When Life Gives You Apples, Make . . .?

 
We’ve all heard “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and its true that apples are generally good for us.  An average medium size apple has 95 calories, 4 grams of fiber, and provides 14% of our daily requirement of vitamin C.  The soluble fiber and antioxidants in apples have been shown to have a positive impact on lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), reducing inflammation, and lowering the risk of heart disease.  Sounds pretty good, right?  Well, what do you do when you have too many apples?

My family belongs to a CSA — a communtiy supported agriculture program where we pay in advance for a weekly share of seasonal produce from a local farm.  We generally love the vegetables and fruits that we get from Stoneledge Farm, but every fall we find ourselves falling behind (no pun intended) the weekly onslaught of apples that come in our fruit share.  This year we didn’t even do our annual apple picking trip, and we still have a huge bowlful on the counter.

So what do we do with all of those apples?  Desserts are the obvious choice, but not always the healthiest one.  Of course, there are plenty of recipes out there for unsweetened applesauce, baked apples, crumbles, crisps and pies with limited amounts of sweeteners and saturated fats, but they all relegate apples to the dessert end of the spectrum.

I love to find uses for apples in savory dishes.  The key is to use them in recipes where their crisp natural sweetness, gentle acidity, and crunch can play well with the other ingredients.  Salads are the easy answer, especially those featuring dark, flavorful greens such as spinach and kale.  Diced or shredded apples add a nice sweetness to ribbons of Italian Lacinato (or dinosaur) kale dressed with a vinaigrette of cider vinegar whisked with olive oil and grainy or Dijon mustard.  Try adding shredded apples to shredded cabbage for a sweet turn on coleslaw, or mix with shredded carrots, beets, jicama or kohlrabi for a great, crisp salad — made even better with the addition of toasted walnuts or pumpkin seeds on top.  Apples can also add sweet magic to vegetable and grain dishes.  Try sauteeing apple slices with shredded cabbage or roasting apple chunks with sweet potatoes, or toss raw or roasted apples into cooked grains.

Apples work great as a naturally sweet counterpoint to chicken, turkey and pork.  I love serving apples simply sautéed in a little olive oil — with or without onions or shallots — and a sprinkling of thyme or rosemary with grilled chicken, lean pork chops, and pork or turkey tenderloin. (If you haven’t yet discovered turkey tenderloins, search them out!)  Try Eating Well’s recipe for Chicken & Spiced Apples — a fan favorite!  For a great all-in-one autumn dinner, here’s my recipe for Maple Glazed Chicken Thighs with Roasted Squash, Apples, and Onions.  Hmm, that looks like a good use for you, oh growing pile of buttnernut squash, also from the CSA!

So go forth confidently into the Fall knowing that when life gives you lots and lots of apples you can make so much more than just pie and applesauce.  Take a walk on the savory side and that pile of apples will soon dwindle.  Let me know what you come up with — I can always use more inspiration in the kitchen!

 

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Better Living Through Chemistry? Sweet Science

Maybe I am a bit of a science geek, but I think that it is important to understand some of the research behind nutritional choices before we decide to eliminate products from our diets or those of our families.  Are you considering or have you decided to eliminate high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from your family’s diet?  If so, on what did you base that decision?  The video below from the Washington Post was created by the American Chemical Society to explain the difference between HFCS and regular table sugar.

So now what do you think?  When I learned about the chemistry of sugar and HFCS in my nutrition and biochemistry classes it made me take a minute to think about the choice I had made to eliminate HFCS from my kitchen and to choose products made with regular sugar on both nutritional and ethical grounds.  Yes, glucose and fructose are used differrently in our bodies, but either way we are taking in added sweeteners that will have an effect on us.  Sugar is sugar, right?  But then there is the values question.  The production of HFCS links back to our dependence on subsidized corn and monocultures.  Plus, I try to stay away from buying foods that are “engineered” for production, so HFCS loses ground in my estimation compared to sugar in its more natural forms.  Eliminating almost all packaged, processed foods from my pantry has minimized our at home HFCS consumption.

As with many other food items, I believe in moderation vs. elimination in otherwise healthy people with no sigificant, nutritionally-based or managed health issues or allergies. To me, the key point of this video is not HFCS vs. sugar but more the final message about the amount of either sweetener that we choose to eat.  I don’t believe that a little HFCS now and then will kill me.  I do belive that choosing to eat large amounts of any sweetened food is a problem.  So while I tend to lean towards foods sweetened with natural sugars, honey, agave, and maple or other natural syrups instead of HFCS, I feel that it is most important to limit intake of all sweetened foods regardless of the type of sweetener used. That means that desserts are “sometimes” treats, not every day requirements; that sweetened beverages are an occasional indulgence and not an every day occurrence; and that the grain products I provide for my family are minimally, if at all, sweetened.

