Archives for posts with tag: taste

Recently, circumstances conspired so that I had the means to create a new recipe, using ingredients I don’t usually have on hand. I had a package of thawed smoked salmon (thank you, friend who moved and cleaned out her freezer into mine!) The other day I noticed that goat’s cheese was on sale at my local supermarket. I had some fresh dill-infused olive oil leftover from a salad dressing from a few nights ago. Grape leaves are easily available at my local Community Gardens. Naturally, thinking of these ingredients, I made some Altered Dolmades.

I have never made a dolmade before, but from my fully adequate experience in eating them, I know they usually have rice inside. I am trying to eat fewer carbohydrates, so I thought to replace the rice with cheese. Yes!

rolling up the yumminess

So, here is a delicious treat to fix up in very little time. Please note everything is changeable, and you can add anything you want (hot peppers, olives, capers, other cheeses, little bits of bacon…) If you like your rice, you could mix some cooked brown or white rice into the cheese mixture. One thing I really wish I’d had for this was some lemon. I would have squirted it overtop before baking…

*Cheese mix: 1 tube of goat cheese (I used “herbed”), two sprigs of green onions chopped up fine, two tablespoons of crushed almonds, a sprinkle of salt

*Olive oil/dill mix: a couple of sprigs of Dill, settled into a small bowl (about 1/4 cup) of olive oil, and a few grinds of pepper. (Please note in the photographs, I’d used too much oil. Try about 1/4 cup, or even a little less.)

*1 small packet of wild smoked salmon, thin slices

*about 20-30 grape leaves (smaller ones, still clear and bright in colour and translucency)

METHOD: I laid out the grape leaves so that about four to six of them were on my work surface, overlapping. I then took a piece of the fish, and rolled it around a spoonful of the cheese mixture. Then I blobbed a little more of the cheese mixture onto the outside of this fish-tube, and rolled it up in the grapeleaves.

I used a little casserole dish to lay them out in. Once then were all there (I had enough to make about six dolmades) I drizzled the olive oil/dill overtop.

I used the leftover oil afterwards for yet more salad dressing.

BAKE in a moderate oven ’til done (about half an hour? or more or less… everything is edible raw so you can’t undercook.) When I say done, I mean the smell is unbearably delicious, and the grapeleaves are very dark.

If I’d had any leftover grapeleaves, I’d have simply added them to my salad.

I’ll be doing this one again!

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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my little bottle of bitters decorated with a Santa sticker

I made this bottle of bitters so that folks in my family would have a “just in case” digestive boost to carve through the season of excess otherwise known as Christmas.  The small bottle of bitters in the middle of the above photo illustrates the type of approach I like to take for labeling things for myself.  On this little sticker, Santa seems to have a little digestive upset.  His position seems to indicate that he recently may have had a good deal of rich food.  Santa needs some bitters.

I got to thinking about bitters and better labeling after seeing a cute little kit of on the market. I love this little kit because it is downright adorable! It is so cute it might work as a gateway to herbalism. Who knows? However, these bitters are primarily intended for enjoyment.  It kind of irks me that all of the ingredients do not appear on the label. Knowledge of the ingredients and their constituents is essential for the wise deployment of any herbal concoction. Perhaps this is normal in the beverage world. One of the world’s the most popular drinks (sometimes promoted by Santa) does not label all of the specific ingredients on the bottles either.*

Taken before a meal, bitters increase digestive secretions. Thus they promote an appetite and gear-up the system for optimal digestion. Bitters taken after a meal will help with digestive disturbances and decrease flatulence. Although generally distasteful, bitters can counter balance other flavours such as sweet. Think of bitter leaves in a salad, coffee, beer and Angostura bitters.

Bitters range from mild – like dandelion root and leaves, chamomile and yarrow – to strong – such as horehound, gentian, goldenseal. A more extensive knowledge of herbalism includes how certain bitters have affinities with particular systems of the human body.

Bitters stimulate actions in the body as they enter the mouth and are received by bitter taste receptors at the back of the tongue. They have a broad range of actions in digestive system including: stimulating an appetite; regulating blood sugar, insulin and glucagon hormone production; stimulating self repair of the gut wall; aiding the liver in it’s work of detoxification and increasing the flow of bile; encouraging the release of digestive juice. All of these actions depend upon the ingredients and their constituents.

