Tuesday, March 24, 2015

International Cuisine at the Concord Food Co-op

by Jaimie Jusczyk, Marketing Specialist

The Celery Stick Café chefs have been creating some amazing regionally inspired dishes for the Co-op's World Cuisine Tour on the hot bar, Thursday's now through April 16, 2015. If you haven't been in yet during the tour to try the food, you are missing out! Make a lunch date this Thursday, March 26 at the Co-op to enjoy the Western European cuisine on the hot bar. The menu will include pissaladiere, a French inspired pizza topped with onions, anchovies and olives or hachis Parmentier, which is basically the French version of Shepard's pie with a luxurious Lyonnais sauce. There will also be fish pie and scotch eggs, inspired by English picnic style food, so grab a to-go container to enjoy later!

There will also be a free wine tasting this week from 4 pm - 6 pm. One of our favorite wine reps, Derek will come by to sample bottles of wine from Southwestern Europe to complement the hot bar menu. Adults, make sure you stop by to try something new or ask Derek your wine-y questions.

Now, just to let you know what you have either enjoyed or missed, in the previous weeks of the World Cuisine Tour we let our taste buds travel to the Mediterranean, Pacific East, Eastern Europe, Southwestern Europe and Middle East. Some of those highlights included Italian inspired Pork Ossobuco with Gremolata, Japanese Miso and Soy Chilean Sea Bass, Chinese Classic Kung Pao Chicken, Russian Beef Stroganoff, Greek Pulled Pork Gyros, Spanish Paella, Turkish Kofta Balls and so much more! Where else in Concord, NH could you enjoy such a mix of international flavors for only $8.99/lb?

The fun never ends at the Co-op, as well as enjoying exotic flavors for lunch and dinner, Co-op diners have also had the opportunity to collect Co-op passport stamps each week in their free Co-op passports to be entered to win tickets to the Co-op Farm to Table Appreciation Dinner on Friday, August 14 at Canterbury Shaker Village, that's a $250 value!
If you haven’t picked up a free Co-op passport yet, we have added more prizes and more chances to win! For every stamped page in your Co-op passport receive a raffle ticket to win awesome prizes like cookbooks, Co-op cutting boards, Co-op vests and more! Just show your Co-op passport on Thursday’s during the World Cuisine Tour to receive your tickets. Drawing to be held on April 17th, 2015.
The Co-op's marketing team will be ready to give you your stamped Co-op passport and raffle tickets this Thursday just for joining us for lunch and dinner from the hot bar. For more details visit... http://concordfoodcoop.coop/worldtour/
 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Now on to Pizza

by Wesley Hatch Co-op Produce Clerk
Click here to read Part 1.

Pizza: in my mind the word conjures bubbling cheese and… Oh just shut up and tell how to make a sourdough pizza already.
First, you need to make “the proof,” which gives your pizza dough its flavor.
1 cup sourdough leaven culture
2 cups flour
1 cup warm water
In much the same way we fed the leaven, we will create a larger mixture with — you guessed it — equal parts flour and water. This mixture, called, according to Ed Wood, a proof, or a poolish, is where much of the flavor of the final dough will be derived. Although varying times of fermentation are offered across the sourdough world, it is safe to assume that any time beyond 5 hours is probably enough time for the flavor to form and to begin fermenting.
Mix the ingredients and leave the proof covered with cloth for five to 12 hours. You’ll only need 2 cups of the final proof for your pizza recipe; you can use the remainder for something else or compost it.
Now, to make your pizza dough...
2 cups of your proof
1 to 2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups of flour
Cornmeal or semolina
Combine 2 cups of the proof in a new, large container with salt, oil, and warm water. Mix thoroughly.
Now, one cup at a time, add the flour to the main mixture. Try to incorporate as much of the flour into the liquid as possible, scrapping down the sides as you go. By the second cup, your dough should begin to take shape: lumpy mess of flour. In my experience, whenever I add all the suggested flour, the final dough is too dry. Therefore, try adding the last cup a bit at time to ensure a moist dough.
After the dough has formed and you’ve added all the flour the dough needs, sprinkle some flour onto a cutting board or countertop.
 

