Immune Function = Sourdough + Spelt Flour

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The cooler weather is arriving on the East Coast. This change is seasons brings about beautiful scenery and refreshing winds—both of which please the senses. This change also brings about more responsibility, though; I’ve been bringing inside my container plants from the balcony, closing the windows, and making use of my new wool coat with knit trimmings. I take care of the household first, but I still must make my own health a daily priority. It’s not difficult, and there are no excuses for making the necessary adjustments. I mean, if trees can drop their leaves and the regrow them all over again, not to mention more than the previous year, then I think I can merely maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid any threats from old man winter. We all must take precautions, and be proactive.

Enter: comfort foods! These sourdough buns will take the stage, taking the spotlight for your healthy meals. Half of the flour is all-purpose flour, and the other half of the flour is organic spelt flour. Spelt has been used for centuries and provides a lot of health benefits. I’m keen on it’s high zinc content. Two ounces of spelt flour (or just about 1/2 cup of spelt flour) already contains about 16 percent of your recommended daily value. Sourdough helps us to absorb all this zinc. So spelt four, meet sourdough. Sourdough naturally has lactic acid, which makes conditions ideal for the appropriate pH levels that allow the enzyme phytase to excel. Phytase dissolves phytates, thus freeing up more minerals for our bodies to take up, such as zinc. We must have zinc to help our immunce system fight off infections. So let’s try to stave off the winter blues, and use our baking skills to help us stay rosey cheeked and bushy tailed!

Thick Sourdough Buns

modified from “Sourdough Buns;”

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/sourdough-buns-recipe

  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup water, approximately
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup dried whole milk or Baker’s Special Dry Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups organic spelt flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • cornmeal (for dusting)

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  1. Feed sourdough starter and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 3 hours.
  2. Measure out the needed amount for sourdough, then place “mother” sourdough back in fridge (I store mine there and use/feed at least every two weeks). Mix all of the ingredients together—by hand, mixer, or in a bread machine or food processor—just until the dough comes together (it will remain slightly sticky and soft). Knead for about 3 minutes, then turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Roll the dough approximately 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick. Cut it into 6-8 circles, 2 1/2-3 1/2 inches in diameter. Remember to dust your cutter with flour so it doesn’t stick to the dough.
  4. Dust a baking sheet or burger bun pan with cornmeal. Place each piece of dough on your sheet, spreading them out evenly; sprinkle the tops with cornmeal. Cover the buns and let them rise for 40 minutes.
  5. Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven for 25 minutes, or until they’re lightly browned top and bottom. Remove them from the oven. After cooling for 10 minutes, place buns in a cooling rack.

photo 2 (1)Feel free to experiment with the flour measurements. There is a risk, however, with adding more spelt flour and taking away all-purpose flour: your buns may not rise as much since spelt flour is a whole wheat flour.

I like to serve these buns for assembling sloppy joes, especially since lamb and beef are also good sources of zinc (over-achiever alert!). Use for breakfasts, too, by topping with poached eggs or spreading on butter and homemade jam. Open-faced sandwiches would be delicious, too!  Bon ap, to healthy immune function!

PS – Wine note: these buns are thick. Have a heavy wine partner that just as full and round, such as a White Rhone, California red Zinfandel, or Australian Syrah.

Anti-Inflammatory = Red Bell Peppers + Spinach

Torte Brand

I respect and appreciate French cuisine—that’s a fact. It may be because French was the second language that I learned, or that I first watched Julie & Julia with my mom and we have even since shared a special love for Julia Child’s whimsical flare. Actually, maybe this factuation grew as I volunteered more and more at a culinary school founded by a Frenchman and based on French culinary techniques, or just simply because I enjoy French wine with French cheese and baguette. Who knows! Whatever the reason(s), exploring healthy baking recipes based on classic French creations and ingredients is always an extreme delight.

I had a pack of puff pastry in the freezer, so I found a recipe, originally by Michel Richard, that called for using this pack as well as wholesome vegetables, fresh herbs, and some of my CSA bounty. Feel free to make your own puff pastry for this recipe, but I’ve learned from other trained chefs that using frozen puff pastry is nothing to be ashamed of if short on time, energy, or the interest to make it from scratch. I modified the recipe to clarify the directions and reduce some ingredients that have high saturated fat contents.

