Stephen’s TipoftheWeek – Making Baked Potato in the Microwave

Making Baked Potato in the Microwave

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Bruschetta Margherita w/ Spring Vale Sorrel Vinaigrette

Bruschetta w Spring Vale Sorrel Vinaigrette2

Ingredients:

  • ½ baguette French bread or similar Italian bread
  • 2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • cheddar cheese, cut into thin strips
  • Dried basil (fresh if availble)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Spring Vale sorrel vinaigrette
  • cooking spray

Method:

  1. Slice the french bread on the diagonal, about ½ in. slices. Spray both sides with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet.
  2. Toast bread slices in an oven under high broil on each side for 2-3 minutes or until it just begins to turn golden brown.
  3. Remove and layer on tomato, cheese, top with black pepper and basil and return to over for another 2 minutes until cheese begins to melt and tomatoes wilt gently.
  4. Remove and drizzle with Spring Vale sorrel vinaigrette. Enjoy immediately.

Serves 2-3 as an appetizer, or 1-2 for brunch/lunch. 

My take on a classic bruschetta margherita is as simple as Italian food gets. Bruschettas are usually finished with a drizzle of a fine olive oil. But after having stumbled upon on a locally produced vinaigrette, I was super excited to see how it would fare.

sorrel sepal A member of the Hibiscus family, sorrel is a shrub which bears small pink flowers. However, it is the fleshier sepals which turn red when the plant matures, usually between November and December, that are harvested and used in many dishes worldwide. Just for some perspective, Jamaican sorrel (roselle, or hibiscus sabdariffa) is unquestionably symbolic of Christmas on our island. Kitchens across the full length and breadth of Jamaica are stained with the characteristic crimson colour and  perfumed with ginger and fine Jamaican rums which usually accompany this delicious drink with a distinctive, delicate flavour.

Sorrel has transcended the conventional Jamaican spiced drink and has made its way into many scrumptious culinary creations. Some of my favourite include sorrel cheesecake (yum!); sorrel jam (chutney), good for spreading on crackers or in a sauce; and sorrel tea – which I first discovered while I was living in Colombia, where it’s called “flor de Jamaica” (translated Jamaican flower). My newest favourite? The star of today’s recipe of course; a delectable 100% Jamaican gourmet sorrel vinaigrette by local Jamaican manufacturer Spring Vale.

Spring Vale flavoured vinaigrettes: June Plum; Sorrel; and Guava

Spring Vale flavoured vinaigrettes: June Plum; Sorrel; and Guava

I first came across the product line – which consists of three flavours: sorrel, guava, and june plum – on a stroll through MegaMart (a popular Jamaican supermarket chain). Gazing through the aisles, my bestie Corve and I were immediately drawn to what we thought was a very modern, pretty product design. We had no idea what it was, let alone that it was locally produced. The moment we realised that this was a Jamaican product it was in the shopping cart. It looked that good. We decided to just get one – the guava – and try it out before we snatched the other two. But as fate would have it, a few days after, Corve happened to meet the lady behind the pretty bottle. I received a call that night from a super excited Corve who was overwhelmed to share that he was chatting with Ms. Sandra McLeish, Managing Director of Spring Vale, at Chefs on Show at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. (Check out Spring Vale’s facebook page and twitter). He handed her the phone and I shared a quick review of the product design with her. At that time I still had not gotten around to tasting the product so I really couldn’t comment on that. But after telling her about my food blog , she was pretty happy to pass on a complimentary bottle of my choice. I chose sorrel and I have no regrets. The distinct yet distinguishable delicate sorrel flavour came through with an intricate mix of tang and sweet. The vinaigrette, both product and packaging, truly matched that of international standards and could undoubtedly compete with top brands. It pleases my heart when I see local products on the supermarket shelves worthy of being chosen over an international competitor. I’m sure you guys will agree with me that this is a sexy bottle. Rarrr

