Spice It Up! Boosting Your Health with Ginger

Ginger is sometimes used with cinnamon, but this zesty spice can certainly hold its own. Ginger plants have a rhizome, or a stem that grows horizontally under the ground, and this is the part of the plant that is edible. Like many spices, ginger dates back many centuries as a medicinal spice, primarily to treat gastrointestinal symptoms. It originated in Asia and has been used in Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Middle Eastern medicine.

Ginger is known in herbal medicine circles as a carminative, or a substance that helps to alleviate (ahem) gas, as well as aspasmolytic, or something that helps to relax the muscles of the intestines. Double-blind studies show that ginger is actually better than over-the-counter medicine for relieving the symptoms of motion sickness (especially seasickness) such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and sweating (good to know for anyone embarking on a cruise this winter!). Ginger may help with nausea associated with chemotherapy, as well.

If you know anyone who is pregnant and dealing with morning sickness (technically called hyperemesis gravidarum), you might point her in the direction of ginger root. Research shows that ginger is safer and more effective than antinausea drugs in relieving the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.

Not bothered by motion sickness? Not pregnant? Ginger might still be of help to you. Due to its potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, ginger can help relieve the pain of arthritis by suppressing inflammatory substances that attack the cells in joints. And since all of us are at risk for both the regular and H1N1 flu this season, we’d be wise to consume some ginger, either by eating fresh ginger root or drinking ginger tea. Ginger stimulates the body to sweat more, which, in turn, protects the body from harmful bacteria and viruses (and doesn’t the thought of a hot cup of ginger tea when you’re not feeling well sound good?).

Precautions
Ginger may possibly lower blood glucose levels, but this doesn’t seem to be a primary action of this spice. However, ginger may lower blood pressure, and it may interfere with blood clotting, so anyone taking aspirin or other blood-thinning medicines should be aware of this. Also, anyone with ulcers or inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn disease, should use ginger with caution. Too much ginger may lead to heartburn, GI distress, or diarrhea.

Different Forms of Ginger
Ginger root. Whenever possible, use fresh ginger root, which is readily available in the produce section of your supermarket. Fresh ginger root contains higher levels of gingerols. You’ve probably seen it — it looks like a tan, knobby, twisted root. Choose fresh ginger that is smooth and firm, and store it in your refrigerator. To use ginger root, peel off the skin and then slice or dice the root. Add fresh ginger to stir fry dishes, vegetable dishes, salad dressing, or soup. Just remember that this spice can be quite pungent, so go easy with how much you use. To make ginger “tea,” pour boiling water over a few pieces of ginger root and let the tea steep for several minutes. Remove the ginger pieces and add sweetener, if desired. For an extra kick, add some cinnamon sticks while the tea is steeping, and remove before drinking.

Dried ginger root. Dried ginger root is available as slices of fresh ginger that have been dried. It should be soaked in liquid before use.

Dried ginger powder. Most of us probably have a small can or jar of powdered ginger in our spice cupboards. A quarter teaspoon of ginger powder, or ground ginger, is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger. Always store ginger (and other spices) in a tightly capped container, away from light, heat, and moisture. Dried ginger will last about one year in the refrigerator.

Crystallized ginger. Crystallized ginger is a real treat. This is ginger root that has been cooked in syrup and coated with sugar. One ounce of crystallized ginger contains about 95 calories and 25 grams of carbohydrate.

Pickled ginger. This form of ginger is usually pink or red, and has been pickled in vinegar. It often accompanies sushi dishes.

Ginger supplements. Ginger also comes in tablet, capsule, or liquid form as a dietary supplement. Some sources cite 4 grams of ginger per day as the maximum recommended dose.

More next article!

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Outdoor cooking

A few words on barbecue grills and outdoor cooking

I have been cooking outdoors on barbecue grills for years. Over the years, I have learned a few things about outdoor cooking, and the numerous grills available. I’d like a to share these ideas.

There are 4 grills to use on a regular basis:

1) A standard gas grill with lava rocks that can be used for everyday summer cooking. Although you should prefer the flavor of food done on charcoal or wood, the gas grill is convenient and quick; use it for any type of meat, fish or vegetables.

It is important to have a gas grill with dual burners, and an upper second shelf. The dual burners, because you may be doing 2 or 3 things at once, or may want to cook with indirect heat. The second top shelf is to keep things warm, or for slow cooking of vegetables or potatoes.

Warm up the gas grill about 10 to 15 minutes before start cooking. This insures more consistent results from day to day as the starting heat will be about the same.

