pot. Allow chutney to cook gently for a couple of hours or until the mix begins to thicken. Stir periodically so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Once mixture has thickened, ladle the chutney into hot, sterilized canning jars. Leave about an inch at the top of each jar. Seal the jar with lids and rims and either process in boiling water for about 20 mins to further seal and preserve the chutney or you may simply refrigerate the sealed jars. The chutney will keep for a couple months or more if kept refrigerated.

To Serve: I love peach chutney as a condiment with chicken, lamb or pork dishes or with toast and pate or cheese and bread -- as in the Ploughman's Lunch.

Chutney can be used to spice up a plain omelet or as a dipping for french fries or any other fried or baked root vegetable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Make the Most of Harvested Tomatoes

It's harvest time. And in Colorado local tomatoes have ripened a little late this year -- better late than never!

Via my urban farm friend, Barbara, I've learned of heirloom tomatoes with names like Zebra, Aussie, German Green (pic at left), and beefsteak varieties like Carnival.

I've been sampling them all too, trying to distinguish flavor differences. But to tell you the truth, I haven't noticed obvious variations. I did however, notice that they're all sweet, juicy and succulent.

Because sweet, juicy, and succulent is the feature of ripe, good quality heirlooms and beefsteaks there's really not much that you need do with these beauties other than serve them at room temperature, sliced, drizzled with a little olive oil, & sprinkled with salt and freshly ground black pepper (pic above.)

Room temperature will enhance the intrinsic flavor of fresh produce. I hate to state the obvious, but straight from the fridge, produce like tomatoes, simply taste cold and fridgey.

If you have an abundance of ripe tomatoes, keep them refrigerated so they don't spoil, but keep a stash on a platter on your kitchen bench for room-temperature consumption. As you eat them, replace those tomatoes with a couple from your fridge.

Tomatoes that are not ripe are best left out at room temp to ripen. If they're quite hard, put them on a windowsill where they'll get sunlight.

Tomatoes that fail to ripen will be absent great flavor. Tomatoes that are over-ripe and mushy are great made into the following:

If you have an abundance of tomatoes that you'd rather not cook, dry them instead.
  1. Slice them
  2. Sprinkle slices with salt and herbs if you wish
  3. Place them on a raised rack and put the rack in the sun covered with a light cloth, like cheesecloth--though this will need to be elevated so that it doesn't sick to the tomatoes.
  4. Bring tomatoes inside at night; depending on the strength of the sun, drying could take several days or a couple of weeks.
If the above drying technique sounds like a hassle, you could dry tomatoes in the oven, the microwave or a dehydrator. I know a number of people who've invested in a dehydrator so they can dry tomatoes, peppers, peaches, apples.

Drying produce is a great way to ensure a pantry of harvest produce over the winter.

But back to fresh beefsteaks, in particular the Carnival variety.

I made a polenta, chard and bacon cake this past weekend and though the Carnival I had was on the verge of being too ripe, it sliced well so I used it to top the dish ( pic left).

To keep the juicy tomato pieces from sliding off the polenta, I used a tablespoon of sour cream and thick, cold pesto to adhere them.

Vegetable & Bacon Polenta Cake with Tomato
1) Pour one cup of polenta into 4 cups of water. Stir over low heat for about 30 mins. Put lid on pot & set aside.
2) Smash and chop a clove of garlic; toss into pan with a sliced onion and some olive oil.
3) Slice a couple rashers of bacon, pork or turkey, toss in with onions and garlic.
4) Wash and chop a dark leafy green, like chard or spinach; add to pan. Stir pan contents about; turn heat to low and put lid on pan and let contents cook for about 10 mins.
5) At the 10-min mark, add pan contents to pot of cooked polenta. Stir with a wooden spoon, mixing veggies & bacon into polenta.
6) Toss a handful of dry, grated Italian cheese into polenta. Stir until cheese has melted. Taste test, and add salt and pepper to your liking. Pour polenta mix onto a plate and let it cool.
7) Once cooled, slice polenta cake and top slices with dobs of thick sour cream, sliced tomato and decorate with either a sprig of basil or parsley, or a dob of pesto.

You could stir the pesto into the sour cream and top the polenta slices with this mix, using it to adhere the tomato pieces.