Use 1/4 cup of flour measured out so that you do not keep going back for more four as you knead the dough. Knead the dough on the flour-covered surface by pressing down firmly with the palm of your hand, folding the dough onto itself, and pressing down again, turning the folds so the dough is kneaded evenly (check out videos online for kneading tips. Youtube has plenty).
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, soft to the touch, anywhere from three to ten minutes depending on the hardiness of your flour. Place the dough in a clean bowl with enough space for it to double as it rises. Cover with moist cloth, leave in warm area, and wait for the dough to rise. This may take quite a few hours.
After the rise, some people like to deflate the dough and allow to rise for a few more hours, but I find in the early dough's I make with a fresh leaven, the yeast is not powerful enough to rise the dough a second time.
Place the dough on the cutting board or countertop, cut into 3 to 4 equal pieces, and set aside all but 1 piece.
No matter what your dough looks like or rises like, if it’s somewhat flat and covered in tasty bits, mostly it’ll taste good. Hope for solid dough all the way through and people will be happy to eat your pizza.
(Here I must confess, I most often use frozen dough. As you’ve seen so far, sourdough is a lengthy process that is not perfectly attuned to a busy life. Therefore, I compensate by creating large batches of dough at once and freezing them for later use. This provides two benefits: first, convenience to have tasty sourdoughs whenever my hand dares reach into the cold confines of the freezer. Second, to provide a chance for the dough to fully form. Call me crazy, but I have found time and time again that the unthawed dough I use for my pizza to be more whole, to be bounded together tighter than the dough I use fresh. I remain strong by my words: freezing the dough is more convenient, less wasteful, and lends solidification to my otherwise amateur dough. But onward, bakers!)
Gather all your pizza toppings together, pre-heat your oven and your baking stone to 450, and roll out the dough. With the dough on a floured surface, begin flattening the dough from the center, making sure you distribute evenly. Use a rolling pin to flatten further. If you’re chancy, try tossing the dough in the air in a circular motion to help flatten it out. Shape to desired thickness, keeping in mind the rising of the dough will change increase the thickness.

If you don’t have a baking stone, any flat pan big enough to hold the pizza will do, though it is not necessary to preheat other pans. When you are ready to assemble your pizza, dust the pan with cornmeal or semolina to keep the dough from sticking. Many recipes call for a pre-cook of the dough before the toppings are added. Although I did not do this, it would have been a good idea as my dough was slightly undercooked. If using fresh mozzarella, which tends to be much wetter, a pre-cook for the dough can help ensure against a soggy middle.
Assemble your pizza. Cook until the cheese begins to brown and bubble, the crust becomes crispy, and the bottom is browned.
Carefully take out of the oven, meanwhile taking in all those enticing smells. Let cool for five to seven minutes, resisting the urge to gobble it up, thereby allowing the pizza to rest.
Cut it up and share with someone you love.

And there you have it, a fully formed ready to eat pizza, risen by yeast you invited to your home and feed and kept comfortable until you called upon them to do you a service. The world is a mysterious place, indeed.
Now to the philosophizing: I say at this point in time, pizza is a near universal concept, like books and cars. I mean pizza’s been round, in one form or another, since the Neolithic age. In human years, that’s a ways back, like, imagine the not-yellow, Greek Homer sitting on a break from reciting war at the Gates of Troy eating a slice covered in melted sheep’s cheese given by a passing shepherd and olives and olive oil drizzled over the top baked under a starry night, the same stars we see now. Pizza’s been there for us, through thick and thin these meals of ours, these moments of departure from the daily grind. And what more ancient way to enjoy pizza than with yeast invited from the air around us, baked with as many local products as possible, and shared with friends and family? I’d say pizza’s about as human as it gets.
Thanks for reading, and happy eating friends.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Cheese is that?

by Jaimie Jusczyk, Marketing Specialist

In March, Heidi tested our sense of sight, smell and taste with the knowledge we have learned throughout the previous cheese tasting classes with a "cheese-off". On our plates Heidi served 4 pairs of cheeses and we had to figure out which was which. This was a fun class and would make a great wine and cheese night with friends, just remember to mark the order of the cheeses somewhere so you can tell what you are tasting afterwards.