We are constantly bombarded with information about what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  Before you make a choice to add or subtract something from your diet, take the time to do a little research and make sure that you are making the best decision for you. Look for studies by impartial researchers and make sure that claims are not being biased by special interest groups who have an economic stake in how you spend your food dollars. Whether its HFCS or other food products, knowing the whole story can help you to make the most informed choice for your health and your values.

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Savoring a New Obsession

I am obsessed with savory yogurt and vegetable parfaits.  There, I said it.  Phew, its off my chest.

This obsession goes way beyond simple recipe development.  It has become an almost daily ritual to come up with new savory breakfast and lunch (and sometimes even dinner) combinations of veggies and seasonings to top off my plain Greek-style yogurt.

I’ve cooked with Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream for years, so the idea of using it as an ingredient in a savory dip or spread wasn’t new.  We are big tzaziki and raita fans here – used to mixing garlic, herbs, and veggies into yogurt as a cooling sauce.  One of my daughter’s favorite Yotam Ottolenghi recipes is his sauteed chard dish topped with a dollop of yogurt mixed with olive oil and salt.  But my obsession with using yogurt and savory ingredients in parfait-style arrangements that have changed how I compose a meal.

I often lightly sweetened my plain yogurt with honey, agave or maple syrup and used it to top a bowl of fruit, but that got boring and sometimes felt too sweet for breakfast.  My veggie yogurt parfaits are high in fiber and protein, lower in carbohydrates, and honestly give me a lot more interesting flavors to enjoy.

It all started a few weeks ago when my daughter and I sampled Sohha’s savory yogurt and mix-ins at the Mamaroneck Farmers’ Market.  Not only do they make an outstanding, rich, creamy yogurt with just a touch of sea salt, they also sell a number of olive oil-based seasoning blends to add to the yogurt.  We tasted them all, and although the Za’atar blend was really good, we opted for the Everything Bagel blend of sesame, poppy, toasted garlic, caraway seed and salt. At home, I mixed a little of the seasoning with  a container of their low-fat yogurt and used it as a dressing for a salad of shredded kohlrabi and apples with crumbled blue cheese over baby arugula.  So delicious!

The door was open and I was not going back.  The next day I breakfasted on a bowl of chopped raw red and yellow peppers, cucumber, grape tomatoes, and parsley topped with plain yogurt and a drizzle of the Everything blend.  When we ran out of the premade blend I began making up my own combinations, raiding my spice cabinet and crisper drawer for new ideas.  Paprika and chopped garlic?  Check! Cumin, corriander and chili powder? Yup.  Then we hit the spice blends.  The same combination of chopped vegetables tossed with a little lemon juice  – basically a quick Israeli salad – was topped with a dollop of plain yogurt, drizzled with a teaspoon of good olive oil, and then sprinkled with Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mixture featuring sesame seeds, hyssop, and ground sumac.  Dukkah, a north African spice mixture featuring toasted, ground hazelnuts got subbed in the next day and the combination of the creamy yogurt, vegetal olive oil, and rich hazelnuts was mind blowing.

On Monday night, my “to go” dinner for a late meeting was a bowl of baby spinach topped with red and yellow peppers sauteed in roasted garlic oil, cubes of toasted multigrain sourdough bread, a dollop of Greek yogurt, and za’atar.  Today’s lunch is a bowl of left over roasted vegetables – eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and fennel – topped with yogurt and some leftover pesto sauce.  I layer the ingredients in the bowl parfait-style and then dig through the layers with a spoon, getting a slightly different combination of flavors with each mouthful.  Next up on the list to try is a bowl of rainbow quinoa and chopped raw veggies topped with yogurt and dukkah.

Yogurt is a great source of the healthy bacteria that colonize our bodies, helping to boost our immune functions and metabolism.  Greek-style yogurt – yougurt that has been drained of most of its liquid whey – is not only thick and creamy, but is also a great source of protein.  For everyday consumption I stick with a 1% milk fat yogurt. I make my own yogurt every week using a Dash Greek yogurt maker, but feel free to buy your favorite supermarket brand of yogurt.  Fage is my favorite.  Look for brands that specifically state that they include live cultures, and check ingredients lists for gums and fillers such as cellulose and pectin, trying to stay as close as possible to a list limited to just milk and cultures.

Try opening up your spice cabinet and treating your next bowl of yogurt to some of your favorites and adding some raw or cooked veggies to the mix.  Maybe you will become obsessed, too!

Interested in making your own yogurt?  Its really easy to do, and you can get your own Dash maker through the Cook Learn Live shop – look under “specialty equipment.” Dash’s product is simple and comes with easy to follow instructions, but email Jenna@cooklearnlive.com for my tips and tricks for making great yogurt at home.