To Serve: Present sliced polenta cake on a platter, as above, with a salad and meat dish, if you wish. You could also serve the polenta cake hot. In which case, once it has cooled and set, reheat it by covering it with foil and popping it in the oven. If serving hot, put the creamy pesto into a small condiment dish and serve it separately along with a simple platter of tomatoes, like the sliced German Greens in the pic above.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bobo's Oatbars & Howie's Cookies

I'm ending the week on a sweet note for folks with a sweet tooth.

still reviewing local vendors who sell their product at Boulder's Whole Foods Market; today it just happens to be two sweet treats.

I might be a purist when it comes to preparing healthful, whole, main meals, but after dinner, occasionally I do love a small sweet with a cup of fully-flavored tea enriched with a dash of half and half.

Last Friday, I met up with a foodie friend of mine. We were talking food, of course, and my friend posed the question: "What food or drink can't you go without."

"Oh," I said, "you mean what am I addicted to? Huh, that's easy, I don't have any addictions!" Then I said, "But I do like to have a cup of tea every day."

My friend said, "Okay, so I challenge you to go the whole day tomorrow without a cup of tea." And I said, "It's not going to happen."

I guess I wasn't shocked by my response; we all have our food vices. I do try and keep mine in check, i.e. no more than two cups of tea and one sweet item a day. Some days it's less and some days more.

I do know that if turned loose in a European patisserie, I don't consider myself a sweet tooth with an uncontrollable urge, but rather a patron of the arts.

You see, to me fine pastries are works of art, mini edible sculptures that often don't taste quite as magnificent as they look, but nevertheless are worth every eye-appealing bite -- especially if paired with a good cup of tea.

But I'm not in Europe, I'm in Boulder, and early this past summer I wandered into my local WFs on a Saturday morning and Julie, at the check out, who reads this blog and who periodically gives me something to sample, gave me a cookie saying, "This is one of our new local vendors, his cookies are delicious. Try it and see what you think."

So of course I went hunting for a cup of tea to drink with Howie's Wheat-Free Cinnamon Cookie (pic to left).

En route, I took a bite of the cookie and decided that though I'm not a coffee drinker the sweetness of the cookie would be better paired with the bitterness of a dry cappuccino.

And so that's what I did, I had a dry cappuccino (minimal milk in the espresso but lots of milk froth on top) with Howie's cookie.

The taste sensation reminded me of the European tradition of drinking a single espresso with several chunks of white sugar stirred in to counteract the bitterness of the coffee.

Howie's cookies are very sweet. They're a florentine-style thin cookie, but without the chocolate drizzle on top. Actually it's thinner than a florentine, and the surprise ingredient is oats. You can't taste the oats but they're there. You can taste the dusting of cinnamon on top, which adds much needed flavor to the sugary sweetness of this 99c treat.

When I'm on the lookout for a sweet, I do tend to gravitate toward cookies with oatmeal (I tell myself that they're somehow healthier), like Bobo's Oatbars (pic above).

Actually, Bobo's Oatbars (there are 9 flavors in all, including plain, chocolate, and apricot) are comparatively healthy for a sweet treat. They're organic, non-refined, and 100% non-GMO, plus they're vegan with no trans-fats and there's only 180 calories per 3oz bar. Read the Nutrition Facts and see for yourself.

They are a little on the spendy side at just under $3 per bar, but you can buy a box of 12 at Whole Foods and receive their 10% case discount. Or you can buy a box on Bobo's website for a discount.

Because I don't tend to bake for just me, I've treated myself a number of times to the plain, the apricot, and the chocolate Bobo's Oatbar and I have to say it's the kind of sweet that I enjoy at morning tea because it's not too sugary, it's packed with oats, and it's very moist.

And because of the ingredient list, I don't feel at all like a sweet tooth in denial when I tell myself Bobo's Oatbars are healthier than eating say, a double-chocolate peanut butter brownie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Boulder Canyon Natural Foods

Because I'm a chipaholic, I'm dedicating this post to one of Whole Foods local vendors, Boulder Canyon Natural Foods.

Now "Natural Foods" might ordinarily suggest something other than food of the snack variety and certainly something more than potato chips.

With their newest flavor, Rice and Adzuki Bean Natural Salt Artisan Snack Chip (that's a mouthful) Boulder Canyon does offer more than your average potato chip, much more.