So the pairings Heidi had for us where:
  • Henri Hutin Couronne Brie from the Isle de France, France vs Camembert Le Chatelain from Normandy, France.
  • Cambozola from Bavaria, Germany vs d'Affinois Blue from the Rhône-Alpes, France
  • Rusticone Bufala Mozzarella from Campania, Italy vs Maplebrook Farm Mozzarella from Bennington, Vermont
  • Valbreso Sheep Feta from the Mediterranean Plateaus, France vs Karoun Goat Feta from Sun Valley, California

The Brie and the Camembert were so similar but the biggest difference is the size. Brie is made in a larger wheel and usually sold already pre-cut. The Camembert is made in a wheel of only 4.5 inches  wide and sold whole. As far as the flavour, I found them very similar and comparable, brie is made with a higher fat content so the texture may be softer, almost runny if it is very ripe.
If you are not a fan of blue cheese, you may want to put down your guard and just try these two. Known as a perfect introduction to blue cheeses, Cambozola and d'Affinois blue look similar in that they both have pockets of blue veins within their creamy yellow interiors. As far as I could smell and taste I could not pick them apart, though most others in the class seemed to have a definite opinion on which was which.
While I personally struggled with tasting the difference between the buffalo milk mozzarella and the cow milk mozzarella, they looked exactly the same, someone pointed out the slight grassy flavour of the buffalo, which once they mentioned it I could then taste the difference between the two.
Then lastly the fetas, a sheep's milk and a goats milk. These tasted very different and also looked a little different on the plate. The goat feta was very crumbly, almost light and fluffy with a firm, creamy taste. The sheep feta was chunkier and had a definite salty taste.
We also invited Amanda from Vinilandia to pour samples of the Co-op wines of the month, Alias Wines. While I personally am abstaining from alcohol during lent, the feed back from the class was that these are some very drinkable wines and judging by what was left on the shelf at the end of the evening these are at a great price too! The class tried samples of the cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and Secret Agent red blend. Then as an added bonus, Amanda opened a bottle of Klassen Merlot which you can also find on the shelves of the Co-op's wine section. I might have to hurry and put a bottle aside to try after lent before they are all gone!

So next time you are looking at a cheese plate, would you be able to guess if it is a Brie or Camembert? Maybe you should have your own tasting evening and invite your friends to play too!
Join us at our next cheese tasting class... http://concordfoodcoop.coop/cheese 
If you have a suggestion for a cheese you would like to try or a special request, send an emai lto our cheese buyer Suzy at cheese@concordfoodcoop.coop

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cheese from Un-Cheesy Places

