Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Kimchi—The What Else—Star Anise

Star anise is another spice to look for on your journey through an Asian market or website.

Star anise comes from the seed pod from the fruit of the Illicium verum plant, a small evergreen shrub which is native to Southwest China and northeast Vietnam.

As far as shape, the star anise that comes from this tree has a unique dark brown star shape with six to eight points, each of the points containing a single pea-sized seed.

As far as taste, star anise has a very strong, distinct licorice-like flavor that is both sweet and spicy.

 

Star Anise—The Why

Star anise is an awesome addition to not only your adventures in Asian cooking, but also for your health.

Star anise provides powerful antioxidants that can prevent cell death and DNA damage.

Star anise can be steam-distilled to produce a pale yellow essential oil with a highly fragrant, licorice-like aroma that is often added to such products as soaps,  perfumes, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams.

Star anise can be beneficial to your body by helping with…

  • abdominal cramps
  • arthritis
  • bronchitis
  • calming nerves
  • colds
  • colic
  • cough
  • digestion
  • digestive problems and complaints—such as gas, indigestion, bloating, constipation
  • immune system function
  • influenza
  • painful muscles
  • sleep disorders
  • sore throat

 

Buying/Storing                      

Star anise can be found either whole or ground into a powder…and of course you could also make ground star anise by grinding whole star anise with your coffee mill.

Whole star anise will maintain its flavor for about a year.

Ground star anise powder will maintain its flavor for about six months.

Regardless, all spices that you buy should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dark place that isn’t exposed to heat, moisture or sunlight.

 

Tips for Using Star Anise

  • Grund star anise is much easier to work with, but the flavor diminishes faster.
  • Toasting the ground spice sometimes heightens the flavor.
  • Use it sparingly…a little goes a long way.
  • Whole pods are best for simmering—such as in sauces, marinades, and soups—and then removing before serving.

 

Recipes for Using Star Anise

Baking…Star anise is often seen in recipes also calling for cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

Beverages…Bring water to a boil in a stove-top pan.Add 2 whole star anise pods per cup of water, along with any additional other spices—such as cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks, ginger root, solomon seal root, and cloves—that you like. Steep for 15 minutes.Strain away any large chunks.

Eggs…Star anise is commonly incorporated in egg recipes. I particularly liked this recie for Star Anise Tea Eggs from Nest Fresh.

Fruits and Vegetables…Stay on the lookout for star anise to be used in recipes that also contain citrus, leeks, onions, pears, and pumpkin.

Garam masala...Star anise is used to make this Indian spice blend that can be then used to make countless traditional Indian dishes.

Meats…Star anise is used to add a licorice flavor to beef, shrimp, duck, fish, pork, and poultry.

Soup…Star anise is commonly used in soup, such as this recipe from Martha Stewart.

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Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Sorry, Paula Dean…But…

Now that our family is having to change our eating habits and stop cooking like the Southern Baptists from the deepest of the Deep South, all in the name of middle age and type 2 diabetes, are we to live the rest of our lives totally without the Trinity of Deep Southern Cooking—cream cheese, powdered sugar, and butter?!

 

So not happening!!!

Nothing makes my husband smile nearly as much as a Sour Cream Pound Cake fresh out of the oven.

But we have been trying to limit how many caloriess and how much added sugars and saturated fat we consume since becoming more health-conscientious.

Thankfully there are a few suggestions out there that will make your baking supposedly healthier, while keeping it delicious…techniques that will help cut heart-harming fats, refined sugars, and empty calories.

So just in time for the upcoming holiday season, and in time to start completing this year’s Christmas Notebook, here are some ideas…

 

But first, the recipe for Sout Cream Pound Cake, the one and only recipe that I have actually memorized after my thirty-plus years of having my own kitchen, not to mention my very own KitchenAid miser.

Three cups of sugar, six eggs, one cup of sour cream…perhaps a type 2 diabetic from the Deep South’s greatest temptation ever…

 

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Sour Cream Pound Cake

  • 3C flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2tsp baking soda
  • 1C sour cream
  • 3C sugar
  • 2C butter

Preheat oven to 350 °F….Cream the butter and sugar together…Add sour cream…Sift the baking soda and flour together…Add to the creamed mixture alternating with eggs, beating in each egg 1 at a time…Add vanilla…Pour the mixture into a greased and floured loaf pan…Bake for 1 hour.