Spring Vale Sorrel Vinaigrette

Ok, I admit, I’m getting a little carried away so let’s refocus a little on the overall dish. As a Jamaican, I really did not grow up with a sound concept of small bites. You see, the typical Caribbean folk likes their food pretty bold; in both flavour and size. Caribbean cuisine rarely takes on the minimalist, clean aesthetic that many other international cuisines – such as Japanese and Italian – are known for. I admit I love bold flavours: I am pretty known by my closest friends for employing many different herbs and spices in my cooking. But I’ve come to appreciate and laud modern, minimalist cuisines. This dish was pretty simple, but very tasty. The bread was just a few hours old, toasted to a crisp golden brown; layered with slices of perfectly ripened tomatoes from dad’s home farm; topped with cheddar cheese melted to gooey goodness; and finished with a sprinkle of fragrant dried basil. And to push the dish into overdrive, a careful drizzle of sorrel vinaigrette. The perfect bite.

Bruschetta w Spring Vale Sorrel Vinaigrette

I’m elated to see what delights the other flavours will inspire so check back soon.

One love,

SC

All Hail the Kale, Queen of the Greens!

curly kaleThere has been much chatter about kale. A form of cabbage with green or purple leaves, this nutritional powerhouse has much to boast about, and it makes no excuses. After a recent post incorporating kale into a smoothie, I decided to pay this leafy vegetable some overdue attention and dig deeper into its hidden secrets. And boy was I impressed! I’ve always heard about kale in many of my hours spent being hypnotized by Cooking Channel or Food Network, but never thought that kale would be available yet affordable in Jamaica. I was even more shocked when I found out that a friend of mine’s dad grew kale in his back yard in the country. 

Varieties

Also known as borecole, kale is available in curly, ornamental, or dinosaur varieties, and is hands down one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet. The beautiful leaves of the kale plant provide an earthy flavor and more nutritional value for fewer calories than almost any other food around.

Curly kale has ruffled leaves and a fibrous stalk and is usually deep green in color. It has a lively pungent flavor with delicious bitter peppery qualities.

Ornamental kale is a more recently cultivated species that is oftentimes referred to as salad savoy. Its leaves may either be green, white, or purple and its stalks coalesce to form a loosely knit head. Ornamental kale has a more mellow flavor and tender texture.

Dinosaur kale is the common name for the kale variety known as Lacinato or Tuscan kale. It features dark blue-green leaves that have an embossed texture. It has a slightly sweeter and more delicate taste than curly kale.

Health Benefits

So, what really is all the hype about? Let’s see (adapted from MindBodyGreen.com)

1. Kale is low in calorie, high in fiber and has zero fat. One cup of kale has only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. It is great for aiding in digestion and elimination with its great fiber content. It’s also filled with so many nutrients, vitamins, folate and magnesium as well as those listed below.

2. Kale is high in iron. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef. Iron is essential for good health, such as the formation of hemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function and more.

3. Kale is high in Vitamin K. Eating a diet high in Vitamin K can help protect against various cancers. It is also necessary for a wide variety of bodily functions including normal bone health and the prevention of blood clotting. Also increased levels of vitamin K can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Kale is filled with powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as carotenoids and flavonoids help protect against various cancers.

5. Kale is a great anti-inflammatory food. One cup of kale is filled with 10% of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acids, which help, fight against arthritis, asthma and autoimmune disorders.

6. Kale is great for cardiovascular support. Eating more kale can help lower cholesterol levels.

7. Kale is high in Vitamin A.Vitamin A is great for your vision, your skin as well as helping to prevent lung and oral cavity cancers.

8. Kale is high in Vitamin C. This is very helpful for your immune system, your metabolism and your hydration.

9. Kale is high in calcium. Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk, which aids in preventing bone loss, preventing osteoporosis and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Vitamin C is also helpful to maintain cartilage and joint flexibility

10. Kale is a great detox food. Kale is filled with fiber and sulfur, both great for detoxifying your body and keeping your liver healthy.