by Jaimie Jusczyk, Marketing Specialist

The January Cheesy Wine Down Wednesday tasting class challenged the Co-op's Cheese Buyer Suzy to find us some cheeses from un-cheesy places for the February class last night. Suzy accepted the challenge and came through with seven cheeses from six states you would not naturally think of when looking for cheeses. As well as some fun cheeses to try we also had Shane pouring free samples of the Co-op Wines of the Month from Riebeek Cellars.
The first cheese on our plate was Salty Sea Feta from Narragansett Creamery in Rhode Island. While Rhode Island is known as the Ocean State, this is the perfect cheese to match their ocean theme. While I didn't think this feta was particularly salty, it would definitely be a great summer salad cheese with melons and a glass of sweet white while enjoying some salty ocean breeze.
The next cheese we tried was a camembert-style double cream from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia. The Green Hill cheese was everything you expect when you see gooey buttery cheese on a platter. Smeared on a cracker with some fruity spread, any cheese snob would be very impressed with the texture and tang this cheese from Georgia brings to the palate. I wonder how this would come out if I baked it in pastry, probably delicious, let me know in the comments if you try it!
So I had been sipping the Riebeek Cellars Chardonnay to start and I thought it went well with the first two cheeses. Then we moved on to the Sauvignon Blanc as I tried the Everton alpine-style cheese from Jacobs & Brichford in Indiana. This was an ok combination, the cheese was sharper than a Gruyere, but a milder flavor than what I was expecting after reading the description of this "meaty" cheese. I imagine this would go well in a fresh leafy green salad, well spring is just around the corner so the leafy greens will be bountiful soon!
Next up was the Ameribella from the same company. I heard a rumor that when they opened the cheese to cut it, it had a very intense smell. Hmm... I am not a big fan of smelly cheeses but I was here to try new things, so after hesitating I breathed in and took a little nibble. Not bad, with the Sauv Blanc this was a pretty good pairing on my tongue as it melts around your mouth, so smooth and pasty almost. I bit off a little more enjoying the soft texture then moved on to the next cheese, the Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia. A lightly cooked, pressed-curd cheese this bright cheese did not go well after the smelly Ameribella. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed as I breathed out and could smell that all familiar "stinky" cheese breath coming out of my nose, yech! I quickly took a sip of the Pinotage which amplified it even more, so I nibbled some more of the Appalachian trying to move on from this unfortunate layering of flavors that my brain did not like. Ahhh, much better. I found myself rather surprised that the order in which I was trying the cheeses and wines was really affecting the taste and smells quite dramatically. I went back and nibbled a little more feta and decided that yes, compared to the last few cheeses, it really was salty. Have you experienced a strong layering of flavors with different cheeses before? Was it enjoyable?
Now for some fun facts; the Pinotage is a red wine grape cultivated in South Africa, a real treat I thought as notes of plum and fruitcake rolled back over my tongue. A new world wine, the first vines where created in the mid 1920's and the first wine from the grapes in 1941. If you want to try something different and you enjoy lighter style reds, I definitely recommend trying this, especially for the sale price as part of the February 2015 Wines of the Month.
Back to the cheeses, next on the plate Suzy found us from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Colorado a sticky pale cheese called Sunlight. With it's cheery orange rind I didn't connect the dots that this was goat cheese. I started with a small bit and let it crumble around my mouth, yummy. Came in for a second taste and then I got a slight goaty flavor. With the onion chutney I almost didn't guess that this was a goats milk cheese.
And my favorite cheese of the evening was Big John's Cajun from Beehive Cheese Co. in Utah. This spicy hand-rubbed cheese would be great on a big juicy burger but as a cheese on a platter your friends will definitely enjoy it just as much. With distinct orange marbling throughout the yellow cheese, as you nibble your way towards the rind the cheese starts to heat up with spicy goodness. I thought this cheese worked well with the Riebeek Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon we sampled.
But the tasting didn't end there! The Co-op's Bakery Box pastry chefs had whipped up some Cheesecake of the Month for us to try. The White Chocolate Key Lime Blackberry Swirl was a huge hit among us all. This fresh treat was a great ending for another fun event at the Co-op. As usual it is nice to see familiar faces every month and make some new friends too.
You can find the cheeses, wines and dessert right here in the Concord store, just ask any of our friendly staff for help.
I hope everyone enjoyed the evening and I look forward to their suggestion for the next class in March where they have asked Suzy to sample cheeses we can compare like camembert versus brie and a sheep milks feta versus a goats milk feta. They created quite the list for Suzy to find. To sign up for our next class or to read more about our cheese tasting classes click here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Catch Em’ While They're Hot or A Beginner’s Guide to the World of Sourdough