If you read the "Nutrition Facts" on your average bag of potato chips, you'll note that the saturated fat content is around 16g and the total fat is around 65g per 7oz serving.

I'm not concerned about my healthy oil intake, but I do like to be conscious of my consumption of saturated fat since it's better for heart health to consume a diet low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturates.

Because Boulder Canyon Natural Foods produces chips with a lower saturated and total fat content than your average chip, and because their chips contain zero trans fats and zero cholesterol, I prefer them over other brands.

The lower fat content is not the only reason I prefer them. Boulder Canyon's plain chip (pic above) contains only potato, vegetable oil and salt. Nothing else! No acronyms or numbers masquerading as food, just three ingredients, which means the taste is unadulterated fried potato.

And the crunch factor -- it's a 10!

Since Boulder Canyon chips first appeared on the shelves at WFs many years ago, they've introduced a lot more flavors. I counted 15 on their website and I've tried about 8 of those, and more recently they introduced the two Rice and Adzuki Bean chip flavors.

My favorites are the a la natural ones in the pic above, Salt & Cracked Pepper, Malt Vinegar & Sea Salt, Balsamic Vinegar & Rosemary, Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper and the Hickory Barbecue.

At different times, one or more of the flavors goes on sale at Boulder's Whole Foods. The 10 for $10 or $1 a pack (pic above) is an unbeatable price.

Having sung the praises of Boulder Canyon chips, it's probably apparent that I'm an advocate of enjoying snack foods, like chips, but in moderation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Here We Grow The Movie

In keeping with the theme d'jour, I'm featuring a local, Whole Foods Market vendor but the product is not food; it's a documentary about food and "natural food wisdom!"

Here We Grow the movie is the baby of Craig King, a Boulder natural foods chef. Four years in the making, his documentary is being released nationwide today through Whole Foods Market.

You will find his DVD at WFs check-out, so do support Craig's extraordinary effort and buy a copy when next you're at WFs.

I met Craig earlier this year over coffee. We swapped stories about our projects, which at the core share a similar theme: educating the public on eating well for less.

But where my intention is to educate through the written word, Craig's intention is to educate through film and his spin-off community projects.

On the Here We Grow website, I read that Craig intends a portion of revenue from DVD sales to go to supporting the Healthy School Lunch Program spearheaded by his friend, chef Ann Cooper.

However Craig's personal vision is wellness solutions. Here's what he has to say about that:

"I intend to develop a way to bring improved health and nutrition to the areas where it is needed most. Through underwriting from Whole Foods and many other natural food manufacturers in cooperation with
Here We Grow, I want to build the prototype for this system. In many urban areas there are no options for fresh, clean, healthy food. Many kids in these neighborhoods are only exposed to fast food, gas stations and the typical strip mall eateries.

In my model, which is tentatively entitled Whole Pantry, we will build a 4,000 square foot store that is modeled after a pantry. It would consist of grains, legumes, herbs, spices, a selection of both fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as other simple items that are necessary to stock and create a healthy pantry. It would be all natural and organic—and because of the underwriting and support of the natural food community—the cost of goods would be very competitive with fast food chains, gas stations, and quick marts. By creating both the access and the affordable pricing in areas where they have not existed before, Whole Pantry will overcome two of the biggest obstacles that prevent children from receiving what they really need."

I love Craig's vision of a wellness solution to the urban plight of children who, when not given the chance to learn how to nourish themselves properly, all too often suffer from obesity and diabetes.

Craig says that "where Here We Grow ends is where the Whole Pantry begins."

If you believe in his vision, gift yourself or someone in your life Craig's DVD. Your support will help contribute to making real his incredibly worthy mission.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Eat a Local Breakfast

It's the start of a new week and a new day and as I do every day, I chugged down a glass of GoodBelly Plus, a probiotic multi-vitamin infused juice drink.

I'm continuing on from last week's theme and featuring local food vendors who sell their product at Whole Foods Market.

There's over 100 local vendors at WFs Boulder, so there's plenty more reasons to stay-tuned and explore with me the foods produced by this area's food entrepreneurs.

In the effort to be prepared for today's post I popped into my local WFs, which is about a mile down the road, where I perused the shelves looking for the sign saying, "I'm local."

