Indigestion Relief = Plums + Nutmeg

Plum Brand

There comes a time in September when you can buy bulk fruit on the cheap in large baskets, crates, or whatever massive bin imaginable (yes, I’ve even seen fruit measured by the wagon-ful and then tugged away). In my mid-Atlantic region, the market stands usually then have mounds of peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, apricots, and other fruits of so many different varieties and colors. This year, I decided to bet on the plums. As others fought and negotiated over the Galas and Granny Smith’s, I thought that the dark plums deserved some wooing, so I paid about $1 a pound for a large basket full of the plushy stone fruits.

Once back in my kitchen, and simmering on my stovetop, the sight of rising steam and sensations of stewed fruit smells reminded me of being back on the farm in France. Once the black currants ripened and harvest continued throughout one week in July, continuous pots of jam were made to sell throughout the year. As laborious as the process was, the pleasant aromas and filling jars was an overly rewarding to experience, preserving ripe fruit with lots of nutrients and flavor, to be spooned onto bread, ice cream, roasted meats, and other food companions.

Plums are perfect to use to make compote as you can easily remove the skins and seeds, and the volume of juice from the fruit makes the final product an easily spreadable and versatile mixture. Plums are scarcely found in recipes or restaurant menus, so make this compote for a healthy, homemade fruit delicacy—a indigestion relief delicacy! There are many properties of plums that aid your digestive system, such as the compound sorbitol and fiber. Spices can enhance the compotes flavor and laxative benefits. So plums, meet nutmeg.  Nutmeg is the seed of a type of evergreen tree, and pairs so well with the fleshy fruits. Sprinkling grated nutmeg onto your food will help relieve you from stomach aches as well as other digestive discomforts. Seems like these two musky tree branch sprouts need to make an amazing compote together!

Plum Compote with Nutmeg

modified from Gourmet Magazine’s “Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Plum Pluot Compote” (September 2009)

  • 6 pounds plums
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice, separated
  • 1 tablespoon grated nutmeg

Peeled plums

  1. Place plums in a large bowl, or two medium sized bowls. Boil water in a kettle or a saucepan, and then pour over the plums. Allow to sit for at least 3 minutes.
  2. One by one, take plums out and peel off their skins. Remove their seeds and cut into quarters. Place fruit segments in a large saucepan.
  3. Add the sugar, zest, and lemon juice to the fruit. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Simmer until fruit begins to fall apart and liquid is slightly syrupy, about 30 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg. Transfer to a bowl to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate until the compote reaches room temperature.
    Simmering Plums

Plum Final

As skinning and pitting the fruit takes time, I suggest making this recipe on the weekend or during an open evening when you want to spend time at home. This recipe is also great to make with a friend or the family, and then the compote can be shared among the helpers. I suggest serving warm on cake or ice cream, or room temperature on Pumpernickel Sourdough bread, baguette with butter, or on yogurt with granola. Bon ap, to digestive health!

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Strong Bones = Sunflower Seeds + Coconut

Halva BrandLooking for just a little bit of sweetness? Just a few bites at the end of the meal to satisfy the need that your sweet taste bud receptors keep sending your brain? I had vegetables, meat, bread, cheese… now, just a little sugary something! Don’t worry, I found a great fix for you (and me)!

I remember living in France with a family of farmers and herders, and they often served dessert after lunch. I was not used to this cultural culinary routine, but I asked for something light, as I didn’t want to feel weighed down for the rest of the day’s work. I have to go bail the hay and weed the fields—I just want a candied or honeyed spoonful from someone’s plate, really. Soon enough, though, they fed me halva, the sesame seed spread that is sweet and crumbly but chewy at the same time. I love it! What a discovery! Everyday, I would want to slice it in the tub like fudge, place it on my plate like a delicate piece of white cake, and eat it bit by bit, savoring the dry creaminess (if that exists), like a graham cracker crust for a pie. Now that I’m in the States and trying to eat healthy while having a 9-5, I should make my own! It’s easy to pack for lunch or eat as a small dessert after dinner before the nightly trip to the gym.