by Wesley Hatch Co-op Produce Clerk

Sourdough: in my mind the word conjures fragrant loaves, spongy insides and crusty outsides, belly filling, mouth chewing, a pungent sour taste pervading my senses, stirring me back to the days before commercial yeast; before unWonderbread and its kind; before factories polluted the air and concrete lined the streets; when nights meant candles burning or light but by the moon. Imagine – we humans can still share with our ancestors the same experience of waiting patiently for dough to rise, for the heat of our ovens to bake the forms, of breaking open a loaf of fresh sourdough bread to be shared with friends and family. This experience has been common for thousands of years. We can connect with the past, carry on the traditions of old, and pass on our own experiences to the next generation to help keep the bond between ourselves and the living world strong.
What follows is a brief history of yeast cultivation, an example of my own experiences with sourdough, as well as a researched plan, call it an amalgamation of thoughts and ideas from many sources, that will, with a little luck and some of that good old-fashioned patience, help you begin your own journey in sourdough baking.
A sourdough starter, or leaven, is a simple mixture of flour and water. That’s it. No commercial yeast, no sugar, no apples or grape scrappings, no milk: just flour and water. According to Ed Wood in his excellent World Sourdoughs From Antiquity, the art of leavened bread, or bread that rises due to the gaseous byproduct of yeast devouring the gluten in the flour, thus lifting the dough, has been practiced for some five thousand years.
A baker leaves her uncooked flatbread dough out in the sun, forgetting to return for quite a few hours; wild yeast from the air is attracted and gathers; the once flat bread rises; the baker returns and is amazes at the magic of… the gods? spirits in the air? ancient aliens?
Whatever they may have believed or known, and however many times similar accidents like this it took, eventually humans figured out that, first, leaving out a mixture of flour and water will create a rise in bread, and second, that keeping some of the original flour and water mixture – what we call leaven or starter – speeds up the process. In other words, instead of creating a new leaven each time one wants to bake, humans figured out that the leaven could be fed flour and water to keep it alive. Because yeast is alive, just as the symbiotic bacteria that lives within the leaven is alive. That, I believe, is the first step in understanding sourdough: sourdough is alive.
I first came into conscious contact with sourdough bread at the Chaz, a community living space in my college town a friend of a friend was living in on Charles Street (thus, the Chaz). It was at the Chaz I learned the importance of composting waste to reduce dependence on landfills, learned to conserve energy use (the Chaz was kept at a cool 55 degrees F in the winter) and learned to be more self-sufficient. Eventually moving there for about a year, I learned everything I know about sourdough from my friends Chris and Alem, both aspiring bakers and inspiring humans. Check out their blog here: http://yeastcoastbakery.blogspot.com
With my friends at the Chaz, I learned one of the most important lessons related to sourdough: patience. Without patience, there can be no sourdough bread. It takes time to start a leaven. It takes time to proof a culture (more on proofing next week). It takes time for the dough to rise. It takes time for dough to bake. If one is impatient during any of the steps, the final bread will be compromised. It is of the upmost importance to be patience and caring with your sourdough. After all, sourdough is a living organism, so, like all living creatures, should be treated with respect.
Now, there are two ways to start a sourdough starter. The first is to buy a sourdough starter kit from a store or online, follow the carefully laid out directions, and, after activating the dormant culture, begin baking. I started a gluten free, brown rice starter with a kit. This is a great way for a first time sourdough baker to become acquainted with the taste, smell, and texture of sourdough leavens.
But for those of you more daring, who want an authentic sourdough leaven unique to your location, starting your own leaven from scratch is the only way. The culture inside the sourdough starter kits is a specific culture cultivated in a specific area with its own specific yeast and bacteria combination that, when reactivated and properly maintained, is a stable environment. As far as my understanding goes, yeast from the air cannot populate the leaven because the environment inside the leaven is perfectly suited to the yeast and bacteria already living inside. They keep others out in their cozy home of flour and water.
What this means is if you want a sourdough leaven that is related to your environment, that is unique to the place you live, you must start your own leaven.
Here’s a simple way of accomplishing this goal.

The ingredients you’ll need are as follows:
-- 1 bag of flour, preferably unbleached, unbromated flour like King Arthur’s All Purpose Flour. You can certainly use whole-wheat flour, but I find that it tends to be too heavy its own. If you want, try a mix of 25% whole wheat to 75% all-purpose.
-- Water: tap water will work perfectly fine, unless of course your tap water is smelly and/or overly chlorinated. If so, use room temperature bottled water (Poland Springs sells a two or three gallon container with a tap, for example).
-- 1 Container: glass works best as it’s see through which will be important for determining the readiness of the leaven. I use an old washed out peanut butter jar. Preferably, use a container with a wide mouth for ease of stir.
-- A clean working area. This whole process, especially in the early stages, is made much simpler if you can designate a working area free from clutter and other materials. I tend to clutter up the kitchen with my sourdough projects, to the chagrin of my partner, but I find it easier to give the love and care the leaven needs in the early stages when we have an area to call our own.
--A kitchen scale. If possible, use a kitchen scale to measure out the flour and water for exactness. The mixture of flour and water is based on what bakers call humidity level, with a recommended humidity level of 100%. This means equal parts flour and water by weight. If you do not have a kitchen scale, we’ll use the measurement of a quarter cup of water to a half a cup of flour. This is not exactly 100% humidity, but it is close enough.
-- A cloth and a hair tie. The cloth will fit over the jar with the hair tie or rubber band keeping it secure.
- Patience. As I said before, patience is key. Without patience, this project will fail.
To begin: Add 50 grams of water to the container (or a ¼ cup if not using a scale). Add 50 grams of flour (or ½ a cup of flour if not using a scale) and stir vigorously. Don’t worry if lumps remain. For now, leave the mixture uncovered. Keep the container in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours; the top of the fridge seems to be a popular spot.