Whew, that’s a pretty big shoe to fill! For those of  you thinking about incorporating kale into your diets, here are a few suggestions:
Selecting and Storing

Look for kale with firm, deeply colored leaves and moist hardy stems. Kale should be displayed in a cool environment since warm temperatures will cause it to wilt and will negatively affect its flavor. The leaves should look fresh, be unwilted, and be free from signs of browning, yellowing, and small holes. Choose kale with smaller-sized leaves since these will be more tender and have a more mild flavor than those with larger leaves. Kale is available throughout the year, although it is more widely available, and at its peak, from the middle of winter through the beginning of spring.

To store, place kale in a plastic storage bag removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. Store in the refrigerator where it will keep for 5 days. The longer it is stored, the more bitter its flavor becomes. Do not wash kale before storing because exposure to water encourages spoilage.

Preparation Tips

Rinse kale leaves under cold running water. Chop leaf portion into ½” slices and the stems into ¼” lengths for quick and even cooking.

To get the most health benefits from kale, let sit for a minimum of 5 minutes before cooking. Sprinkling with lemon juice before letting them sit can further enhance its beneficial phytonutrient concentration.

NB: For maximum flavour and nutrition, kale is better steamed. Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. While waiting for the water to come to a rapid boil chop greens. Steam for 5 minutes and toss with your choice of dressing and optional ingredients. 

I am excited to see what new recipe ideas I will come up with. I’ll be sure to post them so check back regularly. In the meanwhile, you can check here for some amazing recipes (images below) or scour the internet at your own will.

One love,

SC

ShakeItUp – Berry Kale Smoothie w/ Flaxseeds & Goji Berries

Kale-Blueberry Power Smoothie

This concoction came about after deciding to pick up kale in one of my supermarket runs with bestie Corve. I’ve always heard about the much-acclaimed superfood and decided I would buy it then try to come up with a recipe. Even though I had originally planned to use in a cooked dish, it ended up in one of my throw-in-what-you-have smoothies.

berry kale smoothie

To my pleasant surprise, it was super tasty. And no doubt super nutritious! With co-superfoods flaxseeds and goji berries, this is as good as it gets! A sprinkle of cinnamon rounded out the flavours pretty well while adding yet another healthy dimension to the mix. Shockingly enough, there was no need for sweeteners.

PhotoGrid_1365437346841

Try it and let me know what you think.

One love,

SC

 

(Re)gaining Control – Be the Boss of your Palate and Ultimately your Health

okra pumpkin eggplant

Okra, Pumpkin, and Eggplant, chopped and awaiting their fate. #eatclean

There’s an old adage that food is the language of love. Whilst this may be true, there’s an even greater truth to be had: food in itself is a language; and one that needs to be understood and appreciated in order to partake in the conversation.

Let’s skip back to as recent as a few years ago when I really didn’t think twice before chowing down a combo from the country’s most popular fast food chains. You know, jumbo fries, soda, mayonnaise and all. Oh yea, and extra bacon. Gotta. Have. Bacon. Why did I do it? Well, apart from the convenience and (then) affordability, it’s really what I felt for. Yup, some call it cravings, but now in retrospect I call it ignorance. Ignorance of an undiversified, uneducated, and undisputedly limited palette. You see, by limiting – however involuntarily it may seem – your palette’s exposure to foods, we are really doing our body – and health – an injustice: we limit our body’s ability to develop the language to communicate with our mind properly. I find (as Jamaicans?) we are very (too) conservative in our meal choices. We get way too squeamish, way too easy, way too often. I have one bit of advice for people like this: don’t bash it till you’ve tried it at least once. You might just discover your newest favourite dish or ingredient. Trust me on this.