The vegetables used for this tourte are the perfect match to help promote an anti-inflammatory diet. Red bell peppers are rich in Vitamin C, making these peppers one of the best sources for this essential nutrient. The antioxidant properties and flavonoids in such foods help protect the body from free radicals, a result that has anti-inflammatory benefits. A plant showing dark green colors are also packed with Vitamin C. So red bell peppers, meet spinach. Spinach is an excellent source of Vitamin C as well, and has several flavonoids to battle inflammation. Furthermore, research shows that spinach leaves contain glycoglycerolipids, which helps protect the digestive tract from unwanted inflammation. In the tourte, we are also minimizing omega-6 oils and saturated fats while adding herbs to assist the vegetable couple in providing anti-inflammatory benefits!

Tourte Milanese

modified from

  • 1 pound puff pastry, chilled

For the Eggs

  • 10 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh tarragon
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the Filling

  • 6 large red bell peppers
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds spinach, trimmed and washed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 8 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
  • 8 ounces smoked ham, thinly sliced
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt

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Preparing the Pastry:

Generously butter an 8 1/2-inch springform pan. Cut off one quarter of the pastry, cover, and set in the fridge. Roll out remaining puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface to a 1/4-inch thick round. Carefully fit the pastry into the pan, pressing to get a smooth fit, nearly reaching the top of the pan around the edges. Place pan in fridge and take out the small piece of pastry that was already placed inside the fridge.

Roll out the smaller piece of pastry until it is 1/4 inch thick. Cut out an 8-inch circle of dough for the top of the tourte and lift it onto a plate or baking sheet. Cover both the lid with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Save the scraps and put them in the freezer! Take out for another use by thawing in the fridge, sprinkling with grated, sharp cheese for a savory pastry or cinnamon and sugar for a sweet pastry, shape into a twist or other shape, and bake. An easy way to quickly make a crispy, simple treat!

Making the Eggs:

Whisk eggs, herbs, salt and pepper together. Melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat and pour in the eggs. Gently but constantly stir the eggs around in the pan, pulling the eggs that set into the center of the pan. Slide the eggs onto a plate, without mounding them, and cover immediately with plastic wrap.

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The Filling:

Peppers: place whole and untrimmed, directly over the flame of a gas burner. As soon as one portion of a peppers skin is charred, turn the pepper. When black and blistered all over, place in a plastic bag and seal. After about 15 minutes, once cool, use your fingers to rub off skin. Cut each pepper once from top to bottom, cut away the stem, open the peppers, and lay them flat. Trim away the inside veins and discard the seeds; season peppers with salt and pepper. Cut flat peppers into thirds, and set aside, covered, until needed.

Spinach: cook in a large quantity of boiling salted water for 1 minute to blanch it. Drain spinach in a colander, rinse with cold water, and press it to extract all of the excess moisture (you may need to allow it to cool for a few minutes if still to hot for your hands). Heat the oil, butter, and garlic in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add blanched spinach and sauté for 3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and add a little whipping cream. Bring quickly to the boil and stir so it mixes with the spinach. Remove the spinach from the skillet with a slotted and set aside.

Assembling the Tourte:

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the pastry-lined springform pan from the fridge and layer the filling ingredients in the following order: half the eggs, half the spinach, half the cheese, half the ham, and all the roasted peppers, laid flat. Continue layering in reverse order—ham, cheese, spinach, and eggs. With each layer, make certain that the ingredients are spread to the edge of the pan. Fold the excess crust in over the filling, and brush the rim of crust you’ve created with the egg wash. Center the rolled-out top crust over the tourte and gently push the edge of the top crust down into the pan, pressing and sealing the top and bottom crusts along the sides. Brush the top with the egg wash and cut a vent in the center of the crust. Use the point of the knife to etch a design in the top crust, taking care to cut only halfway into the dough. Chill the fully loaded tourte for 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.

Baking the Tourte:

Place the tourte on a rimmed baking pan, give it another coat of egg wash, and bake it for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until puffed and deeply golden. Remove from the oven and let rest on a rack until it reaches room temperature. Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan and release the sides.

spinach leaves

Notice how we’re using salt and pepper at each step in the dish. In order to properly season your food, practice seasoning as you cook for best results. You usually end up using less salt all together, as cooking with salt distributes its effects better than sprinkling on top of your food later. Taste as you cook, too, adjusting according to your tastes. Once finished, the first cut into this pie will make your elbows flap and toes wiggle, seeing the vibrantly colored layers that pay homage to Italy’s flag (shhh, don’t tell France). Bon ap, to anti-inflammation!

