Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Juice & Smoothie Books & Giveaway

After the indulgences of the holiday season come the resolutions of the new year. And when it comes to food, there's a popular belief that you can atone for the sins of the past with repentance in the form of detoxing, cleanses and juicing. Juice is a delicious thing to drink, but relying on it instead of actual food can be downright dangerous to your health; this isn’t just my opinion, but what nutritionists say—you can read more in articles like Juice Cleanses: Not healthy, Not Virtuous, Just Expensive and Juice Cleanses: Health Hocus Pocus. Also you can't detox your body, it's a myth

I actually love making and drinking juices and smoothies, I just don’t recommend getting caught up in believing they are a cure all or will lead to weight loss. Because they can often be high in sugar and carbohydrates, I think of them more as a treat, to enjoy instead of something like ice cream or frozen yogurt. Juices and smoothies are very easy to make at home and are becoming more and more available on-the-go as well. If you want to incorporate juice in your diet in a short term but healthy way, you might consider Jamba Juice’s sensible 3 day juicing routine, which includes food and juice. 

While I’m not convinced you need a cookbook for making juices and smoothies, here are some recent ones to consider: 

Juice: Recipes for Juicing, Cleansing and Living Well was written by juice evangelists and juice business owners. While the authors say they aren’t doctors or nutritionists, they are proponents of cleansing, which they claim lets your digestive system rest by eliminating fiber. The also say that acidic foods “build up in your system and lead to symptoms of chronic disease" and offer a chart of alkaline and acidic foods.

The juices at their shops and recipes in the book are divided into three categories, greens, roots, citrus and also nut milks. The recipes don’t include calorie or nutritional information which is a shame.They recommend not disposing of the leftover pulp, but provide just two recipes for using it, carrot bread and almond meal cookies. There are healthy smoothies in addition to juices, which they suggest adding to your “cleanse” program. Savory and spicy juices, an odd mishmash of supposedly “cleansing” recipes including Big Green Detox Salad (Dijon mustard is cleansing? Who knew), Warm Coconut Millet Porridge and Halibut in Parchment with Zucchini, Fennel and Capers. Mostly ingredient photos. About 100 recipes. Who’s it for for? DIY cleanse fans. 

Raw Energy in a Glass focuses on super foods and the author is more of a proponent of blending than juicing, which she rightly points out lack fiber and can lead to serious carbohydrate and sugar intake. The recipes have information about which vitamins and minerals you’ll get, but no actual specifics. The recipes use raw, unprocessed ingredients and don’t rely on “protein powder” or other pre made ingredients. Recipes have evocative names like Everything’s Just Peachy Frappe, Go Go Shot, Garlicky Green Giant, Purple Antioxidant Cocktail. The book also has a recipe for vegan yogurt and it is used in some drinks and shakes.

Unlike some other books, the focus of a lot of the recipes seems to be taste. 126 recipes. Some illustrations, not a lot of finished recipe photos (though I’m not sure why you’d need them). Who’t it for? Someone with a blender and a curiosity about super foods, but not a juicing fanatic. 

100 Best Juices, Smoothies and Healthy Snacks subtitled Easy Recipes For Natural Energy & Weight Control  was written by a popular raw and vegan blogger, this book divides recipes in to juices, smoothies, non-dairy "mylks" and mylkshakes as well as energy bars and healthy snacks.

Frankly I’m concerned when someone with no medical background starts giving advice on what’s healthy or promotes weight loss. There is no solid nutritional information with each recipe, just cheerleader speak like “Get energized, nourished and hydrated all in one glorious glass” and anecdotal tidbits like “Ginger has been proven to prevent diseases associated with the liver as well as cleanse the blood." Yikes! That sounds like a dubious health claim to me. Again because there is no real nutritional information or calorie counts, I am wary of the claim that these drinks, some of which are high in fat from coconut, can help you lose weight. The book comes across in a chatty cutesy way. It features very pretty photographs, though do you really need to know what a finished glass of juice looks like? 100 recipes. Who’s it for? Those who have both a juicer and a blender and believe in the benefits of a vegan diet.

Giveaway! I am giving away a copy of Raw Energy in a Glass  and a Jamba Juice gift card worth $50 to use on their bottled 100% cold pressed juices to enjoy on the go or at home including Orange Reviver, Tropical Greens, Citrus Kick and Veggie Harvest.

In order to be considered to win, please leave a comment telling me what your favorite juice or smoothie combination. You must have a US mailing address to win, and you must include your email in the appropriate field when you leave a comment (your email will only be visible to me). One entry per person. I will choose a winner at random, Friday, January 9, 2015.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Jamba Juice for providing the gift certificate and to the publishers who provided review copies of books. I was not monetarily compensated for this or any other post. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Search for General Tso: Movie Review

New Year’s Day is a traditional time to go see a movie, but if you can wait a little longer, I highly recommend checking out The Search for General Tso, which begins a theatrical release as well as being available on video on demand January 2nd, 2015. It’s a documentary about the origins and popularity of General Tso’s chicken, a dish that has practically become as American as apple pie. But even if you know the basics about the dish—where it came from and why it’s named after the general—this documentary is well worth watching.