2) The second grill is a round, covered, Weber kettle grill; use this for the slow cooking of poultry or roasts – cooking time of 45 minutes or more. Always cook on this grill with indirect heat. By this, never place the item you’re cooking directly over the coals. Normally, use regular charcoal rather than briquettes, but regular charcoal is readily available, and much cheaper than briquettes. Either will work fine. Charcoal gives off a little more smoke, and is easier and quicker to light. It does however burn much faster than briquettes. Sometimes you’ve to supplement the charcoal with bits of wood to give a smoky flavor. Oak, apple, hickory or mesquite all add nice flavor.

3) The third grill is a small, portable, charcoal grill – about 18″ x 12″ (45 x 30 cm) and about 6″ (15 cm) deep, to use for steaks and chops that you want to cook over a hot fire, and directly over the coals. This produces a nice steak or chop with a slightly charred outside. It requires careful attention to avoid burning the outside. The grilling grid is about 2″ to 3″ (5 – 7.5 cm) above the coals. The cooking time is normally very short. Briquettes are the best for this style of grill because charcoal pieces are irregular in size, and produce uneven heat. With briquettes, the heat is even and hot. Do not start cooking until the coals are completely glowing – good and hot; spread the glowing coals evenly to the same area that the food will cover and place the cooking grid in place at least 5 minutes before to start cooking, to get it hot. The advantage of the small grill is that you do not use so much charcoal to produce a hot fire. The bigger kettle grill would use 2 or 3 times more charcoal, and the cooking grid on the kettle grill is several inches above the coal.

4) Finally, the smoker. This is a cylindrical, dome covered grill about 18″ (45cm) in circumference and 30″ (75cm) high. It has a pan for charcoal or wood on the bottom. There’s a pan in the middle for water to help control the temperature and catch the drippings. Then, 2 tiers of grids above that, with a few inches between them. This is not a true smoker, as a true smoker does not cook the food. This type of smoker cooks and smokes at the same time; use it for fish – particularly salmon, poultry and pasta. The process is very slow, 2 to 3 hours or more, but produces lovely results. The pan for charcoal on the bottom tier is dishpan shaped. Modify this because you will find the fire difficult to maintain, so drill 1/4″ holes in the bottom and added a small round grate (purchase at the hardware store) to hold the coals up from the bottom of the pan about 1″. This allows good circulation for the fire.

Start the fire with charcoal. After it gets going, start the cooking- smoking process and add some wood chunks. Same as above – oak, apple, hickory or mesquite. Bags of chips are available at most places where charcoal is available. These need to be soaked in water for about 1/2 hour, or they will burn off right away. The damp wet wood chips smolder on the hot coals and produce the smoke. Also use bigger chunks of apple or oak, about 3″ to 4″. These burn slowly, and add smoke. Add more charcoal and wood chunks as needed to keep the fire going. Add wood chips about every 1/2 hour. Since a great deal of smoke is keep the fire going. Add wood chips about every 1/2 hour. While smoke is emitted, be sure to place the smoker strategically.

Often use 2 or 3 grills when entertaining

  1. The smoker for a smoked salmon starter and smoked pasta (sounds strange but it is wonderful!).
  2. The gas grill for roasting vegetables and/or potatoes,
  3. and additional the portable grill for the steaks or lamb chops. Sounds good doesn’t’t it?

Some things to consider:

Buy good quality grills. Especially the gas grill. Replacement parts will prolong the life of the grill. Replace the burner and grates of the gas grill about every 2 years. Before you buy, look in the owners manual to see if replacement grates and burners are available. With luck you may also find replacement burners and grates at places. The grates of a Weber grill are readily available, and need to be replaced periodically.

The weather can have an affect on cooking time, and time for the coals to get ready for cooking. The cooler weather tends to add to cooking time. The coals do not start as fast, or burn as hot in damp weather. It is difficult to keep a fire going in the smoker when it is cold and damp

Back to Basics: Drying Vegetables 3

Back to Basics: Drying Vegetables 3

Storing

Store containers of dried vegetables in a dry, cool, and dark place. Low storage temperatures extend the shelf life of the dried product. Check vegetables occasionally to insure that moisture has not been reabsorbed. If moisture occurs, reheat the food to 150 °F for 15 minutes, then cool and reseal. If there is any sign of spoilage (off-color or mold growth), discard the food. Recommended storage time is 6 to 12 months.

Cooking

Water removed during drying must be replaced either by soaking, cooking, or a combination of both. Soak root, stem, and seed vegetables for 1⁄2 to 2 hours in enough cold water to keep them covered. After soaking them, simmer until tender, allowing excess water to evaporate.