At this point, you are waiting for bubbles to form, the first signs of yeast accumulating. Sometimes this only takes 8 hours, sometimes it takes up to 24 hours. [If after 48 hours, no bubbles have formed on the surface of the mixture, compost the mixture and start over, moving it to another spot. If another 48 hours goes by, you may want to try switching to a different flour.]
When the first bubbles form, feed the starter. This consists of adding another 50 grams of water, mixing, then adding 50 grams of flour (or, ¼ cup of water and a ½ cup of flour). Leave the mixture for another 8 to 12 hours. After the second feeding, start covering the mixture with the cloth secured by the hair tie or rubber band to keep out unwanted dust.
From now on, each feeding will consist of taking out half the starter and replacing it with fresh equal parts flour and water by weight. If you don’t take out half the starter, you’ll quickly end up with too much starter for your container.
At this stage, the starter is too immature to begin using in any recipes. Therefore, I suggest composting the starter you remove until the starter is at least 1 week old. After 1 week or so, the leftover starter can be used in pancakes or waffles, or any other recipe that calls for flour and water. It will add a nice sour flavor, especially as the starter matures and fully develops its flavor profile as the weeks go by. After about 2 weeks, you can begin keeping the starter in the fridge, which slows down the yeast, meaning you will only have to feed it every few days, or even just once a week.
For the first week, it is important to feed the leaven every 8 to 12 hours. Like a wee baby, the leaven must be looked after, coddled, and fed constantly. As the days pass, you should see more and more bubbles forming. I started my leaven on a Monday with half all purpose flour and half rye flour. By Saturday, I realized the rye was weighing the leaven down and eliminated it from the subsequent feedings. By the following Monday, the leaven showed signs of maturation, including a multitude of bubbles 2 hours after feeding and an increasingly sour, but pleasant, smell.
By keeping up this process of feeding every 8 to 12 hours, in about 1 week you should have mature enough starter to begin using to create tasty dough. The flavor will continue to improve and deepen as time goes on. Keep in mind, it may take up to 2 weeks before the starter is mature enough to use.

Remember, although this process may seem like a lot of work, the flavors and smells soon wafting from your kitchen will make it all worth it. My specialty is pizza, and the sourdough I use as a base forms a perfect crust with a complex flavor, chewy insides, and a nice crusty outside. Biting into it is like a little slice of heaven.
Tune in next week for tips and tricks on using your newly formed starter to begin experimenting with forming dough and baking basic breads.
Thanks for reading and happy eating.
Click here to read Part 2.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

We're Slow Cookin' Tonight

by Wesley Hatch, Produce Clerk

Does it ever feel like there are never enough hours in the day? That moments of peaceful, face-to-face human interactions are scarce, relegated only to cyberspace? That mealtime is just another word for work-time, catch-up-on-old-emails time, organize-tomorrow’s-schedule time? In other words, simply a chance to fill your belly between never-ending tasks.

Imagine this: coming home after 6:30, a clouded day rushing by in continuous motion from place to place non-stop; feet tired, brain pounding, the stereo in your car locked permanently on the Top Twenty Countdown beating out weary pop tunes one after another (or maybe it’s your daughter singing a cappella in the backseat ‘Let it Go’ over and over and over again), and the last thing you want is to cook. Anything. The very idea of dragging out a cutting board, chopping onions and carrots, marinating a slab of chicken or tofu, spinning that wretched salad bowl round and round makes your eyes tear up just a bit. Tired. Hungry. So imagine your surprise when you turn the key, push past the scattered shoes and unhung coats, and are confronted with mouth-watering, nose-tingling, thoroughly enticing smells wafting from your kitchen. It is almost as if someone slipped in before you to secretly prepare a meal of stunning proportions. What is that smell?

You move cautiously toward the kitchen, unconsciously afraid of some ghost chef brazing beef in your great grandmother’s cast iron. And there it is, standing proud upon your counter, steaming out wisps of spice-filled vapors: your long-lost, nearly forgotten slow cooker. What new mystery is this?