Posted in Breakfast, Brunch, lunch, Vegetables, yogurt | Leave a comment

Staying Sharp in the Kitchen With a Good Knife

One of the most important tools in any kitchen is a good knife.  A chef’s knife and a paring knife are all that you really need to efficiently and effectively prepare any dish – plus maybe a good serrated bread knife.  When choosing a knife, look for one that is made of stainless or carbon steel and that has a sturdy handle.  It is also important to make sure that the knife is the right size for the cook.  Most adults can work effectively with an eight inch chef’s knife, but six inch and twelve inch options are available for those with smaller or larger hands.

A good knife should have some heft to it.  Remember that much of what makes a knife an effective tool is not just its sharpness (we’ll get to that in a minute) but also the power that it provides.  A knife is a lever and a wedge (remember high school physics?) and a heavier blade closer to the user’s hand will help to deliver more power.  As for that blade, keep it sharp with regular honing and semi-frequent sharpening by a professional with a whetstone or grinder.  A sharp knife is a safer knife.  Which would you rather have – a clean cut that can be easily sutured or a jagged one?  Before you purchase a knife, test it for balance to be sure that the weight of the steel is evenly distributed.  Hold out your palm face up with the middle three fingers out.  Rest the juncture of the handle and the wide part of the blade on your fingers and let the knife come to balance.  A well balanced knife will lay still and not tilt to one side or the other.

A good knife is an investment that can last a long time.

Most good quality, basic knives cost around $75 dollars but with proper care can last for many, many years.
One of the first knives I purchased for culinary class nearly twenty years ago is a little narrower from years of sharpening, but still handles great.  If you are considering purchasing a knife for your own kitchen or as a gift, keep an eye out for Henckels’ annual factory sales in Westchester and Manhattan in the fall.  Its a great way to get a good deal on a high quality knife.
A good knife can help to make a cook more efficient, but only if used properly.  The first class in our Back to Basics series is Knife Skills for a good reason.  Once you get to know the proper way to handle a knife you will work faster and more efficiently and no longer feel daunted by a recipe that calls for lots of chopping!  Get in touch with us to schedule your knife skills class or buy a gift certificate for your friend or loved one to learn how to use their new knife.
Originally published November 2012

 

 

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A New Twist on Oatmeal for Breakfast

Breakfast Basics is one of the classes in our Feed Your Family Right series.  Together, we learn about what it takes to build a healthy breakfast and try out a few recipes for delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare ways to start the day.  Here’s a sneak peak at what we learned about oatmeal, including some ideas for fast and easy prep!

Oatmeal is a great way to start your day.  Filling and warm, it can really keep you going through your morning.  Studies have shown that beta-glucan, the soluble fiber in oats, can help to lower LDL cholesterol and to slow down digestion time, helping with glucose control.  The insoluble fiber in the oats fills you up and reduces hunger cravings for hours after eating. Oatmeal is inexpensive and gluten free (celiacs – make sure that your package says so), and can be the perfect blank canvas for your favorite fruits and flavorings.

Do you love homemade oatmeal but lack the time in the morning to make it fresh everyday? Don’t reach for a packet of the sugary stuff, try our two hints for advance preparation and enjoy a warming bowl in as little as two minutes.

  • If you have a favorite oatmeal recipe or brand already, make a large batch and freeze in individual containers.  Take one out of the freezer and place into the fridge before you go to bed, and then zap it in the microwave in the morning for about 90 seconds at high power.  Stir to make sure that the oatmeal is fully heated and then top as desired.
  • Don’t want to even wash a pot?  Try overnight soaked oatmeal instead.  Place equal amounts by volume of old-fashioned oats and your liquid of choice (water, milk, or a milk replacer such as almond or coconut milk) into a container with a lid, stir to combine, cover and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, scoop out your serving into a bowl, heat for 60 to 90 seconds, and serve with your choice of toppings.

    Ingredients for today's batch of overnight oatmeal - equal volumes of old fashioned rolled oats and almond milk.

    Ingredients for today’s batch of overnight oatmeal – equal volumes of old fashioned rolled oats and almond milk.

Want some ideas for topping your oatmeal?  Think fruit, nuts, and seeds and try to stay away from a lot of sugary sweet toppings.  Chopped fresh fruit or a spoonful of sugar free or low sugar fruit preserves add sweetness, as would a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup.  Go easy when using dried fruits as their sugars are pretty concentrated.  Toasted chopped nuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, and nutty flax seeds or hemp hearts all make great additions and up the ante with heart healty unsaturated fats, omega 3’s and protein.  Try swirling in a bit of plain or vanilla low fat yogurt for a creamier alternative, or even your favorite nut butter.  Turn your soaked oats into muesli by adding some apple juice to the soaking liquid and then stirring in plain yogurt and chopped apples before serving.

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“Cookies for a Cause” on MLK Day – Come Join Us!

