Fight Fire With Fire?

Have you ever noticed that the spiciest cuisines come from the warmest places? It’s true. Look at Mexican food. Or Indian, North African, Thai. They all use the hottest spices. Why would they use so much piquant spices when they live in such a hot climate?

According to Binghamton University professor Michael Pettid it derives from the Asian concept of balancing one’s life force.

“In East Asian cosmology, the idea of regulation of one’s ki (or chi, life force) is vital to overall health. Food is an important means to keep one’s ki properly attuned to the external environment. The practice of eating spicy or hot foods on hot days stems from the belief that one’s ki is cool in the summer and to bring that in balance with the external environment spicy/hot foods should be eaten.”

But it turns out that it’s more than just a phiosophy, it’s also medical science. Spices like garlic, ginger and peppers increase the circulation of the blood. And that, according to Columbia Univesity professor Dr. John Thomas Pinto, helps cool you down.

“If you affect blood flow, that might also affect heat exchange in the body to allow sweating. Evaporation [of the sweat on skin] causes cooling.”

A favorite dish in Korea on the hottest days of the year is steaming chicken soup. Mexicans in the height of summer eat chili peppers like carrot sticks. Cumin and corriander are common spices in Indian dishes where the weather is almost always warm.

So, don’t be afraid of that hot broth or spicy enchilada just because the weather in warm. You might find it cools down The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

Egg Substitutes Have Limited Uses

With all the talk about health and contaminated eggs, some of you might be looking to egg substituteseggbeaters as an alternative. Because these mostly egg white products are pasteurized, they won’t be contaminated with salmonella, as some eggs are now. These products have been touted as healthier for a long time because they lack the fat and cholesterol of egg yolks. Then again, whole eggs have nutrients that those substitutes don’t have. And those nutrients can be good for you.

We’ll take real eggs every time. While the taste of egg substitutes aren’t bad in some applications, if you’re looking for an omelette or scrambled eggs, the real thing works best.

But we do have to say that if you’re making a custard, quiche, egg casserole or something like that, the egg substitutes can work well. They save a lot of time in beating and mixing eggs or in baking.

Why, you may ask, don’t we recommend egg substitutes for things like scrambled eggs? Because they have a tendency to separate into grainy particles that are very unappealing. Another thing I don’t like is the addition of all the other ingredients to make these product shelf stable and not as ugly as plain egg whites. We can’t stand egg-white only omelets or egg dishes because they look and taste terrible. Unless you eat eggs every day, you shouldn’t have any health problems from eating eggs. But always consult with your doctor or a nutritionist.

A Good Snack

Perhaps you’ve heard this before. If you’re looking for a healthy snack idea, here’s a great one. It takes only a few minutes to make and it never lasts long in our house.

It’s hummus. hummus4This ancient dish has been around in the Middle East and Southern Asia for centuries. But if you buy one of those expensive tubs of the stuff in the grocery store, you should be forced to run 10 laps around that store. It’s so easy to make, there’s really only one excuse: no food processor or blender.

Without these tools, making hummus is a bit of a chore. And you never get the consistency you want. It can be done, of course. People were doing it without electricity for hundreds of years. But it’s a bit of work.

So, we’re going to assume we’re all in the modern era and have some sort of chopping or blending device around the house. Let’s gather together the ingredients in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

Hummus is essentially a chickpea diphummus-for-real. You can adjust the taste according to what you like: more garlic, less olive oil, whatever. Just load the stuff up in the food processor and let it go until you get the consistency and smoothness you like. And it’s easy to make in large batches for a party.

While you’re at it, you can also make your own pita chips. They’re baked, not fried. That means all of this is a lot healthier for you than almost any other snack you can name, especially the ones you pay all that money for in the supermarket.

It’s best to start on the pita chips first because they take a little longer. Preheat the oven to 350°F and get out a cookie sheet. Get a package of pita bread, or pocket bread it’s sometimes called, and cut the rounds into eight wedges. You can stack them up to do it quicker, just keep it to about 4 or less at a time. Lay the wedges in a single layer on the cookie sheet, keeping just a little space between each one. You’ll have to do it batches, so that’s why we start on this first. Pop the sheet in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Test them for crispness. Don’t leave them in too long, they become so hard you can’t bite through them. Take them out just when they start to get stiff. Let them cool and then put them into an airtight container. I like a zipper storage bag.