Greens, cabbage, and tomatoes do not need to be soaked. Simply add enough water to keep them covered, and simmer until tender.

Many vegetables lose their fresh flavor during drying. For this reason, you may add flavoring such as basil, garlic, onions, and chili sauce during cooking to improve flavor.

Dehydrated vegetables are usually not used as cooked side dishes. They are best when used as ingredients for soups, casseroles, sauces, stuffings, and stews. You may use various combinations of dried vegetables, but be careful not to add too much dried onion or garlic.

Try this Cauliflower Trick Instead of Mashed Potatoes

Perhaps you are not big into the “low-carb” movement, but if you have a family member with diabetes or are a diabetic by yourself, simply include more “Super Foods” into your regular meals, here’s a quick and easy way to use cauliflower instead of potatoes with a big meaty meal.  Since cauliflower packs a bigger nutritional punch, it’s a pretty good trade-off for no extra work!

“Mashed” Cauliflower

  1. Steam a head (or less) or cauliflower florets until quite soft.
  2. In a large bowl (the pot you steamed in) combine the cauliflower with ½ cup or so of milk and a few Tbs butter.
  3. Mash with a potato masher on for a few seconds until creamy.
  4. Season to taste.

The consistency is not usually exactly that of mashed potatoes, and I don’t think I’ve ever tried gravy on these, but that’s not saying you couldn’t.  If you season them well, (more butter!) they’re truly delicious and look quite pretty on the plate.  Cheese never hurt a side vegetable, either!
timesaverTimesaver:  If you’re meal planning well, you can use the same steamer basket and water (just make sure you don’t boil the pot dry) to prep veggies for tomorrow’s meal.  For example: You serve your side dish out of the steamer basket one day, and while the family is eating, your pot can be bubbling away steaming a mixed vegetable medley for a casserole or soup the next night, or sliced carrots for baby’s finger foods, or cauliflower for creamed cauliflower on Thursday, or kale to blend into cubes for a green smoothie.

If you’re not big on cutting up the cauliflower;

  1. Scrub the outside of the cauliflower under running water; use a vegetable brush.
  2. It’s easiest to cut the whole cauliflower in half first.  Although you’ll start to lose nutrients as soon as you cut it, you would rather have florets ready to go in my fridge and have vegetables easier to eat.  If we’re not eating them because it’s too much work to cut up each day, that’s no good at all.  Might as well cut the whole thing.
  3. Carve out the large stem and leaves all in one chunk on both halves.  This is happening in my sink because the veg is dripping wet, and this is easier for me.
  4. Then you can cut the cauliflower up into florets, whatever size you want, on your cutting board quite easily.

Are you in for some adventures? You should add to your list of “simple” AND “Nourishing”:

I found a few more great cauliflower side dish recipes – very easy! – at this site.

Other Interesting Posts:

By the way: visit http://www.homestayhongsaeng.com for many more diabetic inspired recipes.

Spice It Up! Boosting Your Health with Black Pepper

Often taken for granted, black pepper (Piper nigrum) is probably one of the most common seasonings used on food and in cooking. It is a pungent spice that comes from the pepper plant, a tropical vine that develops berries known as peppercorns. These peppercorns can be purchased either preground or whole for use in a pepper grinder.

There are actually three types of peppercorns: black, white, and green. They all come from the same plant, but they vary in color based on their ripeness and how they’re processed. For example, black peppercorns are picked when they’re just about ripe. They’re about to turn red when they’re picked, but turn black when they dry out. Green peppercorns, often used in Asian cuisine, are unripe when picked. White peppercorns are ripe and have the outer shell removed. White pepper is often used in food or dishes that are white in color.

Pepper has been a prized spice since ancient Greek and Roman times, where it was used as currency and as an offering to the gods. And not only was it used as a seasoning in food, but it also helped to disguise the taste of rotten meat! Pepper is credited with prompting the Europeans to find a route to India, where the spice was grown, thereby leading to the colonization of India and the exploration of other lands, including America. Today, pepper is grown in various countries, including Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

Health Benefits
Digestion. It may seem odd, but black pepper can promote digestive health. Black pepper stimulates the taste buds, signaling the stomach to release hydrochloric acid, which is needed to digest food. In fact, a lack of hydrochloric acid may lead to digestive problems, such as indigestion and heartburn, and decreased absorption of nutrients.