January 20, Martin Luther King Day, is a day off from school and work for many, but not for Jenna Lebowich and Cook Learn Live.  We choose to honor Dr. King’s legacy by observing the day as one of community service.  We’ll be opening our White Plains kitchen from 10am to Noon on the 20th for kids and families to participate in a community service project that both tastes good and does good – our “Cookies for a Cause” event.  Come join us to bake cookies, brownies, and muffins for a local homeless shelter using our healthier than usual recipes.  The program is open to children 8 and up as a drop off event (those ages 5 – 8 must bring an adult) but all parents and grandparents are welcome to join the fun.  The program fee is $40 per person. Register by email to Jenna@cooklearnlive.com or call 917-834-5596.

Citrus Olive Oil Cake with Winter Fruit SaladOur “Cookies for a Cause” goodies and bags of fresh fruit will be donated to the Volunteers of America Grasslands Shelter in Valhalla.  Government and other regular funding to the shelter covers the cost of weekday meals for shelter residents, but does not allow for desserts or weekend meals.  The shelter relies on private donations from local individuals and organizations to fill this gap. Our baked goods and the fruit we deliver will allow the shelter staff to provide their residents with some sweet treats along with their regular meals.  All of our participants will be invited to create a cheeful note or picture for the shelter residents and staff to be included with our delivery, and each will go home with a recipe packet.

holiday_cookies_in_a_jarAccording to http://mlkday.gov/about/serveonkingday.php, “The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. On this day, Americans of every age and background celebrate Dr. King through service projects that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.”  Please join us on January 20th to create sweetness for those whose lives are not otherwise sweet and to support the program staff who help them daily.

Posted in Baking, Community Service, Cooking Classes, Day of Service, Family Class, Healthier Baking, Kids in the Kitchen, MLK Day, School's Out, White Plains | Leave a comment

Family Challah Baking

Boy does the kitchen smell good! Today we taught a challah baking class for a local mom and her two daughters, ages 5 and 7.  They got to make two batches of our honey whole wheat challah dough (one with raisins and one without) and learn how to make the dough both completely by hand and using a stand mixer with a dough hook.  Mom focused on learning how to knead dough by hand, while her daughters both voted for the mixer as their preferred method of dough prep!Dough Hook Thanks to what we call “cooking show magic” a ready made, fully risen batch of dough appeared as soon as the first two batches were mixed and our guests practiced braiding their dough.  They brushed the loaves with egg wash and then, while they baked, practiced their braiding skills on strings and learned about all the different shapes for challah.

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Finally, the three loaves were done and we eagerly sampled a corner of one of the breads.  Our guests went home with three baked loaves plus the dough to make six more.  Their freezer will be well stocked!

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Winter Break Classes for Kids – and Adults, too!

We never know what to expect with winter break.  Sometimes we schedule classes and no one is around to take them, but this year the opposite happened.  What we thought was going to be a quiet week is turning out to be busier than expected.  First we booked a birthday party on the 26th (sushi making for a group of nine year old girls), and now we have added a Kids in the Kitchen class for Friday, December 27 at 10am.  If you are looking for something to do with your kids ages 9-13 that day, consider joining the “Brunch Bunch” as we make mini sausage, mushroom and cheese frittatas, crepes with sauteéd apples, and either yogurt and fruit smoothies or parfaits topped with granola.  Class is $75 per student and runs from 10am to 12:30pm, when parents are welcome to join us to sample our creations.

Planning a get together for New Year’s Eve?  Adults can treat themselves to a class on Saturday, December 28 at 10am as we prepare quick, easy and relatively healthy Holiday Hors d’Oeuvres.  Learn how to make hummus and other low-fat dips from scratch, make your own pita chips (you’ll never buy a bag again!), create quick and easy vegetable and fruit based treats, and even a Provençal “pizza” that makes a great hot appetizer.  Price is $75 per student.

Register for classes by emailing jenna@cooklearnlive.com or call 917-834-5596.  And don’t forget, Cook Learn Live gift certificates make great holiday gifts – give a skill that lasts a lifetime!

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Cook●Learn●Live: Cooking Education with an Eye Towards Nutrition

Welcome to Cook●Learn●Live! I’m Jenna Saidel Lebowich, a cooking teacher and nutrition educator. I believe that food should taste good and be good for you, and that with a little bit of knowledge anyone can make delicious, nutritious meals and healthier food choices for their families or themselves. My site and my practice are all about learning how to cook, exploring the foods we eat and where they come from, and knowing how to make informed nutritional decisions. Most of all, I love food and cooking and enjoy sharing meals, recipes, and information with others.

As this site develops I’ll be posting recipes, a calendar of cooking classes and information on scheduling private and small group sessions, information on nutrition and heathy eating from reliable sources, and some of my own thoughts and opinions.

Contact me at jslin3@optonline for more information about classes being offered this season or to schedule your own individual or group class.

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