Photos courtesy of Flickr member faria!; “spinach leaves”

Sleep = Sweet Potatoes + Soy Sauce

Sweet Potato Brand

As a certified wine specialist, passing the Advanced Level Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exam, I’m always up for trying new blends and interesting pairings, broadening my experiences and culinary adventures. The first rule in pairing wine with food is simple: texture. Never mind the flavors, types of meat, season, or occasion; you must first think about the weights and feel of your food and beverage. For this reason, full-bodied Chardonnays classically pair with lobster and creamy sauces, medium-bodied Pinot Gris pairs with steamed salmon fillets, and light-bodied Grüner Veltliner with grilled butterflied trout.

After receiving sweet potatoes in my CSA lot for the week, I decided that these intensely flavored and hefty tuberous roots need some strong partners to get the complexity I want for my dish. Apples and winter spices are obvious additions, but I want to up the ante. I researched sweet potatoes to find out more about their health benefits no narrow down my ideas. These starches are very good sources for Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, etc.; moreover, sweet potatoes are proud producers of properties that our bodies register as sleeping aids. Eating this complex carbohydrate signals our body to produce more serotonin, which gives us that sleepy feeling. Sweet potatoes also have tryptophan, which when digested, can help our bodies alleviate insomnia, anxiety, and depression. This essential amino acid is found in other protein-based foods. I thought that out of all the possible protein-based choices, soy sauce would be a challenge. So sweet potatoes, meet soy sauce! One tablespoon of soy sauce already has nearly 10% for your daily value need for tryptophan. This salty-sweet combo is just what I want to see on my plate for dinner!

Soy Beans

Tabasco and Sweet Potato

Dreamy Sweet Potatoes

modified from “Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes.” The I love Whole Foods Market Cookbook. October 2011.

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco, or other hot sauce
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (do not use a silpat or other non-stick baking mat as the temperature is too high, although I do recommend these for kneading dough or baking at temperatures under 400°F).
  2. Wash potatoes, leaving on the skins.
  3. Using a fork, poke holes in the potatoes and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until you can easily insert a knife into a potato, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cut in half lengthwise. Let rest until cool enough to handle, at least 10 minutes.
  4. Increase oven temperature to 450°F.
  5. Scoop out the inner flesh of the potato once cool, leaving about a 1/4-inch rim along the potato skin. Add the butter, soy sauce, honey, cream, and hot sauce. Stir to combine. Spoon the sweet potato mixture back into the skins and return to the baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tops brown slightly. Serve warm.

These sweet potatoes are slightly spicy, so adjust to your tastes. Dress your potato halves with dried fish or sesame seeds for an added tryptophan kick.

Since I started this blog writing about wine, I feel that I should add a wine pairing. My taste buds sense a creamy and richly flavored forkful of soft fluff when I eat these sweet potatoes. The wine to wash it down should be equally luscious and strong. I recommend a Viognier from Australia or USA as the notes of ginger and tropical fruits will balance out the heat and match the sweetness from the dish, or young Spanish red (from Rioja or Priorat). Bon ap, to sleep!

Photos courtesy of Flickr member: Veganbaking.net; “Black soybeans”

Iron = Sourdough + Molasses

Yes, I love sourdough. When I lift up the lid to the crock pot storing my starter, there’s a smell of fermentation and other processes transporting me to the behind-the-scenes walks around a brewery. And then when the starter is added to bread dough and rising in the oven, that homey smell of baked bread is even more intense. I can’t get enough of it. Someone needs to invent a sourdough bread candle and make millions. I’m also taken back to my visit to San Francisco, the motherland (at least in the States) of sourdough. Go visit! And indulge in amazing sammies and seeing breads braided and bent into animal shapes! http://www.boudinbakery.com

Sourdough should be called magical dough as its properties have bewitching powers, making your loaves extremely more tummy-friendly and also strengthening ties in your life as you share your starter with others. I received my starter from a friend at work who also found the fermentation process quite mysterious. As I have used the starter in recipes and fed it (about one cup of flour and one cup of water for every cup that is taken out, trying to retain the same consistency), keeping my little bubbly cauldron full. I gifted about a half-cup of the starter to a good friend of mine along with a crock pot, and she’s now a devoted baker of a new sourdough baby. We can share failures and successes, enhancing our craftiness for the baking habit.