A found a gluten-free recipe in the Simply Gluten Free magazine, which is also online at Lexie’s Kitchen. She writes that her recipe is like a peanut butter spread, but after making the recipe, I found my version to be a lot more crumbly; it’s not a spread, but still a very healthy topping. The main ingredient is shredded coconut, which is rich with calcium and magnesium. If you remember from grade school, your bones store calcium. We need to keep up our calcium intake if our bones are to retain enough for itself and the rest of the body’s functions. Magnesium works in tandem with calcium in the bones, acting as a crucial force in building up mineral density levels. Let’s have a diet full of calcium and magnesium, so that our bones are healthy and strong! Sunflower seeds are another source for magnesium and other minerals that our bones cherish. So coconut, meet sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are completely and utterly moonstruck by coconut’s high calcium content, ready to unite and task our bones with building up their mineral reserves!

The base for Lexie’s Kitchen’s spread also has sunflower seeds, so I ended up following her recipe verbatim with a little less sugar to get my crumbly topping-like snack. Here’s what to do:

Coconut Halva 

Modified from “Peanut-Free ‘Almost Like Peanut Butter’ Sunflower Coconut Nut Butter Spread”

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp superfine or granulated sugar
  • 2 cups finely shredded desiccated coconut, unsweetened
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Toasted Coconut

  1. In a frying pan, toast sunflower seeds over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the majority of seeds are golden in color. Remove from heat and transfer to blender or food processor.
  2. Add sugar to sunflower seeds. Set aside.
  3. Add desiccated coconut to frying pan. Over medium heat warm coconut flakes until heated through and some of the shreds are golden in color. Stir constantly! Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Blend sunflower seeds until a fine powder forms.
  5. Add coconut oil and blend again, pausing to scrape sides as needed.
  6. Add 1/3 of the toasted coconut. Blend for about 15 seconds, pausing to scrape sides as needed.
  7. Repeat step six, adding half of the remaining toasted coconut. Then repeat with the last of the toasted coconut.
  8. Once all coconut has been incorporated, add salt and blend to achieve desired smoothness, about one minute more.

Sunflower Field

Since a diverse diet helps the body find a positive nutritious balance, I suggest storing the Coconut Halva in the fridge so that it can last for at least a week or two. Serve on rice crackers or on fruit to stick with gluten-free a dish, or spoon onto bread (as I do for a taste of France!), rice puddings, ice cream, oatmeal, or just right into your mouth! For the locavore, sprinkling over Ginger Boiled Pears from Daily In-a Kitchen makes for a lovely, fragrant dessert! Bon ap, to strong bones!

Photo courtesy of Flickr member AndyH68; “Sunflowers 1, Languedoc”

Iron = Clams + Parsley

Clams Brand

If you’re looking for local or regional seafood anywhere up and down the East Coast, then clams are a dependable menu item. Whenever I go to the seafood counter at Whole Foods, there are at least two types of clams arriving from waters within 100 miles. Hidden under layers of cubed ice, I uncover them, like brushing aside sand to discover unknown wonders at the beach. Clams come in different sizes and color, each one being a personal treasure find—each one heavy, keeping within its shell, a delicate life.

This precious mollusc is not only vital to water systems, they are crucial additions to our healthy diet. Clams are one of the best sources for iron. Clams are also easy to get, not expensive (mine are usually about 2 for $1.00), unlikely to be contaminated, and farming them does little ecological damage. Clams are basically just a pure health winner. Leafy greens are also champions of iron. Clams deserve the best selection, which I think is parsley. So clams, meet parsley! Remember this: parsley has double the amount of iron found in spinach. So sprinkle parsley all around your chopped clams, and combine to make bites of iron-packed goodness. If you share the recipe below among four people, everyone should get about 100% of their daily need of iron. Hurray!

When deciding which type of clam to get, my heart set on Cherrystones as soon as a saw how thick and tough their shells were. I knew I need clams that could be chopped up and baked, so these tough cookies could handle the heat. The cracks between the two shells looked pretty obvious on most of them, so I hoped that shucking the oysters would be easier (for you, too!)

Clams in Sink

Baked Clams with Parsley

modified from: Williamson, Cici. “Baked Clams on the Half Shell.” The Best of Virginia Farms: Cookbook & Tour Book. 2008.