It was about 9.30 a.m. when I began my research and I hadn't had breakfast. One of the tips I've offered for staying on budget grocery shopping is don't grocery shop hungry; you're more likely to avoid impulse purchases if you're not thinking about your stomach (instead of your budget) while surrounded by food.

Of course my intention was to just pop into WFs, take a few pics of local food items for this week's posts, and get out, but I ended up doing a little impulse shopping because I was hungry!

As I mentioned above, I'd already had a chug of GoodBelly, the first product produced by the company NextFoods which was founded by Steve Demos, natural foods entrepreneur. Read here about how Steve came to create GoodBelly.

I can't say enough good things about GoodBelly. Over the years I've bought probiotics in pill form at great expense only to be told by my health-care practicioner that I wasn't getting the "billions of live bacteria" that I apparently needed.

Then about a year ago, I saw GoodBelly in the dairy section of the market. I read the label on the Good Belly Plus packet, and noted that it contained 20-billion clinically tested live cultures per 2.7 oz container, plus multi-vitamins, and it's dairy and wheat-free. It sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

For anyone who has traveled to a developing country and eaten bacteria-laden food or water, or who has taken antibiotics, re-populating the gut with billions of live, good bacteria is a must. And that's why GoodBelly is just what the doctor ordered; it contains all the good stuff that a belly needs to be healthy.

I'm not much of a fruit-juice drinker, but GoodBelly is more than a juice and it's not as expensive as many 100% juice products. GoodBelly products are so often on sale at WFs, that I rarely pay full price. Additionally, there are 50c off coupons inside the GoodBelly Plus packets, and the company has buy one get one free coupons available on their website.

After I took the pic of the GoodBelly quart container (above), I found myself in the bulk section of WFs, pointing my iphone at a container of "I'm Local" granola.

I poured some local granola into a bag, tagged it and then realized it was Fiona's Cinnamon and Almond Granola.

Last week I featured Fiona's granola and made the comment that I hadn't tried it because my preference is to buy grains, cereals etc. in bulk, not in packets since you always pay more for packets.

So this morning I tried Fiona's granola because I was able to pick and pay for only what I wanted.

At $6.99 lb, my few ounces cost a couple of dollars, which is no less than paying almost $5 for one of her 12 oz boxes. However, buying in bulk meant I spent $2 on impulse rather than $5.

Since my focus today is breakfast, I was pleased to see the "I'm local" sign underneath Madhava Mountain Gold Clover Honey.

Not that Fiona's granola needs the addition of honey, since it's already sweetened with agave nectar, which by the way Madhava also produces, but honey is one of those condiments to have on hand for brekkie, lunch and dinner, and for snacks in between.

Because the price of Madhava honey is competitive with other honey on the shelf at WFs, I've been buying it happily for years. It's an easy choice because it's local and because I love the heavy, syrupy texture of the Wildflower honey, and the golden color and delicate flavor of their Clover honey.

Having mentioned Boulder's, Steve Demos, and his former company WhiteWave, I might add that if you do decide to have a local breakfast of GoodBelly, followed by Fiona's granola, topped with a drizzle of Madhava honey, why not wet the lot with some local WhiteWave Soy milk or yoghurt.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Gourmet Tea and Fancy Granola

"I'm a local."

That's what the sign says in front of the tinned, Tea Spot tea on the shelf at my local Whole Foods Market a mile down the road from where I live in Boulder.

I was an enthusiastic local Tea Spot patron when the Tea Spot had a lovely little tea cafe in the center of town.

But late last winter the cafe closed, which is unfortunate. However, I'm sure it had nothing to do with their wide selection of teas and more to do with the stiff competition in Boulder.

Tea and coffee cafes abound in this town and their success is all about position, position, position. Though the Tea Spot was in a pretty locale, it wasn't in a consistently well-peopled area.

And if sitting in a cafe on your laptop drinking tea or coffee is all about being seen and connecting with others on their laptops, then the Tea Spot cafe was destined to have a short lifespan because it's position failed to attract a crowd beyond weekend foot traffic.

Never mind, the Tea Spot now wholesales to stores like WFs, as well as sells their selection of beautifully merchandised loose leaf teas online direct to the public.

You'll note that the price is around $10 per tin, which is spendy, though this is high-end gourmet tea!