But then you remember, like a vision of a reoccurring dream, you standing at the counter that very morning almost mindlessly preparing a concoction of spices and vegetables, stock and browned protein, which you haphazardly placed into the pot, turned to auto mode, and rushed out the door to meet your madcap day. How could this simple act of putting food into a pot and leaving the mixture unsupervised result in such an amazing, fully cooked meal? Eureka!

As living beings, we need food to survive, our fuel. But so often we rush our vittles, rush both the preparation and the consumption in order to satisfy a need instead of engaging with our bodies and the food we consume in a managed, deliberate way: a chore rather than a ritual. A slow cooker may only be a small step, but more than likely in the right direction. A time saver, simultaneously allowing us time to rush about and engage fully in this techno world, while also inviting opportunity to pause from our days, set down the phones and push out the distractions, to speak face to face while we enjoy a delicious, healthy meal. Plus, it sure beats cookin’ after work.

In lieu of beef or chicken or any other meat, I prefer beans as the base in my slow-cooked dishes: loads of flavor, high in protein, and with a hearty texture, beans come in a variety of shapes, colors, and flavor. Plus, for a quick fix, canned beans can be used in substitution for dried beans. A plethora of unique and flavorful recipes abound on the web – meat, vegan, and every option in-between, including deserts and soups and chilies and stews – if you’re daring enough to take the slow-cook plunge.

Eat well, friends.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Yeeps? Feeling the Need to Move It & Lose It??

by Maria Noel Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Coordinator

Let's face it: Now that the holidays are behind us, we're all feeling a little overstuffed and undernourished. Most of us know what we need to do - eat better, more vegetables, more exercise -  but it just seems a little lackluster and difficult. I'm pleased to be working with Chef Scott, the Co-op, and area experts to bring back our popular Move It & Lose It! 6-Week Weight Loss Series, which runs on Wednesday nights starting January 14. We won't be dolling out any magic bullets, but we seek to inspire you with delicious, simple, healthy recipes and cooking tips to reinvigorate and expand your healthy kitchen. Click here to learn more about the series and how to register. But, in the meantime, here are some simple tips to get you on your way:

Get Nutrient-Dense: As yummy as pasta and bread can be, they tend to fall in the (mostly) "empty calorie" category. Let your meals be inspired by fare that multi-tasks with lots of vitamins, minerals, good fats, fiber, protein, and antioxidant and inflammatory action. These include cruciferous vegetables, berries, orange vegetables, greens, seeds, nuts, mushrooms, whole grains, beans and legumes, wild-caught fatty fish, eggs, grass-fed meat in moderation, and yogurt.  Season with citrus, herbs, spices, seaweed, toasted sesame seeds, and a little bit of hard cheese, dark chocolate, or a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil. Soups, salads, stir-fries, smoothies, and veggie-based juices make it easy to load up on the good stuff.

Get Inspired: We are bombarded with the sights and scents of tasty but less-than-healthy food via ads and roadside attractions. Surround yourself with healthy cookbooks, blogs, magazines, and websites that remind you how appealing healthy cooking can be. EatingWell.com and its associated magazine and cookbooks are favorites in our house. Also check out VegetarianTimes.com and its magazine and cookbooks. Favorite healthy cookbooks include The Longevity KitchenPower Foods, Andrew Weil's  True Food... Also check out cookbooks by noteworthy authors Ellie Krieger, Christina Pirello, and Deborah Madison. Even if you're not vegetarian or vegan, meatless cookbooks can help introduce you to new healthy recipes to integrate into your kitchen.

On the Go: Cooking meals at home and bringing your lunch to work is the best way to improve your health and stick to a budget. When eating out for special occasions, opt for restaurants that understand real food including the Co-op's Celery Stick Café, Spoon Revolution, and Sunny's Table in Concord; Republic and Cafe Momo in Manchester; and Lemongrass in Moultonborough. Also opt for one or none - appetizer, alcoholic beverage, or dessert - to go with your meal and start with a salad. (Beware of salads in chain restaurants - they often pack two to three meals worth of calories!) Check out the menus ahead of time; fried food is less tempting on your computer screen than when the scents are wafting around you. Don't be afraid to split a meal (just tip a little extra) or ask to have half your dish wrapped up to bring home for lunch the next day.