Gas buster. Another benefit of eating black pepper is that it can help relieve intestinal gas, probably by stimulating the release of hydrochloric acid. (This is good to know with the holidays coming up!).

Antioxidant. Black pepper is an antioxidant powerhouse, containing types of antioxidants called polyphenols. Antioxidants likely help to protect against heart disease, some types of cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. It’s thought that black pepper may reduce the harmful effects of a diet high in saturated fat, and that its antioxidants help support other antioxidants in the body that work to keep levels of cholesterol and blood fats in check.

Cancer fighter. A phytochemical (chemical derived from a plant source) called piperine, found in black pepper, may block harmful substances in the body, preventing tumor cells from growing. In addition, black pepper enhances the anticancer effects of other spices in foods.

Nutrient booster. Piperine helps the body absorb and distribute nutrients throughout the body.

Cold fighter. Perhaps more of a folk remedy, it’s thought that black pepper can ease congestion and treat coughs. Sprinkle some into a cup of hot tea the next time a cold or flu hits you.

Side Effects
Black pepper is a very safe spice to consume when used in usual amounts (the amount that you’d add to food or use in cooking, for example). It’s possible that ingesting large amounts of pepper can actually cause indigestion and should be used with caution in people with ulcers. Inhaling pepper can irritate the lungs and may cause anoxia, a lack of oxygen to the body’s tissues. In addition, black pepper can affect the absorption of some medicines, including lithium (brand names Eskalith, Lithobid), phenytoin (Dilantin, Phenytek), propranolol (Inderal), rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane), and theophylline (Theo-Dur, Respbid, and others), increasing the effects of these drugs. To be on the safe side, if you take any of these medicines, don’t eat pepper at the same time you take them, and don’t use more than one teaspoon of black pepper per day.

How to Use Black Pepper
Chances are you already use black pepper in and on your foods. Try sprinkling some pepper on fresh fruit for some zest. Ideally, it’s best to buy whole peppercorns and grind them just before eating, as preground pepper contains fewer antioxidants. Peppercorns keep for a long time, and if you store extra in the freezer, the piperine content increases. When cooking with pepper, add it at the end of cooking to prevent a harsh flavor. Try white pepper in light-colored dishes, such as mashed potatoes or white sauces. If you’re using a lot of pepper and cooking on the stove, avoid inhaling the fumes, as it can be irritating to your lungs.

By the way: visit the web-site of Homestay Hong Saeng for recipes

Spice It Up! Boosting Your Health with Nutmeg

What is Nutmeg, Anyway?
Nutmeg trees actually produce two spices: nutmeg and mace. The trees, which can grow as tall as 66 feet, are native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia and are part of the “Spice Islands.” Nutmeg is from the seed kernel of the nutmeg fruit, which looks like an apricot, and mace comes from the red, lace-like covering that surrounds the nutmeg kernel. You can buy a nutmeg kernel, which is small, brown, and wrinkled, or you can buy nutmeg already ground.

What are the Health Benefits?
Nutmeg has been used in some interesting ways over the ages. For example, Henry VI apparently had the streets of Rome fumigated with nutmeg before his arrival. In the middle ages, men kept a nutmeg kernel in their armpit to attract admirers (that couldn’t have been comfortable!). Nutmeg has also been used to treat a number of conditions, including the following:

  • Gastroenteritis
  • Dysentery
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Arthritis
  • Muscle pain
  • Poor circulation
  • Toothache
  • Anxiety

Nutmeg is also used in ayurvedic medicine for digestive problems, premature ejaculation, and urinary incontinence. Nutmeg oil is used in some medicines, dental products (it seems to help kill off bacteria in the mouth), and perfumes. As a supplement, nutmeg is available in capsule form, and it is also used in Chinese medicine.

Some words of warning: Ingesting too much nutmeg can be harmful. Nutmeg contains myristicin, also known as methoxy-safrole, a substance found in nutmeg oil. Myristicin has hallucinogenic properties, and may lead to nausea, vomiting, double vision, circulation problems, and psychoactive effects.

The amount of nutmeg that we typically use in cooking or baking is harmless. But ingesting more than two teaspoons of ground nutmeg (or roughly one nutmeg kernel) may cause some unpleasant side effects. Side effects often occur several hours after ingestion. Too much nutmeg can be fatal. Also, nutmeg may interact with antianxiety medications, such as diazepam (brand name Valium), ondansetron (Zofran), and buspirone (BuSpar).

