Getting to Know Herbs and Spices Part II

In the first post on herbs and spices we took a look at five different spices that are commonly found in kitchens across the globe. This post will continue this trend. As I said in the previous post, learning how to use a variety of herbs and spices, alone and in combination, is a crucial part of cooking. It can exponentially add options to the dishes you already know and inspire you to try new dishes you didn’t know you loved.

I recommend picking one herb or spice and experimenting with it for one week. Make several different dishes and really learn what the herb or spice is all about. Try and memorize the flavor and how it reacts with different food items and other herbs and spices. Let’s get too it.

Basil

Many of us know basil because of its use in pesto sauce (delicious!). This herb is commonly and easily grown at home and looks like peppermint. There are some varieties that that have a bit of red or purple to them. It has a lot of good stuff in it including a bunch of vitamin K.

Research studies have shown several health effects including DNA protection with anti-bacterial properties, anti-inflammatory effects and nutrients essential for cardiovascular health.

You will find basil, as I did, featured in many dishes around the world. These dishes include Thai (a personal favorite), Italian, Laotian (east of Thailand) and Vietnamese. Most chefs recommend using fresh basil if possible. You can store fresh basil in the refrigerator wrapped in damp paper towels.

A big tip for cooking with basil—add it in near the end of cooking. The oils in basil are a bit fragile, so you should do this to get the maximum flavor.

Ground Cinnamon

Well this one is just delicious on French toast. But seriously, cinnamon has been used for a long time as a medicine and a spice. The Ceylon variety of cinnamon is known to have a slightly sweeter and more refined flavor. There are about one hundred varieties of cinnamon with cassia being the more common variety in North America.

Cinnamon is known to have anti-clotting abilities, is anti-microbial, its scent can boost brain activity, and it is valued for its warming qualities in Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine is very into the temperature thing. It’s interesting. Check it out.

Cinnamon is also known for its ability to control blood sugar levels. According to research, cinnamon slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals. This reduces the rise in blood sugar after eating.

You can cinnamon as a powder or on the sticks. Make sure you smell the cinnamon to find out if it has a sweet smell. Ground cinnamon will store longer.

Ginger

Fresh ginger is almost always available and something you will definitely find in Asian cuisine. It is also the palate cleanser that is served along with sushi and sashimi and has a history of being used as a medicine, specifically for gastrointestinal relief. In addition to gastrointestinal relief, ginger has a host of other medical uses.

It is recommended that fresh ginger be used over the dry variety because of its superior flavor and it has more of the good stuff present. You can store ginger in the refrigerator for up to three weeks unpeeled. Don’t hesitate to sprinkle some fresh ginger on vegetables or in salad dressing.

Mustard Seeds

I will end the post today with mustard seeds. I know you think you know mustard, but you likely don’t. If you like spicy stuff, try English mustard. It’s awesome and has a spice thing going on similar to wasabi. Mustard seeds can add a bit of spice and a rustic flavor to your cooking. It is well worth a try.

Research has shown mustard seeds to contain compounds that protect against gastrointestinal cancer and it has anti-inflammatory effects from the selenium and magnesium it contains.

There are several dozen varieties of mustard seed, but the basics are black mustard, white mustard and brown mustard. You can buy mustard seeds whole or ground into powder, and they are available year round

Enjoy your time with each of these herbs and spices. I will be back with another post detailing some more delicious herbs and spices to experiment with. If you are looking for some recipes to try these spices out with, check out my paleo recipes review page. It reviews a The Paleo Cookbooks, which I think are a worthwhile investment.

Herbs and Spices – Getting to Know Them

Part 1

Herbs and spices are a wonderful, and many would say, crucial aspect of cooking delicious food. There are literally hundreds of different herbs and spices from across the globe. That is intimidating to a lot of people and can be a barrier in getting them started on their herb and spice educational exploration. What we need to do in this situation is make it simpler. I suggest you start by just exploring a few herbs and spices at a time. Give each a one week period in which you experiment with several different recipes and combinations. This will allow you to get to know the herb or spice in a variety of contexts and taste and smell how the herb or spice of the week blends with a few other selected herbs and spices.

I will help you get started by selecting a few examples that you can experiment with. I am going to pull some herbs and spices from the World’s Healthiest Food List because these are common spices with a lot of health benefits that have been demonstrated many times through research and study. You will be able to find recipes that use these spices by doing simple Google searches. It’s all free and waiting for you.

Black Pepper

Black pepper is one of the most well known spices and is available throughout the year in a wide variety of locations. Black pepper makes the World’s Healthiest Food List because of some key nutrients found in it. These include good quantities of manganese, vitamin K, iron, and fiber. Of course it is also very low calorie and has been shown to help improve digestion and promote intestinal health.

Rosemary

Rosemary has a great smell and strong flavor. It is known to be a great flavor to add into meat dishes like chicken, pork, lamb, tuna and salmon. It is also commonly used in soups and sauces. It’s year round availability makes a part of almost every western kitchen, and it has some nice health benefits as well. Rosemary has been found to stimulate the immune system, increase circulation, improve digestion and increase circulation.