There's nothing shabby about their Snowflakes tea (pic to left) which is a pure, single-estate white tea. And the gorgeous tins alone are worth collecting and keeping for use as storage containers.

Additionally, their pricing matches other gourmet tinned teas on the shelf at WFs so they're no more spendy than the competition, and their tins are by far the prettiest and the most practical for re-using.

I had several faves that I used to buy in 2 0z sachets from the cafe: Early Grey, Bolder Breakfast, Creme Caramel, and their Mango Tango, all of which are flavored black teas. Their selection goes beyond black and flavored black to include, white, green, oolong, pu'erh and herbal teas.

The last of my featured Whole Foods vendors for this week is Fiona's Granola. I remember meeting Fiona for the first time about 6 years ago. It was at a Boulder Chamber, Women's Leads Group meeting. She was trying to build her granola business and was in need of mentoring and support.

I guess she got what she needed because half a dozen years later, her line of product has really expanded, her merchandising has "wow" factor, and her brand is ubiquitous in Boulder.

To be honest, I haven't tried her 6 flavors of Granola, her Quinoa Crunch or her European Muesli. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm an advocate of buying grains, cereals, pulses and so on in bulk; it's cost-efficient and there's no packaging to dispose of, however, not all Fiona products are boxed, some of her granola is merchandised in brown bags.

I have had her quinoa bars, which sell in local tea and coffee cafes (the ones I frequent now that the Tea Spot has closed). Fiona's bars are as healthy as her granola. I read the label with interest last time I ate her Almond Chocolate Chip Quinoa Bar and it was all whole food, the kind of thing you'd make for yourself at home if you could be bothered tossing quinoa, nuts, chocolate pieces, coconut, seeds, agave nectar and canola oil into a blender.

Fiona has a delicious line of wheat-free ($4.99 for 12 0z) and gluten-free granola (pic to left, $6.99 for 12 oz).

I think if I were on a restricted diet, I would definitely try these products, knowing how dedicated she is to quality.

But if I decided to spend $7 or so on 12 ounces of gfree granola, chances are I wouldn't be on a budget.

In other words, this is not breakfast cereal for individuals or families grocery shopping on a budget.

Nevertheless, local girl Fiona Simon has clearly found a local market with her line of granola, muesli, quinoa crunch, bars and trail mix and I'm glad she has because it is better to buy local, than say, rice bubbles imported from the Middle East!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese

I've been featuring "buy local" this week.

So far, I've featured a couple of my favorites, Boulder Ice Cream and Justin's Nut Butter, both of which were recipients of Whole Foods Local Producer Loan Program.

Today's featured product, Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese, was also a recipient of WFs loan program. You can read here about owner, Jim Schott's plans to expand his herd of goats, and his dairy with the loan.

I noticed as I perused Boulder's, Broadway Whole Foods sale items online, that Great Ocean Road, Australian Cheddar Cheese is on sale. Down from $7.99 to $4.99 lb, a savings of $3 lb is a great deal!

As much as I'd like to encourage you to dash out and buy cheese from my home country, while writing about the virtues of buying local I can't; I'd be a hypocrite if I did.

Warnambool Cheese and Butter
, which makes the Australian cheddar listed above, has a reputation in the same way that Gippsland Butter and Cheese had when I was growing up in the heart of the rural dairy industry in South Gippsland.

Many of my school friends lived on dairy farms and the milk from their family farms went to the butter factory in my small town of Korumburra. The butter factory was the main industry in Korumburra. So when the factory closed down, Korumburra struggled economically for some time. Eventually, tourism rebuilt the local economy, thankfully.

My mother was an avid supporter of local industry so even after the butter factory closed, and Gippsland cheese and butter was being produced at other factories, our fridge was always stocked with product made from the milk of the local dairy farmers.

In fact, when I left home and began to develop a taste for European cheeses, my mother was horrified for two reasons: "Why buy imported when there's nothing wrong with our cheese," she'd say. And after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, "Don't buy European cheese; all that radioactive fallout eaten by the cows will have infected their milk!"

Both were valid reasons for not eating imported cheese. Eventually I stopped eating cows milk cheese altogether -- that horrified my mother too, but at that point I was living in the U.S. As a result of being so far away, I was able to spare her the horror of witnessing directly my different dietary choices.

