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Ajvar

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Ajar is a  delicious Balkan red pepper and eggplant spread. It’s really simple to make, too.  Vine Vukicevic, my Pilates coach, introduced me to ajvar.  She is from Bosnia and tells me that no house in the former Yugoslavia is ever without this tasty spread.  She always looked forward to arriving home after school and enjoying it as a snack, spread on bread and sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese. Once I learned to make ajar, it quickly became a popular appetizer at my house – I spread goat cheese over toast triangles or crackers and top them with a good dollop of this instant, positively ambrosial treat. 

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Ginger Tea

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My favourite afternoon pick-me-up is a cup of hot ginger tea. I shred ginger root on the coarse holes of a box grater, add it to boiling water, stir well and let it steep for a minute or two. Then I strain it into a mug and stir in honey to taste. Delicious and good for me, too. Ginger is highly anti-inflammatory and an excellent digestive.

Parsnip Soup Shooters

How’s this for cold-weather hospitality? If you are entertaining on a chilly night, start the evening with a welcoming shooter of hot soup. I serve this parsnip soup in espresso or demi-tasse coffee cups before a glass of wine. It makes about 16 shooters.

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Parmesan Crackers


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I’m hosting book club tonight and spent the morning making a variety of nibbles – including these delicious parmesan crackers. They are shortbread like with butter, parmesan and cayenne dissolving in a creamy umami bite. They’re really delicious with a glass of red wine…

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peppers

Pimiento Peppers

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Pimiento peppers are a well-known variety of C. annuum. They are small and can be heart-shaped (like the Spanish piquillo) or round and ridged. They are sweeter than bell peppers. Fresh ones are very difficult to find; most end up canned (and called pimentos) and are used to stuff olives or to make pimento cheese, a favorite in the American South According to pepper expert Jean Andrews, the canned pimento industry didn’t develop until after 1914, when a roasting machine was invented that made peeling easier.

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A Chile Is a Chili Is a Chilli

 

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Many aspects of the chile are extremely confusing, from its historical misnomer (pepper) to the nomenclature of its many varieties, which even horticulturalists have difficulty sorting out. So it is probably not surprising that the spelling for the word itself is somewhat problematic. Is it chili, chilli or chile? You are likely to come across all of those spellings if you are reading up on the topic.

According to horticulturist and capsicum expert Paul Bosland, the name is derived from the word chil, which comes from the Aztec dialect and refers to plants from the Capsicum genus. The “e” ending is the correct Spanish spelling. English linguists (who probably didn’t know any better) changed it to an “i.”

Although most people associate the word chile with hot peppers, in fact the word refers to capsicums in general, whether they are spicy or not. The word chili refers to the dish, as in chili con carne.

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Take the story of peppered sherry

One of the fun things about receiving copies of a book you wrote is leafing through it and being reminded of its content. Take the story of peppered sherry. This condiment was invented in Bermuda by British sailors, who steeped wild chile peppers in barrels of sherry and used the results to mask the taste of aging food. Outerbridge bottles the product today but it’s easy to make your own. Naturally, there is a recipe in The Chile Pepper Bible

Pile of fresh swiss chard leaves on dark wooden table.

Swiss Chard

Pile of fresh swiss chard leaves on dark wooden table.

Along with kale, collards and other dark leafy greens, Swiss chard is a nutritional superstar.  A relative of the beet family, Swiss chard is a good source of numerous vitamins and minerals, including vitamins K, A and C, as well as magnesium and potassium.  In fact, a half-cup (125 mL) serving of Swiss chard contains more than 150% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K.

 
Like all leafy greens Swiss chard is loaded with antioxidants. It contains vitamin E, a free radical fighter, and beta-carotene, which helps to keep your eyes healthy.  It is a rich source of the powerful antioxidants lupin and zeaxanthin.  There compounds are one reason why Swiss chard and other dark leafy greens have been show to reduce the risk for cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 55.  Some researcher also think the anthocyanins in Swiss chard may prevent cancers of the digestive tract.  And, with just 35 calories a cup (250 mL) adding chard to your meal plan makes great sense as part of any weight control programs.
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Sunday health in a glass:

 

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Sunday health in a glass: fresh pressed carrot, beet and ginger juice with a pinch of cayenne. Oh, yes

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a perennial plant and an important forage crop. Valpolicella, Italy. Canon EOS 5D Mark II.  -focus on foreground-

Alfalfa

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a perennial plant and an important forage crop. Valpolicella, Italy. Canon EOS 5D Mark II. -focus on foreground-

 

Alfalfa has an impressive history as a “functional food”.  Centuries ago, the Arabs bestowed the name alfalfa, which means “the father of all foods” on this perennial legume because they recognized its superior nutritional qualities. In fact, they fed it to their legendary horses, in addition to using it as a medicinal herb.  Alfalfa is commonly used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat digestive disorders or to promote joint health, but in the western world today, alfalfa is mostly used as animal feed.
This is unfortunate for humans because the herb is a robust functional food that, among other benefits, has significant value as a general tonic. Alfalfa provide vitamins A, C, E and K, some B vitamins, and a smattering of minerals such as potassium and zinc.  It is also rich in phytonutrients, such as isoflavone flavonoids. Several studies suggest that it helps to keep cholesterol levels low and prevents atherosclerosis, among other cardiovascular benefits. 
Herbalists suggest brewing a tea of dried alfalfa leaves. Because it has a very mild flavor, another easy way to add valuable nutrients to your diet is to include a few spoonfuls when making stocks. Dried alfalfa leaves are available at well-stocked natural foods stores or from online vendors. Just check to make sure you are purchasing organically grown alfalfa as a genetically modified version is widely available.  And when adding alfalfa to liquid, make sure to use the dried leaves, not alfalfa sprouts, which have an entirely different nutritional profile.