While those are in the oven, get the hummus ingredients together.

  • A 15 oz. can of chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans. If you can’t find them in the canned beans section of the store, look in the ethnic food aisle. In my house, I get two cans, it goes that fast.
  • Extra virgin olive oil. How much? Depends on your taste and the quality of the oil you have. The stronger the flavor, the less you’ll want to use. You can also use regular olive oil or even some other oil, like the manufacturers do. But the flavor changes, so keep that in mind. A milder oil will yield a milder flavor hummus. I’d start with about a quarter cup per can of beans. But keep the bottle handy, you may want to add more.
  • Lemon juice. And don’t go cheap and buy one of those disgusting little plastic lemons. I’ll admit, sometimes lemons are amazingly expensive out of season. In a pinch, you could use bottled RealLemon juice, but you’re really better off just buying a single lemon. It may cost a dollar, but the taste difference is profound.
  • Garlic. If you like the taste of roasted garlic, take a few heads and put them in foil and stick them in an oven (about 350) for a half hour or so until the whole house smells wonderfully garlicky. You should do this the night before or earlier in the day so they have a chance to cool to room temperature before you squirt the contents into the work bowl of the food processor. If you use fresh, unroasted garlic, be sure to chop it fine first. Four or five cloves should do it, but you can use more or less according to your taste. Using garlic powder in this instance is not cheating and may actually work better.  About a full heaping teaspoon is where I would start, less if you don’t like garlic breath.
  • Cumin. I love this spice. Not only does it add a marvelous fragrance to the dish, but a little bit of a spicy kick that compliments the garlic perfectly. I usually start with about a half-teaspoon and then see what it tastes like.
  • Other spices you might like, such as paprika, basil, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon. Think aromatic spices over peppers, although a little heat won’t hurt. Use small amounts at first, maybe just a pinch or two at a time. Remember, you can always add more but you can’t take it out.

You’ll notice my measurements are not exact. This just isn’t an exact science. This is one of those dishes you just have to taste as you go and adjust accordingly. If you use your taste and your heart as well as your brain, you’ll do just fine.

  1. First open the cans of beans. Get out your stainer or collander and a mixing bowl. Pour the cans into the strainer which should be over the bowl to catch the liquid. Normally, I don’t save the liquid from a can of beans because it’s usually yucky. But in this case, it might come in handy. Set the bowl of liquid aside and rinse the beans in the strainer under cold running water. Do it thoroughly.
  2. Dump the beans, garlic, oil, cumin and other spices into the food processor. Add the juice of one lemon. Remember to hold your hand under the lemon to catch any seeds. Don’t be afraid to use your hands, they’re the best cooking tool you own. Now add a couple tablespoons of the bean liquid to the whole thing. Apply the lid and let ‘er rip. No need to pulse here. Just let it run until the mixture looks mostly smooth. Taste. Very important that. Adjust accordingly. You may need to add more oil, a bit of salt, a few grinds of black pepper or whatever you think it needs. If it’s too thick, add a bit more of the bean liquid. Run the food processor a bit more until it looks like a thick milkshake. And there, you’re done.

Wasn’t that easy?  Now your pita chips should be ready. So transfer the hummus to a bowl or plastic container and start dipping. Chickpeas are very healthy. Sure, the pita bread adds a bit of fat and carbohydrate, but you can also use crackers, vegetables or tortilla chips. It’s a good snack.

High-End Hipsters Hype Java Joes

You may have noticed that coffee prices have gone up recently. Also you may have noticed that few people just drink a cup of coffee anymore. They are ordering all sorts of coffee drinks from all over the world.

Not only has ordering coffee become more complicated, so has making it. Gone is the trusty bubbling coffee maker many grew up with. Today even the device that replaced that, the drip coffee maker, is turning up on fewer and fewer kitchen counters.

In fact, much of the conversation around coffee is sounding more like wine talk. And there are more options in the stores, helping to bring that gourmet coffee experience into our homes.

One new trend that’s been developing for several years is the coffee subscription. We at The Bachelor’s Kitchen had tried one of those several years ago. The first step was to fill out a survey which asked about how you liked your steak, your taste in chocolate, the type of coffeemaker you prefer and your coffee drinking habits. Then a blend and roast are selected for you and shipped to your home. The selection we received wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my favorite roast.

