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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: How to keep your brain 10 yrs younger, the future of food tech, & why nursing moms should eat spicy foods

by | Apr 1, 2016
For the Love of Food

For the Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup. 

This week how to keep your brain 10 yrs younger, the future of food tech, and why nursing moms should eat spicy foods.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app I just discovered to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

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Why Turning Great Wine Into Vinegar Isn’t A Bad Idea

by | May 23, 2012

Tom Alexander, Kimberley Owner and Vinegar Artisan

I get a lot of emails from people pitching various food and weight loss products. It’s annoying to say the least, and if I even bother to respond to the inquiries my answer is almost always “no.” Summer Tomato is supposed to be an information resource, not a shopping mall.

That’s why my first reaction to getting some samples from a local vinegar company was negative. I liked my vinegar just fine and I didn’t want to get roped into doing a promotion or sales pitch. But my friend Allison Boomer (who actually has introduced me to awesome products in the past) was so insistent that Kimberley Wine Vinegars were amazing that I broke down and let them send me some. Turns out Allison was right.

Once I got a taste of the three amazing wine-based vinegars from Kimberley I became curious about why they were so much more complex and less harsh than most of vinegars I’ve tried. After she answered a few of my questions I realized that Allison is a huge vinegar geek, and I asked her if she’d be willing to enlighten us all on the differences between artisan and industrial vinegars so that we can be more informed shoppers and better cooks.

Allison Boomer, Founder of Eco-Conscious Food Marketing, specializes in promoting the artisanal food business community. She partners with people who share her passion for handcrafted food and is committed to educating consumers about the value of authentic, traditional edibles.

Orleans-Process Vinegar: Why Turning Great Wine Into Vinegar Isn’t A Bad Idea

by Allison Boomer

Having owned a specialty food store for ten years, I’ve tasted dozens of vinegars from around the world. I also developed new vinegar blends for a venerable French vinegar company, and currently work for Kimberley Wine Vinegars in California. With abundant fresh salad greens and garden vegetables appearing at markets, it’s an ideal time to discover why handcrafted vinegar is light years better than the newer industrially produced kinds.

In ancient times vinegar occurred naturally, especially in mild climates, when sugar-laden fluids like wine began to ferment. Yeast transforms the sugars in the liquid into alcohol and as it sits, acetates in the air start to work. Ultimately, bacteria consume the alcohol and leave acetic acid (vinegar) behind.

In its early days vinegar was used to not only season food, but also to quench thirst (diluted with water), preserve meat, vegetables and fruit, treat wounds and inflammation, and for chest and stomach complaints. In the Middle Ages vinegar was an important trading commodity.

Vinegar making during this time, however, wasn’t exactly predictable or foolproof, and was quite difficult to make. Often times unpleasant smells were produced or the liquid would become moldy.

What saved the day for the vinegar “industry” was the discovery that vinegar could be made in wooden barrels. This led to the development of the Orleans process of vinegar making, named after the French town of Orleans. It was at Orleans on the Loire River, an important inland shipping route, that wines becoming “piques” (beginning to bite or sour) were unloaded from boats to be delivered to local vinegar producers.

In the Orleans process wine is slowly and naturally aged in oak barrels for one to three months without heat, until a mass of bacteria known as the “mother” forms on the surface. The fermentation process is then allowed to continue (six months to one year) until all the alcohol has been converted to acetic acid. Old-fashioned wood barrels contain natural oxidants that improve the bouquet and flavor of the vinegar. The Orleans process preserves the vinegar’s distinct wine aroma and flavor because it involves no heat, which destroys the delicate perfumes and minerals of the wine.

In contrast, industrially processed vinegar is heat pasteurized and made in large-capacity stainless-steel tanks in which a giant spindle agitates the liquid, aerating it for a speedy fermentation period of around 24 hours. The resulting vinegar may be aged for an additional few months, but in tanks holding several thousand gallons, rather than in wood barrels holding fifty gallons in the traditional way.

Orleans vinegar artisans received official recognition for the quality of their work through royal patents. These patents clearly defined the production conditions required to use the name “Orleans process,” thereby suppressing poor quality vinegars from using the designation.

The Orleans process requires the following three criteria:

1. Selection of excellent wines based on grapes that have a delicate and subtle bouquet. The quality of the vinegar depends on the quality of the wine—the best tasting vinegars come from great wines.

2. A natural transformation of the wine into vinegar. Barrels are partially filled with wine and their appropriate bacteria, kept at a constant temperature in complete darkness, and provided with proper air flow for fermentation to take place (thus avoiding the bitterness found in some vinegar).

3. Traditional aging. Vinegar is left to mature or age for a minimum of six months to one year in cellars before it is put on the market.

Kimberley Wine Vinegars was the first American company to handcraft Orleans process vinegar using California wines. Established in San Francisco in 1975, Kimberley does not add preservatives to the vinegar, nor is it pasteurized—a common practice that increases shelf life but degrades subtle taste characteristics.