Further study of herbalism shows how subjecting the digestive system to bitters can illicit actions upon other systems in the body: relaxing bitters can ease digestion therefore take pressure off the cardiovascular system, including the heart; certain bitters help with expectoration of mucous from the respiratory system; some bitters bring on late menstruation; bitters help with the assimilation of food, leading to less metabolic waste in the musculoskeletal system; herbalists often use bitters in depression and nervous system debility; and bitters can help to clear up skin conditions.**

Care needs to be taken with certain herbs, since the effects of plant constituents are often powerful! For example, strong bitters are contraindicated in pregnancy, kidney stones, gallbladder disease, menstrual cramps, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hiatus hernia, gastritis and peptic ulcers.  In these cases, bitters stimulate actions that are either unnecessary for the body or beyond its systems’ capacities to cope with.

How I make my DIY bitters

Here are some suggestions for bitters. I consider the actions I want and go for the plants that have these actions.  I macerate these plants by completely covering them in a strong alcohol like vodka or brandy for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle daily.  Then I strain this, putting the menstruum in an amber bottle and the herbs in the compost.  I label the bottle of tincture.  If it is for others, I am sure to label all of the ingredients, the date it was made, who made it and suggested use.  When working on herbal formulas, it is recommended that one researches each herb using three different academic books on herbalism.  If I do not have access to this, then I stick to the herbs I know.

If a plant is noted as a strong bitter, please consider consulting an herbalist about this bitter. Always use organic herbs in formulas. Other than that, make a small amount, keep great notes on what you do and see how it turns out.

Possibilities that come to mind:

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) is mildly bitter and mildly stimulating for the digestive system.  Around 20% of the formula can be comprised of dandelion root.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) tastes great and will be a welcome carminative *** to the formula  Use around 15%.

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is also a great tasting carminative.  Use around 15%.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is an anti-inflammatory carminative that acts as a bit of a catalyst for other herbs in the formula.  15% of the formula can be fresh, use a much smaller amount if you are using dried, like 1 – 5%.

Gentian (Gentiana lutea) is extremely bitter.  Generally, not more than 5 – 10% of the formula is gentian.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp) is a tasty gastrointestinal tonic, a stimulant and carminative.  Do not use more than 5% in a formula because it tends to thicken the tincture.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is also a tasty carminative, use up to 5% of crushed seeds.

organic Orange Peel is a lovely aromatic carminative.

Celery Seed (Apium graveolens)  is an important carminative digestive tonic that assists in the removal of uric acid.

If there is a need to relax:

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nice carminative that is also relaxing for restless individuals

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is calming and antispasmodic in the digestive system

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a really fine carminative with nervine and sedative properties that is suitable for all ages when taken as a tea.  Can also be added to the formula.

Generally, I take a small amount, like a 1/4 teaspoon of this bitter blend in a small amount of water, either before or after a meal.  If I forget to make bitters, I take an after dinner tea instead.  Bon appétit!

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

* Coca-Cola

** Hoffmann, David Medical Herbalism; The science and practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

*** A carminative action generally involves volatile oil plant components which encourage the expelling of gas from the stomach and intestines.  Carminatives are often anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.

 
by Natasha Henderson, Montreal
 

When I moved across the country from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island to Montreal, Quebec a little over three years ago, I knew that I would experience many changes. Not the least of these changes, I felt, would be to my diet.

The view from Kitty Coleman, in the Comox Valley

I had in mind that I would indulge in new things, new foods, perhaps try French Cuisine… it is true that I experienced some change in my diet and lifestyle, and a lot of that was due to what was available in the supermarkets. Different vegetables, different prices, smaller cuts of meat, and a wider selection of new cheeses greeted me at the first supermarket I visited in the downtown core of Montreal. After a couple of months I learned about the fresh farmer’s markets in the city. I began shopping for goods that were more locally grown, and in season whenever possible. Now, three years into life here, I am signed onto a CSA programme with a local organic farm for weekly veggie and fruit delivery. While enjoying the process of transformations within my new life in a new city and province, I was developing an interest in what I was putting into my mouth… an interest beyond the question of simply flavour.