But times have changed in recent years. Modern coffee subscriptions are a far cry from generic coffee-of-the-month clubs. Some only ship whole bean, some only ship their own brand and others are city-specific. But whether they organize their services based on farmer, roaster, brewing method or location all coffee subscription services offer expertise and unburden consumers from having to make every decision. San Francisco-based Blue Bottle coffee is one of the only services that provides a range of brewing-based subscriptions. Blue Bottle offers a rotating selection of four coffees for drip, French press and moka pot coffee makers that customers receive once a month.

Newcomer subscription service Craft Coffee has baristas “cup” (or taste) around 40 coffees a month from dozens of roasters and ultimately picks three coffees to send to their subscribers. Founder Michael Horn didn’t intend the company to be a subscription-only model, but after speaking with customers in cafes who were overwhelmed by the amount of choices, he saw the potential in the recommendation aspect of subscription services.

“A lot of people are intimidated by coffee and there is this desire to be guided. The subscription service comes out of a desire to give that guidance and to guarantee that people will get the best coffee every month.”

Along with beans, customers also receive tasting notes and brewing tips in each package — a feature that other services like Toby’s Estate include as well.

And for customers who aren’t ready to make the jump to grinding their own beans or unplugging the Mr. Coffee? Several subscription services, including Craft, do offer a pre-ground option for greater accessibility, but they agree that getting customers to take the next step in home coffee preparation is one of their goals. Paul Maciesz of Craft says,

“We have this vibrant community of coffee drinkers and we want to engage in conversation with them at all different levels.”

Sharing the Goodness

One of the challenges for single cooks is how to make a small amount of food when most recipes are scaled for several more people. Our answer in The Bachelor’s Kitchen is to go ahead and make enough for several meals that can be kept in the fridge or frozen for later eating.

But a recent article in The Atlantic magazine gave us another great idea. The story by Emily Badger featured a new operation in New York City, allowing people to share meals with complete strangers. meal-swapIt’s called Mealku. Some of you may be familiar with neighbor meal swaps. This is the same idea, but can be performed across a whole city with people you’ve never met.

Mealku founder Ted D’Cruz-Young used bicycle messengers to deliver the meals between thousands of families around New York. This allows some homes to get a free meal once a week while supplying someone else with the same on some other day of the week. It’s part of a growing trend of groups of people, often strangers, sharing something instead of buying it.

“There are fundamental connections around food we’d like to remake, fundamental connections around commerce and engagement, around participation,” says D’Cruz-Young, a 43-year-old former advertising creative with a Scottish accent and a taste for African peasant food (so says his Mealku bio).

The idea turns your leftovers to someone else’s fresh dinner. After all, no matter how tasty your food might be, you don’t want to eat it every night.

mealshare1How can you do something like this? Easy. You can start by getting together with co-workers or friends and start your own meal sharing group. Draw names and then find out what the other person likes and tell them what you like. Then let the fun begin. Pick a day to cook and a day to receive. It could open a whole new world for you. It’s like dining out without going out.

Trick Your Cart

A lot of people think losing weight is a simple matter of pushing away from the table. But those of us who’ve had a lifelong battle with our bellies know it’s not that simple. We try diets but end up feeling deprived in a world of riches. We try exercise but never seem to find the time. We try to eat healthier but find our budgets just don’t extend far enough. We try accupuncture, hypnosis, support groups and even surgery. Sometimes these things work. Most of the time they don’t.

But I support whatever works for you. Recently, I saw this little story about a way to trick people into buying more healthy food.

Designating a part of a shopping cart specifically for fruits and vegetables boost purchase of these healthy foods.

Okay, this sounds interesting, tell me more. This is from

Researchers from New Mexico State University‘s College of Business used a strip of duct tape to make a line through the middle of shopping carts in a Las Cruces, N.M., grocery store. They also posted a sign on each cart that recommended that fruits and vegetables be placed on one side of the line. Shoppers who had one of the special carts bought 102 percent more fruits and veggies than those who had regular carts.

Despite the change in shopping habits, the special carts didn’t change the amount of overall money the shoppers were spending.