Like old-world olive oil artisans, today’s artisanal vinegar makers know the best vinegar depends on the quality of the raw ingredients and the processing methods. Achieving the ideal balance of fruit taste, oak flavor and pleasant acidity is the craft of fine vinegar making.

You can learn more about Kimberley Wine Vinegars on their website.

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For The Love of Food

by | Apr 2, 2010

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week I learned that cheese is associated with lower cancer rates, and it wasn’t even an April Fools’ joke. I’m also cautiously optimistic about Kroger’s new food scoring system that actually calls out junk food for what it is. Oh oh oh! And I can’t wait to try the canned unicorn meat I’ve heard so much about.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

Links of the week

What’s your good news?

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How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Stock Your Pantry

by | Apr 8, 2009
Pantry

Pantry

Nothing has a bigger impact on your health than the food you choose to eat (unless you smoke cigarettes). A diet rich in whole vegetables, grains, legumes, fish and fruit can prevent and even reverse most of the diseases that devastate our society. The good news is that farm-fresh, seasonal produce happens to be some of the most delicious food on the planet.

Unfortunately, our culture does not make it easy to eat foods that are both healthy and delicious. Your typical grocery store is filled with processed, packaged junk that barely resembles the plants and animals it came from (usually corn and soybeans). Even the produce section is populated with clones shipped from halfway around the globe.

But eating healthy is not impossible. I manage to pull it off, despite a long-ish commute and impossible work schedule. All you need is a little planning and a road map.

For many people the most difficult thing about starting to eat healthy is learning how to prepare and cook food. It is very difficult to upgrade your healthstyle by eating in restaurants. You have got to be able to shop and cook for yourself.

This is the beginning of a series of posts designed to give you detailed instructions on How To Get Started Eating Healthy. It is the perfect place to begin if you are new to Summer Tomato. Once you have learned to integrate these instructions into your normal routine, nothing on this blog should pass over your head. You will be able to follow any recipe, conquer any ingredient, get healthy and love every minute of it.

For more free healthy eating tips be sure to subscribe to Summer Tomato.

Keep in mind I was once as clueless in the kitchen as I was at the farmers market. I found my healthstyle through trial and error and created Summer Tomato to share what I have learned.

If you are beginning with a barren kitchen and are not sure what you need to get started, check out the Summer Tomato Shop. Once you are there, use the navigation in the sidebar on the right and browse through Kitchen Gear.

Once you have all your pots, pans and cutting boards you need to Stock Your Pantry. I have created a list of essential items that should always be in your kitchen. Because these things all store well and can be purchased in large quantities, you do not need to buy them often. But check your supplies regularly and be sure you always have everything here:

    • Olive oil You really cannot cook anything until you have olive oil. I go through olive oil relatively quickly, so I am sure to buy large bottles. Look for cold-pressed olive oils in dark bottles. For cooking I try to get the highest quality oil I can find at a reasonable price. My current favorite is Whole Foods 365 Organic brand extra-virgin olive oil. I buy the full 1 liter bottle.
    • Sea salt Whenever I come across vegetables I do not like they tend to have two things in common: they are 1) over-cooked or 2) under-salted (or both). But salt is bad for you, right? Yes, it is bad to eat the inconceivable volumes of sodium present in processed and packaged food. But you would be hard pressed to ingest that much salt if you add it yourself. It is possible to over-salt your vegetables, but under normal circumstances you can determine the appropriate saltiness by taste. In contrast, processed food tastes gross (grosser, I should say) without salt. You can add a reasonable amount of delicious sea salt to natural foods to enhance their flavor without much worry. Sea salt helps make fresh vegetables taste amazing, and if you eat them you are substantially better off. (note: If you have very high blood pressure, potassium salt might be better for you. Talk to your doctor about your options.)
    • Pepper Pepper is an essential spice you should always have in your pantry. It has better flavor if it is freshly ground.
    • Vinegar Frequently the easiest way to salvage a struggling dish is to add some kind of acid. Acid has a slightly sour flavor that can help brighten a dish. Vinegar and lemon are the go to choices for most cooks, so you need to have them around. Vinegar (and oil) is also what I use to dress salads. Balsamic vinegar is particularly wonderful because of its sweetness. But if you don’t like it experiment until you find a vinegar you like. Red wine vinegar is my next recommendation. Rice vinegar is also handy to have around, particularly if you like cooking Asian cuisines.
    • Fancy olive oil Speaking of salads, I always keep a top-shelf, fancy olive oil in the house for when the dish I’m creating depends on olive oil itself for flavor. Salad is the most basic example, but there are many instances where a better oil is worth the investment. You should enjoy the taste of your food, a few extra dollars for an outstanding olive oil is more than worth it.
    • Soy sauce One of the easiest ways to change up the flavor profile of a dish is to add a splash of soy sauce. You should always have some. Keep it in the fridge after opening it though.
    • Whole grain cereal I have found it incredibly difficult to find cereals–even whole grain cereals–that aren’t loaded with sugar. Muesli is my best recommendation, but it usually needs some help in the flavor department. I add fruit to fix this. Oatmeal (stove top) is a perfect breakfast if you have time for it (10 minutes). Whatever you choose, make sure you find a cereal made of intact grains that you are happy to eat most every day. For variety, I alternate between cold and warm cereals and change the fruit I use with the seasons.
    • Assorted whole grains Intact grains are so old-fashioned these days they are pretty hard to come by. If you do not eat them at home, you will almost certainly never eat them. Brown rice and quinoa are the two I rely on most. Quinoa cooks easily in 15 minutes. Brown rice takes longer, but I make it in large batches and freeze it in single servings that microwave in 1 minute. I also keep whole grain couscous around, even though it isn’t a real whole grain. I just love it in Moroccan food.

