Saturday, 21 May 2011

Exceptionally Tasty Oatmeal Porridge

Did you know, children, that porridge is one of the most ancient cooked foods? People have been eating porridge for thousands of years! And there are three good reasons for that: 1) It is extremely tasty, 2) it's very good for you, and 3) it's really easy!

As easy as it is, Auntie Megan does like to add a step or two to make it even more tasty. But you can do whatever you like, since at the end, the porridge you make will in fact be for you, not for me.

Did you also know that there are many different types of porridge? Porridge can be made with all different kinds of starchy things, like rice, wheat, corn, millet (another Auntie Megan favorite) and barley. It is eaten all over the world! But today we're going to make it with oats.

Oats are high in fiber, like many of the things I have shown you so far. But there is another kind of fiber, called soluble fiber, which is found in abundance in oats. Soluble fiber helps to keep your bad cholesterol levels low. This helps keep the blood inside you flowing freely to all parts of your body, and blood carries other nutrients to your muscles, so it's very important. If your blood was slowed down because it couldn't flow easily, then your muscles would get hungry, then you would be too tired to play, and that is NO FUN. Oats are also very high in protein and lipids, which help to build strong muscles so you can play better, and that IS fun.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Peppy, Zippy, Zingy Red Pepper Soup

Dear children,

It has been a while! I, Auntie Megan, have been extremely busy recently, so I am very sorry in the delay in bringing new deliciousness to you. But fret not. I have a lovely soup for you this time.

It's spring now, and even though it may not be warm where you are yet, it will be soon. And in spring, most fruits and veggies start to sprout up in gardens and on farms. After a long winter of eating cauliflower and cabbage and squash and things like that, it's time for something peppy! And zippy! Something that zings your tastebuds and refreshes you after you've been hard at work playing. But it is still a bit cold out, isn't it? So how about a nice warm bowl of peppy! zippy! zingy! soup to keep you going until the weather gets hotter? Oh yes.

And aren't these peppers beautiful? They're GORGEOUS! Yes, and together with tomatoes they make this a very red soup. It's the color of luck and happiness and life! What better way to start spring than with all of those things?

I've shown you a couple of exciting colors you can eat so far: purple cabbage and white cauliflower. But you need to eat all different colors.You need to eat a rainbow of colors! Red things like the peppers and tomatoes in this soup are high in vitamin C, which is good for building a stronger body. They also contain other chemicals that can help protect your skin from the sun (but you should still wear sunblock!).

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Roasted Cauliflower

As it is winter--and what a winter it is!--I think we should continue our focus on cruciferous veggies, children. Why? Because winter is when many cruciferous vegetables really get going. Brussels sprouts, for example, are traditionally harvested just before Christmas here in England. And purple sprouting broccoli is grown all winter and harvested in early spring. Cauliflower can be grown all year round here in England, with careful planning. Because cruciferous vegetables have lots of strong flavors, they are nice to eat in the winter when fresh things are scarce, and the cold weather helps them develop a nice nutty, milky taste.

Did you know that cauliflower comes in different colors, not just white? You can get it in purple or orange or green. There is even a variety called Romanesco, which is really beautiful because it looks like a light green spiral. The different colored cauliflowers have different kinds of nutrients in them to help you grow, and all of them are good for you. Cauliflower is the same species as broccoli, but the plant grows in a different way, which makes it look and taste slightly different.

Lots of people have been led to believe that because common cauliflower is white, it must not be as nutritious as darkly colored vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. Wrong! Like other cruciferous veggies, it is very high in fiber (and we all know what that's good for), and vitamins C & K. It's also got plenty of folate (which is extremely important for growing children), a vast array of antioxidants (which help keep you healthy as you get older), and a chemical called glucoraphanin, which your body uses to make other chemicals that help prevent tummy aches.

So, how to choose and prepare cauliflower? Well, the curd of a common supermarket cauliflower (that's the white part) should be uniform in color (not speckled with brown or yellow), and the leaves around it should be mostly tight around it. It should be firm to the touch, not soft. To prepare it, you can pull the outermost leaves off (these can be used to make vegetable or chicken stock). Then turn the cauliflower upside down, and using a sharp paring knife, cut out the big central stem. Then you can rinse the whole head in water, or you can cut it into florets, which look like little white trees, and then rinse it. From there it's up to you what to do with it. There are loads of recipes out there for cauliflower, and historically, it's been a favorite on Italian tables. You can eat it raw, which is nice with a little salad dressing. Raw cauliflower is highest in nutrition and very mild in flavor. Or, you can do an Auntie Megan Sicilian-heritage favorite, and roast it. Click here for a recipe!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Quick Braised Red Cabbage

Cabbage has got to be one of the most underrated vegetables out there. It seems to get easily associated with poverty or extreme diets, and therefore is viewed as a food of deprivation--something you eat only because you can't eat anything else.

Well, you're all wrong, you cabbage classifiers. Cabbage is highly nutritious and extremely tasty, especially if it's raw or cooked gently (not boiled into submission!). Cabbage, the plant, is a brassica, or cruciferous vegetable (which I like better because it sounds like a refreshing crunch of fresh veggies!). This means it is related to broccoli and cauliflower and turnips (like Mimi) and a few other common veggies. Cabbage is rich in Vitamin C (good for building collagenous tissue like your gums and for turning food into energy, which you will need if you are to meet your daily recommended allowance of playtime) and Vitamin K (good for healthy bones and blood so you can heal any playtime injuries more quickly, and thus be back in peak playtime condition sooner). It also contains lots of fiber, which is good for your bum. You might not want to think about it, but having a healthy bum is very important!