Festivities and poutine abound in Montreal

After realising how much I liked poutine, but how guilty I always felt whenever I indulged, I figured that I must find a way to make a healthier option of it… something I could do at home, too, and save a little cash in the process. The first thing that I tried was to purchase frozen fries at the grocery store, and whenever I had some leftover gravy (not that often, of course… it’s GRAVY) I would make poutine the next day. While experimenting a little more with cooking, I finally discovered the joyous root that is the sweet potato. One day I had some potatoes, so made some wedgie-fries like my mom used to make out of their delightful Yukon Gold potatoes from the home garden in Comox, BC. Butter in a pan in the oven, bake. Easy. I thought about some fried sweet potato chips a friend had treated me to a year or so before that, this seemingly exotic chip. We had dipped them in home-made mayonnaise. That’s another delightful story… I had found the intense flavour of the sweet potato a little powerful, a little overwhelming. So I made a batch of wedgies with some potato, some sweet potato. Perfect combination (for me, anyhow).

Using sweet potatoes in place of, or as well as, regular potatoes for the fries is a tasty option that makes a poutine “healthy”. Sweet potatoes are full of vitamins. Their flesh is a bright, appetizing orange, and their flavour carries a pleasant sweetness. Try to leave the skin on for your fries, like you would with regular potatoes. Just cut off the ugliest bits, and the “eyes“. Cut the sweet potatoes and potatoes into even-thickness strips, like house-fries in restaurants. One healthy option for baking the fries is to use butter or olive oil and fry them in a pan until soft, then bake until crisp. Another is to simply bake them in the oven until they are crisp, using no fat at all, or you can add a little olive oil or butter on the pan for taste. When the fries go in the oven, try sprinkling some salt, pepper, chilli pepper, garlic, steak spice, rosemary… any spice or flavouring that you like on them. You could even add some grated parmesan cheese, though with the upcoming level of cheese curds it might not be necessary. Bake them at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until done to your liking.

Options for the gravy include using butter or olive oil as a tasty start; you don‘t have to have fat drippings from a roast. To thicken and add flavour, stir into the saucepan a small handful of flour, about 2 tablespoons (depending on quantity of gravy you are making). If you’d prefer to not use flour, try using another starchy substance, such as cooked lentils or beans that have been mashed a little with a fork. Once browned, thin out the roux (browned flour or other starch) with a little veggie, beef or chicken stock. Use wine, beer, or water if you have no stock. Bring to bubbling while stirring, then simmer and reduce, adding more of your chosen liquid (or now switch to plain water) as you go. During this reduction process, I like to add a good generous sprinkle of pepper. Other spices can be added, according to your taste. Rosemary, garlic, paprika… the kitchen ceiling‘s the limit. Or, just leave it plain, and practice gravy-making to find your own favourite combo!

Poutine, the "UN-Healthy" version. Click to read CTV story...

The fries will take about an hour once in the oven, and the gravy can be re-heated once it’s made, so I would start in on making the gravy as soon as your fries are baking. That way the fries will be nice and hot when it is time to eat them, and that is quite important for full enjoyment of poutine. You can find cheese curds readily throughout Quebec, and in some regions across Canada. However if there are none in your supermarket, there are other options. A white, flavourful cheese is all right to use for this poutine (though purists would argue not.) I have used Edam, or Havarti, or Old Cheddar as a cheese curd replacement in poutine, with similarly tasty results. You could add a nice tanginess by adding some feta or parmesan, if you have it. Lately, I’ve switched to non-pasteurized, old cheddar and the results are excellent. I like to put the cheese onto the fries inside the oven, to melt a little, and even turn a light brown. Again, it’s about options and taste. It’s all up to you what you do with your meal. Some would add the curds and gravy to the fries, stir around so it is a melting mess, others like to layer their food neatly. If you are serving to guests, I would recommend placing the fries on each plate, then adding the cheese, then the gravy on top to melt the cheese a little.

Healthy Poutine. Seriously.

Now that I’ve shared a little dash of this story with you, I hope that you have fun experimenting with taking those traditionally unhealthy treats and turning them into sustenance to truly enjoy!

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