While this study could be probably be used to help make America less fat, we suspect, instead, we will soon see a Coca-Cola section in our shopping carts.

That last bit is way too believable. What if we designed new carts with separate sections for various types of food? This would have limited space for processed food and soda. What do you think?

Kudos for Artichoke Farfalle

Sometimes we just can’t resist taking a bow when it’s due.

If you haven’t check out some of the recipes here on The Bachelor’s Kitchen, please do. One recent entry is receiving high praise on another website. We couldn’t resist sharing them.

These are recent reviews for our Farfalle Pasta with Artichoke Hearts from

From 3boysnagirl in South Bend, Indiana, five stars:

“Pretty much just followed the recipe as is, though I did add some grilled chicken (which I marinated in the juice from the artichokes). And I used pecorino romano cheese instead of parmesan because that’s what I had on hand! Really good and even my very picky-eater kid like it!”

From Marianne, five stars:

“The only thing I did different was to use fusilli rather than farfalle because that is what I had on hand and needed to use up (sorry!). This was very tasty. I think that the next time I will grind some of the walnuts fine and then leave some chopped. I highly recommend using freshly grated pecorino romano cheese. This was pretty much cool by the time I served it, and all I know is that hubby wanted more—-a sure sign of a keeper in this household. Thanks so much for this recipe!”

From Dogrescue, four stars:

“Yum, James. 🙂 Good recipe with minimal changes. Instead of draining the marinated artichoke hearts liquid, I used it all up in addition to the evoo. I had a bunch of grape tomatoes, so I cut them all in half, rubbed with a wee bit of evoo, sprinkled a bit of salt on them and roasted them for a few minutes. It really brought a nice sweetness with their natural sugars. I also chopped some Kalamata olives which bring that great savory/salty bite. This was really good James!”

Kind of makes you want to try it, doesn’t it? Well, go ahead and click on the link above or go to our Recipes page and check out that and other good recipes.

The Rise of Veganism

Veganism is growing. This form of vegetarianism is catching on not just for political reasons but for health as well. What is veganism? It means you eat nothing that comes from an animal. So, that’s not only avoiding meat, but also eggs and dairy.

Vegans have had a bad reputation. They’ve been seen as extremist who look down on the rest of us meat-eaters. They also look down on leather, wool, fur and anything else that comes from an animal. But as this trend is growing, some of the attitude is declining as well.

The one area that still needs improvement is at restaurants. Recently, health and wellness expert Kathy Freston wrote about her experience.

“I went out to dinner last night with friends and came home fairly hungry. If you don’t count the bread I tried not to eat too much of and the olives from my martini, or the little side dish of steamed vegetables, there wasn’t much I could call a meal. I scanned the menu for anything that I could eat, but all I saw was lobster, lamb, fish, steak, chicken, veal, pork, and pastas that had any combination of the aforementioned meats with cheese or cream. Nothing for me but the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Plate.

“I would SO love a hearty dish with a center of the plate protein, with some TLC from the chef — i.e. sauces and garnishes — to make it just as fulfilling as the meat and dairy dishes. I would pay good money for it! And I know a lot of other people would too — and not just vegan people.”

I also have noticed the lack of real vegetarian dishes on most restaurant menus. I’ve also noted that lack at many a backyard barbecue. Too often the fare for those who don’t eat meat is just a collection of side dishes. I’ve also noticed that too many vegetarians are looking for meat replacements like veggie burgers and fake bacon. This is the wrong approach.

We need to be looking at vegan and vegetarian dishes with the same gusto as applied to meat. As Freston put it:

“A meal that looks like what everyone else is enjoying would be so, so gratifying and appreciated! And there are so many ways to make a meal with a vegetarian protein using Gardein (looks and tastes like different meats, high protein, low fat and is available through distributors like Sysco and US Foods ), seitan (wheat protein … made into cutlets or strips), lentils, beans, tofu, chickpeas, tempeh or other high-protein meat alternatives. And on a business note, the profit margin is greater as plant-based protein is cheaper than animal protein, and is how many other cultures get protein.”