Crunching Numbers: If you want to lose weight, one way to approach it is to measure your portions and count calories. Yes, it's tedious, but it can be eye opening! Take your weight and multiply it by 12. This equals the maintenance calories for the average person, or how much you need to eat to maintain your current weight. Subtract 500 calories per day to lose one pound a week (or 1000 per day to lose two pounds), but don't go below 1200 calories and keep your goals reasonable so that they're easier to achieve and maintain. This is generally 400-600 calories per meal plus one or two 100-200-calorie snacks, but it varies widely from person to person. Click here for more on this approach.

Listen to Your Body: "Intuitive eating" involves paying closer attention to how you feel throughout the day, how hungry you are, and whether or not your body really enjoys the food that you're eating. It's useful in place of or alongside calorie counting. No matter what the numbers say, if you're ravenous, you should eat. (Better yet, eat something nourishing before you get ravenous.) Try to avoid letting yourself get overstuffed after a meal and realize that it's ok to be a bit hungry when you wake up and before meals. How do you feel after you eat particular foods? As time goes on, you'll notice that you crave and feel much better with healthy foods without a rush of excess sugar or refined carbs. (But, if you desperately want that cupcake, intuitive eating says you should have it, in a reasonable portion, and enjoy it.) Local dietician Hilary Warner specializes in this approach, and you can also learn more in the book Intuitive Eating.

Move More: A few things in life positively or negatively impact almost every aspect of health: diet, sleep, stress management, and movement. From a numbers perspective, exercise helps you burn calories to reach weight loss and maintenance goals in an easier, more sustainable way, but the benefits reach far beyond that to improved mood, disease prevention, etc. Any exercise is better than nothing, but certain types of exercise make a bigger impact on calories burned. Some of the best include the gym stair-climber (306 calories burned*), mountain biking (291), cross-country skiing (my favorite!) or running (273),   snowshoeing, biking, jogging or swimming laps (240), or kayaking, gardening, golfing or walking at a brisk pace (171).  Strength-train a few times a week to boost your overall metabolism so that you burn a tad more calories all day long, even when you're not exercising. Strength training includes weight lifting, lunges, push-ups, etc. Certain types of yoga, hiking, and sports incorporate aspects of strength training. *The calories burned are calculated for a 150-pound person doing the activities for 30 minutes.

Enlist Aid: Having someone to enjoy meals and exercise with improve your odds of sticking with a routine and meeting your goals. I'm fortunate to have a supportive husband. I'm the health nut foodie, and I have certainly improved the quality of the food Shannon eats since we met. Cooking dinner together is one of our favorite parts of the day. He's the outdoor enthusiast, and over the years I've taken up hiking, kayaking, cross-country skiing and am dabbling with jogging, and we try to incorporate these activities into our weekend/weeknight play time and vacations. If you live alone or have a less-than-supportive spouse, connect with friends or family members who share your drive. Meetup.com groups are a great way to connect with like-minded adventurous folks, too. When my husband had to study for a big test last summer, I enjoyed connecting with several different kayaking groups and one of my cousins to get out on the water. I have clients who get together to snowshoe with friends every X day of the week in winter. Talk about positive multi-tasking! Social time, time out in nature, and movement, all rolled into fun! Click here for an article on how to have get outside this winter.

Herbs & Supplements for Weight Loss: I really don't believe in magic bullets. I've yet to come across any supplement that is safe and effective enough to impress. All the previous tips are much more likely to get you to your goal while also improving your mood, decreasing inflammation, and preventing a variety of chronic diseases. However, some herbs and supplements can lend a hand to make it a little easier to stick to your routine and lose weight. Some help balance blood sugar, others boost energy, and yet others enhance metabolism or thyroid function. Green tea has the most promise across the board. I love to combine it with holy basil (aka tulsi) for stress-busting, craving-curbing, metabolism-boosting effects as a morning tea. Cinnamon or chai tea (without cream and sugar) after meals serves as blood sugar-balancing dessert. Adaptogenic herbs that help your body adapt to stress - rhodiola, holy basil, ashwagandha, and eleuthero - provide support. Certain nutrients also help: Studies suggest that getting adequate calcium from food or supplements helps us burn calories more effectively. Before taking herbs and supplements, talk with your healthcare provider and check with your pharmacist for interactions if you take pharmaceuticals.

What are YOUR secrets to good health? Share them in the "Comments" section below!