Back to the tummy-friendly powers of sourdough: the longer rising time and bacteria in the culture break down the starches and protein gluten into amino acids. Processed breads and bread using all whole wheat most often do not undergo these processes, thereby giving our digestive system a great challenge in breaking down the bread. Sourdough also activates the enzyme phytase to dissolve phytates, which allows your body to absorb more minerals, especially zinc, iron, magnesium, and copper. Let’s focus on soaking up more iron to help you combat anemia and function at your best!

I have to share my favorite sourdough bread recipe with you, especially for health reasons. This recipe also leaves your counter tops and tools fairly clean, so in case you’re the only one on kitchen duty, clean up goes very smoothly. Yay!

Sourdough Pumpernickel: this is the bread you will crave to make next. If you don’t have a starter yet, ask a friend to share, or you can order online, such as from King Arthur Flour: http://bit.ly/14PBqkf. Rather than send you on a chase for pumpernickel flour (which I actually DID and left every Whole Foods, German market, and Balducci’s empty handed), just buy a bag from King Arthur Flour: http://bit.ly/14uwQZs.

The key partner ingredient in this bread for the sourdough is molasses. As you know, blackstrap molasses is a great source for iron. Along with sourdough’s strength in sending you more iron to soak up, molasses is there to provide more zinc! Molasses also contrasts with the taste of the sourdough—sweet with sour, bitter with tangy. So, sourdough, meet molasses:

Sponge:

  • 1 1/3 cups sourdough starter
  • 1 cup lukewarm coffee or whey or leftover pasta water (be resourceful!)
  • 2 cups pumpernickel flour
  • 1/2 cup onion (any color you want)

Dough:

  • 2 tablespoons oil (I recommend coconut oil or vegetable oil, or a mix)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (the bread tastes more hearty this way, but feel free to use all-purpose or any other flour of your choice for this last cup)
  1. Put together the sponge at least three hours before you add the rest of the dough ingredients, and cover. The longer, the better, so I usually complete this step before I go to bed and finish the recipe the next day. Bakers are good planners, right?! The two pictures below show you the sponge once mixed and then the sponge after resting for three hours. The sponge has slightly risen as there are now air pockets underneath and there are small bubbles on top where some air escaped. You can feed your starter now, too, and leave it out at room temperature overnight for 12-24 hours before storing it back in its home in the fridge.ImageImage
  2. Use a dough whisk or wooden spoon to stir the oil, salt, and molasses into the sponge. Add the flour and mix. Using a bench scraper or rubber scraper, push out all of the dough from the bowl onto a floured surface. Since this dough is quite tough and slightly sticky (a good sign!), you do not need to have much bench flour on hand. I usually go through only about 1/4 cup, usually just to keep the dough from sticking to my hands.Image
  3. Knead the dough for 8 minutes. Yes, that’s a minimum. I know the dough ends up feeling like really thick Play-dough by the time you reach minute 6, but just keep going! Flex those muscles and showoff to anyone else in the room. You’ll look great 😉Image
  4. When you poke your dough, the indent will fill in a bit, but still look like an innie bellybutton. Make sure the dough still pushes back, though! Otherwise, flex those arms for another two minutes to knead the dough further. You can now shape your dough. Divide the ball into two equal parts and shape into two 10-inch logs to put on baking sheets or to put into two bread pans (about 8×4-inch). Sprinkle all-purpose flour around the shaped dough and shake off. Place dough on greased baking sheets or in greased baking pans. Heat up the oven to about 100°F then turn off, which is just slightly warm. Cover your bread loaves with a towel or greased plastic wrap and place in the oven. Leave them alone so the loaves can relax and rise for at least 3 hours. Leave in for another hour if you don’t think that the loaves doubled in size.
  5. Take out the loaves and preheat the oven to 350°F. Uncover the loaves and bake for 40 minutes. Image

Share how the magic churns out in your kitchen and what you think of the recipe! Bon ap to higher iron!

This recipe was adapted from King Arthur Flour’s recipe:  The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 3, January-February 1992 issue.