Cabbage is also very tasty, easy to cook, and (mums and dads, take note) not very expensive at all. It can easily be added to soups in the last 10 minutes of cooking or stir-fried or sauteed or gently steamed for a quick side dish.

Or you can braise it, which takes a little longer. Braising cabbage does destroy some of the Vitamin C and other healthy things in it, but it retains lots of good things, and tastes very nice. And it's dark pink! Very pretty stuff. Click here for the recipe.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Welcome welcome! Come in!

Welcome to the inaugural post of Cooking with Auntie Megan. As stated at the top of the page, this blog has been started to help my niece and nephews learn about eating a balanced diet, and to help my dear sisters come up with new and exciting things to feed their families.

My niece, for any non-family in attendance, is nearly six, and my nephews are 4, 3 and 2 at the moment. And though this blog is for you young dearhearts, it is most emphatically not going to be written in a childish way. And that is because I would never talk down to you, my little darlings! You are too smart for that. If you are unsure what something is, of course you must ask me! It's the only way to learn.

Who is this Megan? And what is in her kitchen?
I am Megan. I live in Yorkshire with Uncle James. I have a job that doesn't really have much to do directly with food, but I do cook at home in my smallish, very non-American kitchen. I have a very small refrigerator (something only slightly bigger than what the average US college student has in their dorm room), a freezer of similar size (both fit under the counters), a well-loved food processor, a hand-held mixer, and a very small oven and stovetop (no 30lb Thanksgiving turkeys for us!). I do not have a microwave, a garbage disposal, a blender, a toaster, or standing mixer. I do have 6 silicone spatulas and three chopping boards. And a very hefty chef's knife. And a few other non-electric things that help me out.

Why does Megan cook?
I cook a lot: nearly every night. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I and Uncle James have gone out for dinner in a year.

I learned to cook twice: once from my mother, and once from necessity. From my mother, I learned the emotional and nutritional importance of food, how it can make you feel good (or bad), and how certain foods are for special occasions and should stay with special occasions. I learned how to cook intuitively. I learned especially how to cook like a Sicilian Mama. Now, Auntie Megan's mother is Mimi. Mimi is not Sicilian. But Auntie Megan's father (Pa) is Sicilian. And when they were married, Mimi rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She mastered all the greats of Italian-American food: red sauce (plain, with meat, with meatballs, with sausages, with tuna, with squid, with whatever else she had on hand that night), clam sauce, lasagna (without ground beef and bechamel--sorry England!), eggplant parm, chicken and veal parm, veal piccata, chicken and veal cacciatore, linguine with summer squash, etc, etc, etc. The children took turns grating the block of pecorino, until the day we mercifully were able to buy it already grated. To say we ate well is something of an understatement. We did eat non-Italian things as well, most memorably boiled dinner every St. Patrick's Day to assuage Mimi's Irish Catholic soul. (I never met someone who loves turnips as much as Mimi. She's a bit of a turnip herself--wholesome and unexpectedly spicy!)

After I finished college, I moved to New York City, where I then learned to cook from necessity. I was on my own in a food-lover's jungle, but I didn't make nearly enough money to eat out very often. I had a vast collection of cookbooks, which I read and re-read. Perhaps most importantly, I read Harold McGee's On Food & Cooking which gave me the foundation in food chemistry I needed to be a confident experimental home cook. Most people do not need a chemistry primer to be a good home cook, but I did. My brain likes to start at the very beginning of everything and go from there. Anyway, in New York, in addition to food science and nutrition, I also discovered seasonal and local food. I should say I re-discovered it. After all, I have Pa as a father, and he was (and is again recently) an avid grower of tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, green beans, and chives. I spent loads of time in that garden, mostly digging up pails of worms to Mimi's horror, but I also tended a single row of radishes and one strawberry plant that never yielded enough fruit for both me and the local rabbit. This knowledge was lost during my college days, when local food meant the dining hall across the street and a balanced meal was adding diced carrot to my ramen. In Brooklyn then, I exulted in farmer's markets and I got interested in nose-to-tail butchery. I also was introduced to the most amazing cheeses courtesy of the Bedford Cheese Shop.

And the blog?
And then the blog. It was called Treats & Chortles. I started it in order to participate in online food events. Pretty quickly I was completely sucked into the online foodie community. And then I went to grad school, and somehow telling people about my grilled cheese sandwiches didn't seem worth the effort, especially when I was also reporting on things like digging up a fourteenth-century manor house in the east of England. Which would you rather hear about? So Treats & Chortles slowly faded away, and in its place came Oh the Humanities! Which was fun but no one read it, so I stopped bothering.

So then I became a real grown-up with a husband and a job and a dinner to cook every night, and I remembered that I love cooking! I really do. And I love eating, which is really very important. And I want very much to pass my love of food and cooking on to my niece and nephews. Since they live very far away in America, I thought this would be the best way. So I'm back in action!

Coming soon: soups, breads, roasted veggies!