The film covers Chinese immigration to the US, a bit about Chinese American culture, Chinese American food and has interviews from noteworthy authors and Chinese food experts like Fuchsia Dunlop and Jennifer 8. Lee (author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles and also producer of the film) and iconic restaurateurs including Philip and Cecilia Chang, Michael Tong of Shun Lee and Chef Peng, who actually originated the dish. 

It’s a very entertaining film, but it also touches on more serious topics like authenticity, discrimination and politics. It’s about a dish that’s popular in the US, but the filmmakers travel to China and Taiwan to get the whole story. The movie is full length, but fast paced and there are fun little animated bits as well. Just plan on going out for Chinese food afterwards, because I can guarantee you will be craving it after seeing the film! 

A side note, many people may know about the tradition of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas, but this year some really wonderful articles covered the phenomenon in detail. I particularly enjoyed reading Why Do American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas? in the The Atlantic and also The War on Jewish Christmas Must Be Stopped in Washington Post.

Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Culinary Reference & Resource Books

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Flavour Principle  but I've decided it's a keeper. Each chapter has a different flavor profile—bitter, herbal, smokey, eatery, sweet, spicy etc. The first page of each chapter has a list of ingredients that typify the flavor so for example next to earthy you get potatoes, beets, mushrooms, eggplant, black beans, truffles, leeks, bison, etc giving you a preview of the recipes. There are drink recipes and full menus that emphasize the flavor. The menus each have a theme like Sophisticated Vegetarian Dinner, An Argentinian Odyssey or Icewine Extravaganza. Yup, this is a Canadian book and the authors are the weekly food columnist and wine and sports columnist for The Globe and Mail. 

There are also drink pairings for most of the dishes and a discussion as to why it pairs well. There are lots of added features such as how how to flame an orange peel, glassware 101, a primer on different kinds of curry (Indian, Thai, Malaysian and West Indian) and how to compose a cheese plate. The book is well over 450 pages so there is no skimping on information, discussions of wines and cocktails or photographs. The recipes are great, but I think it’s also a wonderful reference book because of the wine pairings and flavor profiling. Some sample recipes? Watermelon Gazpacho, Shaved Cauliflower and Swiss Chard Curry, Sweet Spicy Garlic Chicken, Tea Smoked Salmon, Hazelnut Meringue Roulade, Caramel Pecan Popcorn.

After reading about The Flavor Thesaurus  on Dianne Jacob’s blog, I immediately purchased a copy for myself. It’s not a traditional cookbook, nor is it really a thesaurus. The book begins with a flavor wheel, it outlines flavors much like The Flavour Principle does—for example Earthy lists mushrooms, eggplant, cumin, beet, potato and celery. Then in the Earthy chapter there are listings for each of those ingredients. The listing pairs the ingredients with other ingredients. So for example with eggplant you get an introduction to the ingredient then listings for eggplant & bell pepper, eggplant & chili, eggplant & garlic, eggplant & ginger, eggplant & lamb, eggplant & nutmeg, eggplant & prosciutto, eggplant & soft cheese, eggplant & tomato and eggplant & walnuts.These are interesting pairings but perhaps not as groundbreaking as I was hoping. 

Of course some chapters do have more unusual pairings such as rhubarb & cucumber or goat cheese & chocolate. With some of the pairings there are recipes written in an informal way, but not as a general rule. The book reads like someone’s kitchen notebook with lots of trivial about ingredients and recipes. It’s not as useful as The Flavor Bible, but it’s an interesting book nonetheless. 

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is a follow up to The Flavor Bible, a book I use frequently when creating recipes, so I was excited to learn that Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg were publishing a vegetarian version. If you grew up like I did, eating vegetables steamed and plain, this book will be a revelation. It takes hundreds of vegetarian ingredients and outlines the season they are available, their flavor, their volume, their nutritional profile and calories, techniques used to prepare them, tips and botanical relatives. Then comes the fun part, a list of ingredients that they pair well with, some notable dishes from restaurants using the ingredient  and “flavor affinities” that combine 3 or more ingredients. 

There are also some great quotes from and interviews with chefs and some surprises too like seasonal guides and information on some crucial vegetarian cooking tools like the Vitamix and spiralizer and the primary ingredients of different cuisines. If you want to create your own recipes using vegetarian ingredients this book is simply a must have. 
The Kitchen Decoded is organized by cookware, tools and appliances and is intended to help less experienced cooks figure out how to use that KitchenAid mixer or what too cook in a Le Creuset dutch oven. Those brand names and several others feature prominently in the book. It’s got a lot of really solid basic recipes that frankly, you can probably find elsewhere with the exception of the baked goods. There are recipes for things like Black Bean Patties, Mussels with Sausage, Guacamole, Whole Roasted Chicken and Coconut Rice but since one of the authors was a bakery owner, you’ll also find about a dozen Buttercake Bakery recipes for things like pecan snowball cookies, brownies, cheesecake, and coffeecake. 