Oregano

Mexican and Mediterranean dishes are perfect for Oregano. This low calorie herb has good amounts of vitamin K and manganese along with several other nutrients. An in-depth nutritional profile of Oregano and the numerous health benefits of this amazing herb are too great to detail here. Fortunately, it is easily found on the internet. Oregano is available year round.

Dried Chili Pepper

This last spice may not be for everyone due to its literal spiciness, but there are numerous health benefits from dried chili pepper and even more are being discovered and studied as we speak. When we lived in Thailand, a country known for its spicy cuisine, the locals told us to eat spicy foods to combat the heat. It sounded counter intuitive, but we love spicy food and gave it a go. It really seemed to work for us. I can certainly say it didn’t make me any hotter in the long run. We were told the same thing in Taiwan, but there they extended it to hot beverages as well.

Dried chili Pepper contains some great nutrients in good amounts including Vitamin A, Fiber, Vitamin C, potassium and iron. The capsaicin is what makes a chili pepper spicy and it is thought to produce some health benefits as well. Even if you don’t like spicy foods, I encourage you to find some recipes that incorporate chili pepper. Many times a small amount can be used and it won’t lead to the dish becoming too spicy for your taste.

For those of you that do love the spicy, please be careful. I have witnessed people overdoing it on numerous occasions in America and abroad. Too many peppers can even send you to the hospital. Inflamed intestines and bowels do not sound like fun at all!

Pick your herb or spice and start experimenting and learning. I’ll be back with another post soon introducing more wonderful herbs and spices. Check out our homepage to learn what we and this website are all about.

Fish and Your Essential Omega 3

By Claire

There was an article in the New York Times this week about the consumer growth of Tilapia—a fish farmed in South America and Asia. The Tilapia industry promotes the fish for its nutritional benefits and recommendations by doctors to eat 3 servings of fish a week. However, all fish are not equal, especially when it comes to omega-3.

Farm raised Tilapia has virtually no omega-3. Wild caught Tilapia does, but at very low quantities compared to other fish, like Salmon (one of the fish on doctor’s minds when they make such recommendations). In fact, farmed Tilapia has high levels of omega-6 (which is the fat meant to balance or avoid).

So what have we learned? Sound bites like ‘doctors recommend you eat more fish’ just aren’t enough for those of us concerned with ultimate health. So here is a breakdown of what fish to look for when wanting to increase your omega-3s:

Type of fish Grams of  omega-3 per  

3.5 ounces of fish)

Mackerel 2.6
Trout, lake 2.0
Herring 1.7
Tuna, bluefin 1.6
Salmon 1.5
Sardines, canned 1.5
Sturgeon, Atlantic 1.5
Tuna, albacore 1.5
Whitefish, lake 1.5
Anchovies 1.4
Bluefish 1.2
Bass, striped 0.8
Trout, brook 0.6
Trout, rainbow 0.6
Halibut, Pacific 0.5
Pollock 0.5
Shark 0.5
Sturgeon 0.4
Bass, fresh water 0.3
Catfish 0.3
Ocean perch 0.3
Flounder 0.2
Haddock 0.2
Snapper, red 0.2
Swordfish 0.2
Sole 0.1

 

And as far as mercury toxins, sockeye salmon, sardines, and herring are known to be the safest sources of omega-3.

Our favorite omega-3 source is salmon! Alaskan wild caught salmon is the best so look for that fresh or frozen at your grocery store. If you cannot find it fresh or frozen, you can try it canned. But do look for ‘wild caught, Alaskan salmon’. And don’t be afraid of frozen! Most fish is flash frozen and this will preserve all the nutrients immediately, so many times you are getting more nutrients for your buck with frozen fish (and vegetables).

The healthiest way to prepare salmon is to keep it moist through broiling, searing, steaming or poaching. Grilling is delicious, but don’t grill your salmon on a direct flame or over cook it. You are sure to lose some of those healthy benefits of salmon by over cooking or over drying it.

When we lived in Asia, we quickly became fans of steaming whole fish in delicious marinades. If you don’t mind staring at the thing, you will love the flavors this produces! Plus, if you have chosen a wild caught Alaskan salmon, it is not only safe to leave the skin on but you will also enjoy some other benefits from the skin like peptides with anti-inflammatory potential.

INGREDIENTS:

1 whole salmon
2 inches ginger (peeled and cut into thin strips)
1 stalk scallion (cut into 2-inch length, and then cut into thin silken threads)
Some cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon rice wine

(Plus you’ll need 1 large wok)

STEAMED FISH SAUCE MIX:

4 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
3 dashes white pepper powder
2 tablespoons rock sugar (grind into powder form) or to taste

METHOD:

Clean the fish properly and pat dry. Blend the soy sauce mixture in a small bowl and set aside.

Lay the fish on a plate and drizzle 1 tbs rice wine on top of the fish. Top the fish with 1/2 of the cut ginger strips.