  • 12 clams, 2-3 inches in diameter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. Wash the dirt off the clams and leave in the sink. Shuck the clams over the sink or on a cutting board, if that’s more comfortable. Pour the liquor (clam juice) into a small bowl, and place the clam in a mixing bowl. Once all clams are shucked, coarsely chop the clams and add back to the mixing bowl; set aside.
  2. Place 24 shells on a baking sheet; set aside.
  3. Preheat over to 450°F.
  4. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until very light brown, about 1 minute. Add crumbs, parsley, lemon zest, and cayenne pepper. Heat, stirring constantly, until bread turns brown.
  5. Stir bread mixture into clams; toss well. Add about 1/2 cup of the clam liquor to the mixture; toss well. The mixture should be smooth and easy to stir, like hot oatmeal. Add more liquor as necessary.
  6. Stuff shells with the clam mixture.
  7. Bake clams 13-14 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Shucking

Open Clam

Clam Shells

As you can see, there is no need to add salt as the clam liquor is already very salty. Serve with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs for color and juice to lighten up the clam mixture. Don’t be afraid to try shucking if this technique is new to you (it’s easy once you get your knife into the clam, and such a beautiful sight once opening the shells for the first time!). Bon ap, to iron!

Antioxidants = Fennel Seed + Fennel

Fennel Brand

Fennel just isn’t offered enough. I rarely see the fragrant vegetable on restaurant menus or in the prepared meals section of grocery stores. It’s sad to see that fennel has gone to the black books. I’d think that chefs would love to incorporate fennel more into their dishes—easy to cut, cooks quickly, adds lots of flavor, all three parts (bulb, stems, and fronds) are edible, versatile, and so incredibly nutritious. Oh well, it’s all Greek to me!

Fennel has an important history in Europe, as the plant is indigenous to the Mediterranean. Nations around the continent planted and cultivated fennel to use it for a variety of purposes, including warding off witchcraft and medicinal reasons. Poets, philosophers, and other specialists wrote about how fennel provides us with strength and courage. From Spain to Sweden, fennel was a super star. What happened?

I’m letting fennel share the limelight in my diet now, as among it’s many medicinal powers, fennel has antioxidants to help prevent free radicals from crippling our cells. The phytonutrient called anethole provides the strong wall in blocking carcinogenesis, when regular cells become cancerous ones. In order to really get a supersaturated serving of antioxidants in the bag, fennel needs a sidekick. So fennel, meet fennel seeds. The fennel bulb is not the same plant as seeding fennel, although they are related. Fennel seeds have a similar background, coming from Europe, and was also used for medicinal purposes, such as an appetite suppressant. The antioxidants kaempferol and quercetin protect us from cancers, especially with the help of added fiber that the seeds contain. Let’s get fennel out of the doghouse and into our lives! With fennel seeds, this dynamic duo will get us into the pink of good condition… Euro-style.

Fennel Prep

Sautéed Fennel with Fennel Seed

modified from Sautéed Fennel with Lemon and Pepper.” Cooking Light. Sept 2007.

  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 small-medium fennel bulbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. To prepare fennel, cut off all of the stems so all you have is the bulb. With the bottom of the bulb on the counter, and the longer length of the bulb going from front to back, slice from top to bottom. In each half, cut out the center, almost like coring an apple. A larger chunk should be taken out from the bottom as this part is closer to the root, taking less out from the center as your knife moves up the bulb, almost forming an upside-down V. Once cored, slice the bulb into 1/2-inch slices.
  2. Cook fennel seeds in a medium frying pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat. Crush with a mortar and pestle, coffee/spice grinder, or by rolling a wine bottle over the seeds on a flat surface.
  3. Combine fennel, crushed fennel seeds, fennel fronds, salt, rind, and pepper in a large bowl.
  4. In the same frying pan, add oil and heat over medium heat. Add fennel mixture and partially cover with a lid. Cook for about 6 minutes, stirring 3-4 times, until the edges of some of the fennel slices brown and the fennel slices look soft. Serve immediately.

Start using fennel instead of celery in your recipes, especially if you find it at your farmers’ markets. This dish can share the plate with plenty of other options, such as smoked salmon, sausage, hearty breads, or polenta with tomato sauce. Bon ap, to antioxidants!