Nutmeg and Diabetes
There isn’t a lot of evidence linking nutmeg to improved diabetes-control, at least at this point. However, in studies done in India with rats, nutmeg extract lowered glucose, stimulated beta cells to release insulin, improved blood lipids, and controlled body weight. This data was presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in 2006. It seems too soon to tell if and how nutmeg might help people with diabetes.

How Do You Use Nutmeg?
If you like nutmeg, it’s best to buy a nutmeg kernel, along with a nutmeg grater (or a rasp-style grater), to grate your own fresh nutmeg. One whole nutmeg yields about 2–3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg. You can test the freshness of your nutmeg kernel by pricking it with a pin. If it’s fresh, a drop of oil should seep out.

As with most ground spices, ground nutmeg loses its flavor over time. Always store nutmeg (ground or whole) in a tightly closed container, away from light. The great thing about nutmeg is that it can be used in savory dishes, such as:

  • Pumpkin and squash soup
  • Greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard)
  • Pasta dishes
  • Cheese dishes
  • Egg dishes
  • Curries
  • Sauces

And, of course, in sweet foods, such as:

  • Pumpkin pie
  • Spice cake
  • Custard
  • Muffins

You might also try a sprinkle of nutmeg on your morning coffee or latte, on eggnog, or in mulled wine, for example. And if you have trouble sleeping, a mug of warm milk with a pinch of nutmeg may help you relax. Remember that a little pinch goes a long way! In general, though, it’s probably wise not to use nutmeg for purposes other than flavoring your food.

Spice It Up! Boosting Your Health with Cinamon

Surfing the web for ideas, I saw that Amy Campbell has just finished writing an article on dietary supplements and diabetes, and it got me also thinking about how certain spices and herbs (including those that we frequently use in cooking) can play a role in our health.  She never really gave much thought to the containers of ginger, cinnamon, or basil that are ingredients in some of her recipes. Using the seasonings lurking in your cupboard may do a whole lot more than just make your food tasty she wrote. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a spice as the following:

  1. any of various aromatic vegetable products (as pepper or nutmeg) used to season or flavor foods
  2. a small portion, quantity or admixture: dash b. something that gives zest or relish

And this is how it defines an herb:

  1. a seed-producing annual, biennial, or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season
  2. a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities

Spices tend to originate from tropical regions and usually have a stronger flavor than herbs. The use of Thai spices has grown over the years. Americans do like their food “spicy” — one study showed that Americans use 3.9 spices, on average, per recipe; by comparison, Norwegians use just 1.6. Using spices and herbs for health and medicinal purposes is nothing new.

The ancient Egyptians used a variety of spices, including coriander, fennel, cumin, and garlic. The ancient Greeks and Romans used hundreds of herbs and spices, as documented by Hippocrates. Of course, back in ancient times, there were no medicines like the ones we have today. But as the saying goes, what goes around comes around — meaning that today, scientists are taking a closer look at what we use to season our food, and learning that those little jars and pots of herbs may actually have health and healing properties. Cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices and a favorite of many to this day. This spice was used by ancient Egyptians for embalming, while people in North Africa, Asia, and Mexico used it for cooking. There are two main types of cinnamon: cassia (the kind most commonly used in this country) and Ceylon, which is more difficult to find. Cinnamon contains essential oils which are comprised of three substances: cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol. Here are a few ways in which cinnamon can be good for our health: Cinnamaldehyde has anti-inflammatory properties and can prevent platelets (a type of blood cell) from clumping together. Cinnamon also has antimicrobial properties, blocking the growth of bacteria, fungi, and yeast. Worried about an upcoming test? Want to stay sharp and alert? Sniff some cinnamon or chew cinnamon gum. Researchers have discovered that the smell of cinnamon helps boost memory and cognition, and they are hoping to learn how this tasty spice may play a role in preventing age-related cognitive decline. Cinnamon is a source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium — essential nutrients needed for bone and digestive health. The medics are still out on whether cinnamon can lower blood glucose; some studies indicate that it’s helpful (and may also lower lipids) while other studies have not found the same results. How to Add More Cinnamon to Your Diet Unless you dislike cinnamon, it’s pretty easy to fit this spice into your eating plan. It can be sprinkled on or mixed in to just about anything: hot and cold cereal, toast, bread or muffin batter, fruit, rice pudding… Other ways to try cinnamon include the following: Sprinkling it on sweet potatoes or winter squash Adding it while cooking lamb or pork chops Stirring it into hot chocolate to make “Mexican-style” hot chocolate Throwing a couple of cinnamon sticks into a mug of warm milk or soymilk How do you use cinnamon? More spices next article!