When soft white goat cheese came to Boulder, and I think Haystack was one of the first to appear on the shelves of Whole Foods, I was curious to try it, so I did, and I loved it.

I'm a bit of a purist, so my preference is Haystack's plainest or their cheese sans flavorings and herbs. With that in mind, their plain Chevre, Feta, Gouda, are my top picks.

If I want to add flavor to the Chevre, I can do it myself. In fact, it's creamy texture and mild flavor means Chevre lends itself to the addition of fresh cut herbs, which I've sprinkled on the top or mashed into the cheese with a fork. And it can also be sweetened with honey or fruit conserves, which again, I've either served to the side or mashed into the cheese.

Haystack feta I buy in chunks and use in all my Mediterranean style cooking, or to give cooked meals a Greek-style flavor. And I eat it plain, with crackers, chips, olives etc. The Gouda is a real treat, and I snatch it up whenever it's on sale, or for that matter any of the Haystack cheeses I prefer.

The selection of Haystack cheeses has grown over the years, from the early days of plain Chevre to more recent additions like their award-winning aged, Red Cloud.

You'll find Haystack cheese a little on the pricey side, but then cheese is kind of spendy these days anyway. Fortunately, Whole Foods often has great deals on Haystack so I'm always on the lookout

And to be sure, I always buy Boulder-made Haystack cheese over imported goat cheese, and not just because this would make my mother happy, but because it's the best!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Whole Foods Local Producer Loan Program

This week I'm featuring a handful of the more than 100 local food vendors who sell their product at Boulder's Whole Foods Market.

The two vendors I'm showcasing today were recipients of WFs local producer loan program. Rather than rehash what WFs has already said so eloquently on their website about the loan program, I'm copying and pasting it here:

Whole Foods Market is committed to the concept of fresh, healthy, local foods. Since the beginning, we have remained committed to supporting local products and the people who supply them. In addition to featuring local products in our stores, we’re putting our money where our mouths are by providing up to $10 million in low-interest loans to independent local farmers and food artisans. We’re proud to support small producers who need a hand, not a handout, to help them make their dreams reality.

The Program ...

  1. Strengthens the partnerships between Whole Foods Market and local producers
  2. Works with producers to expand the availability of high-quality local products for our customers
  3. Supports the communities where Whole Foods Market does business
  4. Reinforces Whole Foods Market’s commitment to environmental stewardship
In the Rocky Mountain region, two Boulder vendors who were recipients of the loan program, and whose product I know well, are Boulder Ice Cream and Justin's Nut Butter.

Boulder Ice Cream has been around since 1992. I was first introduced to their product when Scott Roy, one of the owners, signed up to be a food vendor at a summer, Sunday open-air art and craft market I had set in the mid 1990's.

Scott always arrived promptly with his vendor cart, and sometimes his two small children. Despite the early-morning set-up hour, he often did an excellent trade with the other market vendors who sought out his ice-cream as a reprieve from the summer heat radiating off the exposed street.

By 1998, with the arrival of Whole Foods Market to Boulder, Scott was wholesaling pints of his ice-cream to the organic grocer. And then with the help of WFs local loan program, Boulder Ice Cream was able to launch its organic line of ice-cream a couple of years ago.

Today, Boulder Ice Cream has an extensive selection of ice cream, sorbet, gelato, and non-dairy ice-cream. My personal fave is the gelato, in particular the Cioccolato Bacio (Chocolate Hazelnut) and the Pistachio. I love their version of the Italian dessert, which has no eggs, half the fat, and is slightly sweeter than regular ice-cream.

You can buy a scoop of their ice-cream at one of their many locations or you can buy their pints (pic above), which are priced competitively, at any of the local WFs. And I have to say, I would definitely buy this local product over any other ice-cream or expensive gelato that comes from beyond this region.
Justin's Nut Butter was also a recipient of WFs local Loan Program. Justin Gold is a Boulder entrepreneur who I first encountered a couple of years ago at Boulder's Farmer's Market.

He had a vendor stand at the market and was handing out little wooden spatulas, the ends of which were laden with his nut butter. I'm a nut-butter junkie and so I was happy to accept his offering, though I did specifically ask for the almond butter, my personal favorite.

Justin's almond butter comes in four flavors: Classic Almond, Honey Almond, Chocolate Almond and Maple Almond and they come in jars, plus 6 gram squeeze packs -- handy for lunch bags, hikes, and go-anywhere snack treats.