This book would be particularly good for someone setting up a kitchen or registering for wedding gifts and is wondering how they will use some tools. But I do disagree with the usage of some appliances, for example I’m not convinced you need a food processor to combine the lime juice, jalapeƱo, garlic, tomato, onion and cilantro for guacamole, likewise I wouldn’t bother using a food processor for making biscuits. 

Disclaimer: Some of these books were review copies, this post includes affiliate links

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

English & Italian Candy for the Holidays

I think of Halloween as the official beginning of the candy season. We are in the midst of it now, and it goes through Valentine’s Day and Easter. Because I’m a sweetie, I shared my most recent candy samples with my sugar tooth sister and her candy crazed clan.

English Candy 
Fiona’s Sweetshoppe started out as an actual candy shop. It was a tiny spot in downtown San Francisco where my husband always held out hope there might be an orange cream bar waiting for him. Now Fiona’s is selling speciality candies from England and while the shop is closed, the candy is much easier to find.

Here’s what my sister had to say about them:

Licorice Allsorts
"I love black licorice, and these are a nice mild version that even people who aren't fans of licorice would like. Soft, mild, leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth."

Sherbet Lemons
"If Zotz and lemon drops were combined, what a wonderful world it would be. Love them. Could be a little fizzier, but yummy anyway. Does not have the typical lemon drop scratchy texture on the outside. Kind of a smooth sandy texture outside, it feels much smoother in the mouth than an American lemon drop. Then a layer of hard candy with a fizzy filling inside. Happiness that comes in lemon flavor!"

Strawberry Bonbons
"These were the most unusual of the bunch. Crumbly pressed powdered sugar texture with a hard chewy center. Not very identifiable strawberry flavor, but not overly sweet either. Package says toffee, but there was nothing toffee about it. More like Starburst or Hi Chew texture, but I think Brits call anything chewy like that toffee. N. said it was kind of like fondant. Powdery and chewy at the same time."

Jelly babies
"Strange texture. Kind of like soft cartilage. Not really chewy, and they had a dried outside that made them seem stale even though they weren't. I was not a fan. No particular flavor, and no difference in flavor between the colors. I'd choose gummy bears or swedish fish over these guys. Best comparison - stale turkish delight." I'll just add, despite not being anyone's favorite, they still got eaten.

Italian Candy

Pastiglie Leone is a candy maker that dates back 150 years. The company is known as "The King of Sweetness." What started as a small confectioner's shop in Alba has become a major enterprise, offering treats using many of the same recipes of the past. Their candy is available at AG Ferrari.

Regal Torino hard candies are wrapped in colorful, old-fashioned paper. There are a total of fourteen flavors, including pear, peach, strawberry and anise. My sister the licorice lover was a big fan of the anise flavor and also said her family particularly enjoyed the apple, quince and mandarin. These are not your run of the mill hard candies.

Fruit Pulp Cubifrutta (fruit jellies) These square jelly candies are covered with sugar and come in a mix of flavors, including apricot, peach and pear, and are made using all natural ingredients. They are very sweet! But my sister said they were very good and extremely popular with her kids. They also come in wild berry and citrus flavor collections.

Baratti & Milano is a famous chocolatier from Turin, a city famous for both coffee and chocolate. Their candy is also available at AG Ferrari.

Giandujotti This little triangular hazelnut chocolate treat comes wrapped in foil. The richness of the hazelnut complements the chocolate and creates an ultra creamy texture. The foil makes them feel a bit elegant and they are available in bags or gift boxes.

This very well known chocolate maker from Perugia is famous for their “baci’ or kisses.

I’ve been a fan of baci with crunchy hazelnuts in them and topped with a whole nut, since I tried them when I worked in a gourmet shop. Now Perugina is offering bars in both milk and dark chocolate. Of course, I prefer the dark but it has a layer of creamier lighter chocolate on top so you get the dual textures. My sister felt they weren’t quite the same as the original baci, but other than the fact that they don’t have the whole nut to bite into, the flavor and texture is very similar.

Guido Gobino
This is one of the most luxurious brands of chocolate in Italy. Their chocolates are hard to find and very special.

Giandujotto from Guidio Gubino are absolutely exquisite, not for kids but for connoisseurs. They use the finest quality hazelnuts and chocolate crafting confections by hand that are unbelievably luscious.

Even more amazing than the giandujotto are the cremino al sale. These delicate square are milk chocolate with hazelnut paste, a bit of Italian olive oil and a touch of sea salt. Well worth seeking out. You can buy them individually at CocoaBella in the shop, or choose them when putting together a box selection online.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Fiona's Sweetshoppe, AG Ferrari and Perugina for providing samples and CocoaBella for inviting me to a tasting in their shop. I was not monetarily compensated for this or any other post.