Even though everyone will have a different take on the language of food, there are some key things that remain across board. Along my journey to explore the depths and heights of my palette while eating healthily, I’ve learnt a few things:

  1. Eat with an open mouth and open mind. Remember, bash not till you’ve had it at least once. Your immune system is mostly likely stronger than you think. 🙂 I am not saying to go about shoving every ill into your mouth, but if the only thing stopping you from trying it is a fear of going against the conventionality of your current diet, then by all means stuff your face with that curried turtle (Tobago) or those crunchy, nutty fried ants (Colombia). #yum 
  2. Try to discover, and possibly incorporate into your own food preparations, at least one new ingredient every month. This could range from as simple as a newly discovered spice (for example annatto seeds) or as bold as a new meat (like the abovementioned turtle.)
  3. Cook for loved ones. And aspire to inspire them with your new-found healthy takes on common dishes. NB. You might want to take it slow as not all will be as receptive as you’d hope. Don’t take it too serious though. They’ll warm up. Cooking for loved ones is more than proving your culinary prowess; it’s an opportunity to get a first hand experience at the remarkable power of food to bring people together, inspire collaboration, and form the beginning of many indelible moments.
  4. Discern the difference between eating to stay alive, and eating to, well, enjoy life. And to be healthy of course. If we slow down a bit and be mindful of what we put in our mouths we would probably be a little more cautious of the harms that are masked behind convenient, tasty, and cheap. There are many times when I’ve had to spend a few extra dollars because I chose water instead of liquid sugar (aka soda) – something I am yet to fully understand the economics behind. Or when I’ve had to pay the same price even when I didn’t take those fries or soda. Or the fact that salads almost always are the most expensive items on a menu, quantity to cost ratio respected.
  5. Become fascinated with everything food; it’s journey from farm to plate; everything in between and thereafter. Stay hungry for more knowledge. Lose yourself in the warm embrace of your kitchen (or in a good restaurant, depending on the day). Thirst for more. And more. And when you’ve think you’ve had enough, travel. You can’t possibly try every thing in your lifetime so there’s always a stone left unturned.
  6. Do you. Understand how the body, your body, responds to what it is fed. Now I am much less tolerant to carb-loaded meals and sugary drinks. I respect vegans, and as much as I’ve upped the vegetable ratio in my meals, there is no way I am prepared to give up meat. Not because I can’t, but because I don’t want to. Quite frankly there isn’t any reason to. But let’s not get too deep into this matter; that’s for another post.
  7. Get into a fitness/workout routine. I know, I know…this may sound easier said than done, and  I know most of you will immediately think you don’t have the time, or resources. But trust me, you don’t have to break the bank and join a top-notch gym, or wake up 2 hours earlier than normal to get a “proper” workout done. All you need to do is do something, and do it at your own pace. Oh yea, and try to stay committed. This may mean waking up half hour earlier to go jogging, walking to work instead, taking (an extra trip up and down) the stairs, bruk out, eh hem, eh dance to your favourite songs; whatever it takes to get your heart rate going. Now the fun part is that after you’ve started this, and if you’re any good to yourself, you will automatically begin to eat more consciously. Why? Well, for the simple fact for not  undoing the hours (minutes?) of gyrating or jogging that you gave so much willpower and time to. It’s like a chain reaction on your way to healthier, better, you.

Setting the honesty gauge to 100%, there are times when I crave the unhealthiest of things – things that have brought me pleasure in my past soda-drinking, white rice-eating life. But now I understand what those foods are, and what they do, and that maybe, just maybe, there something in that pile of loaded potato skins that my body needs.

Understanding your body and eating healthy isn’t just for those who want to lose weight or want to be part of a fitness fad. It’s much more. Think of it as another level evolutionary sophistication: knowing that you are now able to crave something else other than “comfort food”. Or better yet, that you are able to make an actual meal other than dunking something in the deep fryer.

What are some of the benefits I’ve seen personally? Well, for starters, 30+ pounds lighter; three official 5K runs averaging 30 minutes (pretty good for a one who had no prior engagement with physical activity yet alone running) with another 3 in mind before summer comes around; a renewed sense of health and fitness including my new addiction to running (we’ll get back to this later); a wealth of knowledge on food and it’s powerful ability to shape your life’s path; free products courtesy of my food blog; new and exciting friendships; and countless unforgettable moments, just to name a few.

Remember, you are what you eat.

One love,

SC.

fruit salad