Now taking all of the ingredients in this cake, let’s see if and how we can hopefully make this cake a little less deadly, while keeping it delicious…

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Flout

Time and time again, I have read to simply replace the white flour called for in a recipe with the same amount of whole wheat flour. While whole wheat flour is not as heavily refined and processed as regular white flour, I just don’t want to end up with a sour cream pound cake that tastes like rye bread.

Honestly, I don’t even know that I could replace up to half, or even a spoonful of the all-purpose flour in this recipe with whole-grain flour, That almost sounds like the ultimate kitchen sin.

If you are willing to start using whole grain flours instead of white flour, try first substituting whole gtrain flour for only half of the flour originally called for in the recipe.

Another option is to try  experimenting with flours that are a little more our of the ordinary—such as chickpea or almond flour.

But perhaps the best way to reduce the amount of fat in baking recipes is to use high-quality, low-gluten flour—whole wheat, oat, brown rice––such as King Arthur Brand.

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Sugar…So many baked goods contain completely and entirely way too much sugar in the first place. So as a general rule, you can typically go ahead and reduce the amount of sugar called for in a given recipe by about 25% right out of the bat.

Two other options to help reduce the amount and impact of sugar in your baked goods would be to…

Increasing the amount of other spices—such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg—to make up for any sugar that you may be taking out of the recipe will often allow the finished product to still taste good.

Try other sweetener alternatives—such as honey, maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, pitted dates, or molasses.

 

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Butter…A few substitutes for the “bad fats” often called for in recipes—such as butter, stick margarine, and shortening—would include

  1. Canola oil or any other type of “heart-healthy oil”
  2. Greek yogurt
  3. Ground flax seeds
  4. Ground nuts
  5. Low-fat sour cream
  6.  Prepared all natural nut butters

 

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Egg

Eggs…As far as eggs go, try one of the following ideas…

  1. Replace one whole egg in any given recipe with ¼C zero-fat, zero-cholesterol egg product substitute, such as ConAgra’s Egg Beaters.
  2. Use two egg yolks instead of one complete egg.

 

Getting Healthy, Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Book Review—The First Mess by Laura Wright

The book The First Mess by Laura Wright is a book about the accessibility and joys of plant-based wellness.

This book first appealed to me because lately I have been looking for healthier ways for our family to cook and eat…especially since my husband has been diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic.

This book will be especially of interest to people who are interested in learning how to prepare simple, seasonal vegan and plant-based meals that my family will enjoy

The central themes carried out throughout the book are the love for fresh ingredients, a respect towards the process of prepping and cooking them, and an overall approach to keeping it simple.

The author of the book is Laura Wright, the blogger behind the Saveur award-winning blog The First Mess.

Laura grew up working at her family’s local food market and vegetable patch in southern Ontario, where fully stocked root cellars in the winter and armfuls of fresh produce in the spring and summer were the norm. After attending culinary school and working for one of Canada’s original local food chefs, she launched The First Mess at the urging of her friends in order to share the delicious, no-fuss, healthy, seasonal meals she grew up eating, and she quickly attracted a large, international following.

The book features more than 125 whole-food recipes that showcase the best produce that each season has to offer.

The book begins with a guide for stocking your pantry and buying kitchen equipment, and then features over a hundred recipes organized into the following categories…

Mornings & Breakfast, such as Fluffy Whole Grain Pancakes

Soups & Stews, such as Garlicky Winter Vegetable and White Bean Mash with Mushroom Miso Gravy

Salads & Dressings, such as Romanesco Confetti Salad with Meyer Lemon Dressing

Hearty Mains & Big Plates, such as Butternut and Pesto Cream Lasagna

Vegetables & A Couple of Grains, such as Burrito-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Energizing Drinks & Small Bites

Desserts & Small Treats, such as Earl Grey and Vanilla Bean Tiramisu

Each seasonal, wholesome, and delicious recipe includes a photograph…gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, and nut-free options…and the amount of time that recipe will require.

 I didn’t find the recipes too complicated or too “extra.”  These plant-centric recipes will allow you to use up what you already have, encourage you to try something new, and create your own basics instead of buying them.

I found this book to be very organized, especially because it contains an easy-to-use index and informative table of contents.

I also found the book to be encouraging and fun to read because Laura shares interesting stories about specific ingredient and dishes, memories from childhood about harvesting and preparing it certain foods, and her decision to become a vegan.

The book is beautifully designed and laid out. The fonts are easy to read, and the ingredients and instructions are listed side-by-side in a very user-friendly way.

Each and every recipe has a beautiful color picture (almost always full-page)…a series of icons at the top for nut-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, etc….and the amount of time that the recipe will require.