Three of the above almond butter flavors are also available as peanut butter; the fourth peanut butter flavor is Cinnamon. Justin also offers Chocolate Hazelnut a more natural spin on the European choc-hazelnut Nutella. I say more natural because a comparison of the ingredient list
is telling:

Justin's chocolate hazelnut butter: Dry Roasted Hazelnuts, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Organic Cocoa Powder, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Natural Vanilla Powder, Sea Salt.

Nutella: Sugar, modified palm kernel oil, 13% hazelnuts, cocoa powder, skimmed milk powder, soy lecithin, vanilla flavoring, whey powder.

Whole Foods was Justin's first retail outlet, though today, he now wholesales to as many as 15 retailers. Because of WFs loan program, he's been able to grow his business and his product. I love the flavors he's added since the day I came across him at the farmer's market handing out spatulas of Classic Almond and Classic Peanut.

You'll find that his jar prices are a bit higher than regular brands, but that's because his product is far superior to any other nut butter available on the grocer-store shelf. If the jar price is high for you, buy the little squeezers -- at under a dollar per pack, they're highly affordable!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Buying Local

"Buy local" (food) is the new mantra. And for many good reasons.

Whole Foods' website lists the following benefits to buying local produce:
  1. Supporting local farm production puts a "face" behind the foods we consume and keeps us connected to the seasons, as well as the unique flavor and diversity of local crops.
  2. Buying produce from local growers reduces the environmental impact and costs of transporting product.
  3. Small local farms are a valuable component of a community's character, helping maintain agricultural heritage, preserve land use diversity, and moderate development.
  4. Many farmers producing for a local market choose to diversify, growing a variety of crops instead of just one. This is a boon for biodiversity and your palate, since local crops are harvested at their peak of freshness and flavor.
  5. Minimizing handling and transportation costs gives farmers maximum return on their investment. And most of the money spent on local production stays in the community, "greening up" the local economy.
However, farm-fresh fruit and vegetables are not the only local product available at Whole Foods.

From cheese to nut butter, granola to chocolate, this week I'm going to explore a handful of these local vendors and discuss why their product is (or not) worth buying over competitive product shipped in from outside the Rocky Mountain region.

You may recall from my last post that my Sweetmeat Platter contained chunks of Chocolove Chocolate manufactured right here in Colorado.

The chocolate is actually from Belgian, and for his Chocolatour,Vintage Line the cocoa beans are sourced globally. But Timothy Moley's factory, where he fashions the imported Belgian chocolate into his selection of milk, dark, organic dark and vintage bars, is in Boulder.

I enjoy Chocolove bars because of the smooth richness of Belgian chocolate, and I also love the simplicity and also the strength of Timothy's flavors: Orange Peel in 55% dark, Crystallized Ginger in 65% dark, Hazelnuts in 33% milk and so on.

When I say "strength" I mean you can taste the orange, the ginger, the hazelnuts within the varying cocoa percentage, and thankfully, there is just the right amount of sugar --not too much, not too little--to enhance the flavor of each bar rather than overwhelm it with sweetness.

I'm actually not a big fan of really dark chocolate whereas Timothy Moley is a connoisseur. Perhaps my aversion is in part due to scoffing my mother's less-than-quality dark, cooking chocolate when I was kid. I hated it then, but egged on by my sister, we ate it anyway and I've never had the palate for it since.

However, Timothy thinks of his line of dark, vintage bars in the same way a Sommelier thinks of wine -- that is, in terms of the terroir or the geography out of which the grape grew, or in this case, the agricultural site and its characteristics out of which the cocoa tree grew.

I know he knows what he's doing, tasting, creating --the man obviously intimately understands cocoa flavor in its varying strength because his 2004 and 2005 line of vintage bars sold out!

Obviously his vintage bar fans appreciate his sophisticated palate too.

If you live in Boulder, do buy and try Mr. Chocolove's bars, after all, they're locally made and they're rich and deliciously smooth. Priced at under $3 for just over 3 ounces, Chocolove Chocolate is also very reasonable -- compared to other gourmet, imported and American-made chocolate bars.

And the real surprise: a beautiful love poem on the inside of every colorful, tastefully designed wrapper!