So, restaurants, chefs and home cooks need to take another look at vegan and vegetarian meals. When I lived in Chicago, there was a great vegetarian restaurant call The Chicago Diner. They had a five bean chili that was really good. I’m also a big fan of the Moosewood Restaurant’s vegetarian cookbooks. Businesses are coming around, but slowly. Freston says one of her favorite restaurants was a steakhouse. She kept requesting something she could eat other than that grilled vegetable plate. The restaurant, reluctantly at first, took a fish meal and converted it to tofu. When Freston asked how it was doing the manager replied, “I’m shocked, but it’s flying out the door!”

People are eating less meat these days, and that’s a good thing. But you don’t have to settle for a bunch of side dishes. You can have hearty, protein-rich, plant-based food.

Take It Slow, Even In Summer

For many people, slow cookers are for soups, chilis, stews and chili-cheese dip at a party, usually during the cold weather months. But slow cookers are great to use in the summer, when you’d rather be out doing things and the electric bill is soaring.

Choosing appliances for a small kitchen is always tricky. You have to make some careful decisions about appliances based on what you really use, how much counter space you have and whether you have space to store the ones you can’t keep on the countertop.

For my money, a slow cooker is a useful appliance. Although it’s not usually worth keeping on the countertop all the time, it is worth finding some storage space for when you’re not using it.

First, let’s talk economics. Slow cookers, regardless of size, use very little energy, only pennies of electricity per hour. This is way less than a full size stove, microwave or convection oven.

Second, let’s talk heat. Yes, these things do get hot, and will warm your kitchen a little. But compared to what the oven or stove put out, it’s nothing. However, if there are children around, you should keep them away from the cooker just as you would a hot pot on the stove. The sides of the cooker will get pretty hot.

Third, let’s talk time. Lots of people look to slow cookers as a busy-workday sort of thing. Put everything together in the morning before you leave for work and have dinner waiting for you when you get home. But it’s also great to use on the weekend. Got a busy day of errand running planned? just throw the stuff together in the slow cooker and off you go. Many of the units today have timers, so you don’t have to worry about them burning or overcooking your food. Some are even programmable to not only kick down to a warming mode after a set time, but to go from high to low — a very valuable feature.

While we’re on the subject of time, add an hour or two to what the recipe says for cooking. You want the cooker to go to the warming mode about an hour (or more) before you’re ready to eat. Otherwise, the food might be way to hot. Remember my resting rule. Always let cooked food sit and rest for a little while before serving or eating.

There are tons of recipes for slow cookers. In addition to things like soup, you can bake, braise and steam. Sometimes, a little ingenuity is required, but a little thought or a mistake or two and you’ll pick up quickly on what you can and cannot do in your slow cooker.

I’ve made a very successful meatloaf in my slow cooker. Also a roasted chicken. But if you don’t want them swimming in grease, save some old tuna cans to use as supports to keep the food out of it. A slow cooker is perfect for braising meats, like beef or pork for ribs, barbecue or roast. It does things like pulled pork or chicken or Italian beef very well.

But did you know you can bake in the slow cooker? It’s great for cobblers, puddings, even cake. Just remember that the outer ring will be a bit more done than the center.

You’d be surprised what this thing can do. Check out a slow cooker cookbook from the library or look at some recipe collections online. Of all the appliances you can have around, but not use every day, the slow cooker is one of the most useful.

How Easy It Is

We were thinking the other day in The Bachelor’s Kitchen about how easy it really is to come up with a delicious, satisfying and even healthy meal in no time with things you have on hand. PotatoLeekSoup-LeeksPotatoesAt the farmers market, we had purchased some leeks, an ingredient we love to use in The Bachelor’s Kitchen. There were some potatoes we purchased for something else that never got made. Suddenly, the idea of our favorite potato leek soup came to mind. And we were off.

We could have tried to find our recipe, but instead we decided to wing it. Taking our soup pot down from the shelf, we light a low fire under it and began peeling and chopping potatoes and leeks.

We add some olive oil to the pot and add the leeks, slowly sweating them with a pinch of salt. As they soften, we add a couple tablespoons of flour and get all the leek rings coated and turning a little brown. Chicken broth is added and the chopped potatoes. We topped off the pot with some water to make it more soup-like. Once the potatoes were soft, we added two cups of milk, lots of ground pepper and some dried herbs. Another hour of slow simmering and it was ready.

It was that easy. So you have no excuses.