    • Dried legumes Legumes are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, and are notoriously under-appreciated. Lentils and beans are not just a vegetarian protein source, they are essential to a healthy diet regardless of carnivory. One benefit of them being out of fashion is that they are incredibly cheap and can usually be purchased in an unadulterated form. Lentils are wonderful because they cook quickly, in about 20 minutes. There are many varieties of lentils with different purposes. I recommend starting with regular brown or French green lentils because they keep their shape well. Beans require soaking and still take at least an hour to cook, unless you have a pressure cooker (I couldn’t live without a pressure cooker now). You can buy canned beans if you prefer, but they are far more expensive and have inferior taste and texture.
    • Bouillon cubes I had never heard of these until I started cooking, but I use them pretty regularly now. Bouillon cubes are essentially dried, concentrated broth. I keep chicken bouillon around for couscous and soups. Beef bouillon tastes amazing and I love to add it to beans and richer dishes. They make veggie bouillon too. You can get these everywhere, probably even your local liquor store.
    • Boxed broth Since these keep for at least a year, it is good to always have a few boxes around. Soups are great to whip up for dinner when you are tired and don’t feel like cooking anything fancy. If you always have broth, you can always have soup. I buy the 1 qt chicken and veggie broths. The smaller boxes or cans are good for making sauces.

  • Canned tomatoes I keep at least one 28-oz can of diced tomatoes at all times. Canned tomatoes are the base of so many different cuisines and make for wonderful meals. Tomatoes are, ironically, one of the few canned vegetables that don’t repulse me.
  • Nuts You should see the shoebox I use to store all the nuts I buy, it is bursting at the seams. Nuts are healthy, filling and turn food from average to awesome. I throw cashews in stir frys, cook my chard with pistachios and have almonds for a snack almost every day at work. Get in the habit of cooking with nuts or adding them to salads rather than just eating them plain. My kitchen always has raw walnuts (store in the freezer, they go rancid the quickest), roasted unsalted pistachios and sliced almonds. Hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and peanuts are also wonderful. Go nuts!
  • Dried fruit With plump, juicy raisins in my oatmeal I do not need to add sugar or honey. Dried apricots are wonderful in Moroccan soups or couscous. Dates are a great after dinner treat. Dried fruits store well and come in handy, you should keep the ones you like around and be creative with them while cooking.
  • Canned fish My canned fish of choice lately is sardines. Sardines are incredibly rich in omega-3s and vitamin D. When skinless and boneless, they are also delicious on bread or in a stir fry. My second choice is canned salmon (again, please get boneless–even if it costs extra). Tuna is okay, but it is too high in mercury for me to eat it at the frequency I prefer (you should limit tuna to 1-2 servings per month, particularly if you are a woman of childbearing age). Salmon is high in omega-3s and lower in mercury than tuna. I eat canned fish 2-3 times per week.
  • Basic spices When I first discovered cooking I went to the seasoning aisle of my grocery store and bought every spice and herb I had ever heard of. This was a mistake. I have since learned that most of the ones I bought are much better fresh (e.g. parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme). But there are a few spices I still use a lot. I always keep Saigon cinnamon, cayenne pepper, chili flakes, coriander, cumin (seeds and powder), ground ginger, garlic salt and chili powder in the house. I recently got a spice grinder, so sometimes I grind my own. But these are spices that are good to have around.
  • Natural nut butter Almond butter on good bread is one of my favorite quick, filling midday snacks. It is high in calories, but very effective at curbing the appetite. I always keep an unopened jar in my pantry. If you buy the natural kind (which you should), refrigerate after opening.
  • Pasta I know it sounds sacrilegious, but I do keep pasta in my pantry because sometimes it is just the easiest option. A healthy-ish choice is Japanese soba noodles that are made from buckwheat rather than semolina. I do not have pasta very often, so I do not worry too much if I eat it occasionally.
  • Plastic wrap and zipper bags I know these aren’t food, but I consider them essential items that need to be stocked regularly. I also happen to keep mine in the pantry. Don’t forget to buy them!

Once you have these basic ingredients you are ready to start cooking for yourself. In future posts for the How To Get Started Eating Healthy series I will discuss items you need to regularly stock in your refrigerator and freezer. I will also explain how to shop seasonally and outline a few basic cooking techniques you can use to cook almost anything.

Please do not consider this list exhaustive. This is simply a blueprint for how to get started stocking your pantry to cook healthy food.

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