Heat up a wok with enough water for steaming. Wait for the water to boil. As soon as it boils, place your fish inside the wok, propped up with a small inverted bowl or a couple of wooden blocks (meant for steaming). Cover your wok tightly and set your kitchen alarm for 8 minutes.

As soon as the fish is done steaming, transfer it out from the wok. Discard the fish water and ginger strips. Lay the remaining ginger strips on top of the fish.

Heat up a pan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, swirl around until it’s hot. Pour the hot oil over the steamed fish. Put the pan back onto the stove, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well. As soon as the sauce bubbles up and boils, pour the soy sauce over the fish. Topped with scallions and cilantro leaves and serve the steamed fish immediately with white rice.

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Salt in Your Diet

Salt, which contains sodium, is an essential part of the human diet. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us in developed countries get way too sodium in our diets. Increased salt intake has been shown to be a contributing factor in high blood pressure, which ultimately leads to heart disease and stroke.

The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend we get between 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium in our diets each day. That’s 1.5 to 2.3 grams a day. However, it is estimated that most Americans ingest 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium per day. That is a huge surplus, and it is no wonder that Americans are suffering ill effects from this.

Many Americans consume a large amount of processed foods every day. These foods often hide inordinate amounts of sodium. In fact, it is estimated that processed foods can account for almost 80% of our sodium intake. Most people are unaware of the staggering amount of salt contained in these foods. Therefore, if you wish to cut out a good amount of sodium from your diet, watch what processed foods you eat.

First, a diet heavy on fresh vegetables is a good start at limiting your sodium while introducing a host of other benefits from the vitamins and minerals contained in these wonderful foods. Watch out for canned vegetables. They often contain added sodium and can quickly push you toward your daily salt intake limit.

Second, learning to read food labels (or just remembering to look at them!) will help you recognize what foods contain a lot of sodium. As already mentioned, processed foods contain a lot of sodium. Looking at the labels will help you to find the lower sodium options and steer clear of the ridiculously high sodium offerings. It is pretty well known that canned soup, boxed noodles and rice dishes contain a large amount of sodium. Most manufacturers offer low sodium versions of these foods now. If you still want to eat theses foods, go with the low sodium versions and get used to the taste. Actually, that brings us to an interesting fact.

Studies show that salt is an acquired taste. We all know plenty of people that love salt and shower their food with it, but it turns out that that tasted was acquired somewhere along the line (likely from the sodium soaked, processed foods of our youth). I remembered this fact from my days working as a diet technician, and a quick Google search revealed one study that concluded that salt was an acquired taste. This study found on The Journal of The American Medical Association website looked at children’s taste for salt at 4 years of age.

Increasing your awareness about what foods contain a lot of salt and just how much they contain is the first step in limiting your salt intake. You should also stop adding salt to your food. Getting those fresh veggies (and fruits) is another great way to lower your salt intake. After a while you’ll figure out what foods to avoid and maybe even loose a little of your taste for salt.

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How to Buy the Freshest Food

Eating fresh food is best, not only for taste but also for nutritional value. As food ages, essential nutrients decrease. In this post I’ll provide a few tips on buying fresh food I learned from a registered dietitian at the hospital I worked at in my younger years.

Vegetables

The fresher the vegetables the better. Locally grown produce found at farmers markets (and increasingly in local shops) is often fresher because it has spent less time in transit to reach you. Getting to know the farmers at your local farmers market is a great way to find out what they’ll be bringing in next and when it will be the freshest.

Don’t discount frozen vegetables. As long as they were frozen quickly after harvest, which they often are, they will retain much of their nutrients. Plus, they are easy to store and last quite a while.

Bread

The bread with the highest fiber is the healthiest option. Of course it may not be the best tasting option. You can freeze your bread and keep it for up to a month. The bread will toast perfectly out of the freezer.

If you’re looking for the freshest loaf of bread, pay attention to the color of the twist on the bag.

  • Blue – Monday
  • Green – Tuesday
  • Red – Thursday
  • White – Friday
  • Yellow – Saturday

Fish

Buy your fish on the day it’s delivered. Simply ask the employees when it’s delivered. Don’t be shy. Also, if you can smell the piece of fish your buying, don’t buy it. That is not a good sign.

If you eat canned tuna, buy the stuff packed in oil. It contains less mercury (don’t eat too much tuna. It’s all got mercury in it these days). Strain the oil out of the tuna by running fresh water over it in a strainer. This will get rid of the oil and therefore extra calories.

Meat

When buying meat from the deli, ask the butcher for the nutritional information. You can compare it to the prepacked stuff and then decide. The prepacked deli meat often contains a higher amount of preservatives ( for obvious reasons).

Finally, check those dates on the prepacked meats you’re buying. They’ll often slash the price when it’s close to the sell by date. Of course if you’re into saving money and will be cooking the meat immediately, you may actually want to look for the meat that is close to expiration.

As a general rule, fresh food is best. In fact, fresh and raw is whole other topic we have yet to touch on. The raw movement is getting big and there are some solid reason behind it. We’ll talk about that soon.