Umami for you, umami for me

We’ve been flirting with springtime for several weeks here in New Mexico. I’ve been lightening up the menu since early February, accented by the occasional heavier stew or soup when needed.

 

Now we are about to touch upon some much warmer days and I know that May will usher in a long and lovely hot summer. But no matter how hot is gets, I am a dedicated, all-season soup lover!

The secret to great soup is the broth.

 

A warm weather soup can be more challenging than autumn’s squash bisque or winter’s hearty bean and root veggie soup.  A summer soup calls for a broth that is both light and deeply flavorful. A successful soup broth will rend a delightful soup.

Umami for you, umami for me.

 

I have heard this word “umami” a lot in the past few years and decided to check out what it really is. Believe it or not, there is a website called “The Umami Information Center” which was enlightening. Seems the Japanese word “umami” has to do with the taste imparted by glutamate.

I react to that piece of information as if they said a bad word.  Glutamate?  As in Mono Sodium Glutamate?  No way I’m using that in my food!

Turns out glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods which can be used in cooking to create the coveted Umami flavor.  Some of the foods on the list I absolutely knew were umami-rich. Others, I hadn’t thought of before.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is enough to keep me souping in my kitchen all summer long!”

Without a doubt, the best umami, the best food, the best meal comes from your own kitchen. Even if you are a novice.

 

Okay I will get to the soup recipe. I promise! But I’ve gotta take a little side trip here.  I’m going to make a umami-rich broth made with real food ingredients and condiments. It is not difficult and it can even be considered economical because one way to get a highly-flavored soup broth is to save the cooking water from boiling or steaming other veggies and voila! you have umami.  Or, you can consciously decide to create umami from specific foods that you choose just for your soup recipe.

Either way, the point is–cooking for yourself with real food in your own kitchen wins flavor-wise and health-wise every single time over buying soup in the store (natural food store or not) or ordering it in a restaurant. Forty plus years of savoring my own cooking versus even the best dishes in the best restaurants has taught me that.

Lemon Fennel Soup

 

Making the umami-rich broth:

2 quarts spring water

4-6 inch piece of kombu seaweed

1 head of nappa cabbage (sometimes called Chinese cabbage)

Naturally brewed soy sauce (“Nama” brand is far and away the best flavor and the most umamiful.)

  1. Quickly clean the dried kombu by brushing it off with a clean, damp paper towel or vegetable brush. Place the kombu in the bottom of a large pot and add all the water. Bring this to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile wash a head of nappa cabbage, cut it in half and again in quarters. The core may be cut out and separately sliced fine. Cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces. If you don’t want to use all the cabbage at once, just use the amount you will probably eat.  The cabbage itself will not wind up in the soup. It will be served separately as a lightly boiled salad.
  3. Put the cabbage in the boiling water and cook for just about a minute or until the green parts become bright green. This may take less than a minute!  Immediately remove the cabbage into a colander to cool.
  4. Continue allowing the broth to simmer with the kombu for about 15 minutes, then remove the kombu. (Save the kombu for another use or to slice up and add to another dish.
  5. Strain the soup broth so there are no solids in it.
  6. You now have a light, flavorful broth that delivers umami flavor.

 

Putting the soup together

1 large fennel bulb

1 shallot

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lemon

chili flakes (optional)

  1. Wash the fennel and separate the bulb from the rest. Save the feathery fronds for garnish.  Thinly slice the fennel, about 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Slice the shallot
  3. Heat a pan of your choice (I use cast iron) and add the sesame oil.
  4. When the oil is hot add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until they soften.
  5. Add the fennel slices and another pinch of salt and continue sauteing until the fennel is well-cooked.
  6. Put the sautéed fennel and shallot into the soup  broth. Season lightly with soy sauce, add and let it all simmer a few minutes.
  7. Just before serving, zest your lemon and add to the soup.  I use a zester that produces thin little slices of zest. In that case I’m going to add about 2 Tablespoons of this.  If you are zesting your lemon with a microplane that produces grated zest, you may want to use less. Experiment with this!
  8. Serve the soup garnished with fennel fronds and a few drops of lemon juice.

 

Some more soup broth tips:

Keep in mind that some veggies, like carrots, have a very definite flavor and color.  Others, such as white daikon radish taste very different when cooked than when raw. Think  with the flavors to get the broth you want. Sometimes you just want lots of flavor and it doesn’t matter too much what you use. If you make a vegetable soup, you can add all kinds of things together. But if you are going for a more delicate taste like the fennel soup, then choose ingredients for the broth that will enhance but not interfere with your finished product.

Sauteing vegetables helps bring out their flavor and sweetness. Decide, however, what oil you will use based on the flavors of that oil. At first I was going to use toasted sesame oil to saute the fennel and shallots but that would definitely have brought in a flavor that might have taken over too much.

Dried vegetables, such as dried shiitake mushrooms have a concentrated flavor that provides a lot of umami, even though you will reconstitute them by soaking first. See more about shiitake and kombu in my 2013 post, “Rejuvenation and Dashi.”

Apparently tomatoes are considered to yield a very high level of umami.  Hmm, sun-dried tomatoes. Gotta play with that!

 

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Here’s to the Great Freedom and Latitude of Blogging

First of all, thank you.

To all of you who have ventured over here to My Cooking Life and especially to any of you who are still willing to do so!

My own Cooking Life has taken quite a turn since I last posted something original for New Year’s 2015.  I think my story is like many others’ whose lives get so full and busy that producing decent meals for yourself and family becomes nearly impossible.

My Hat is off to all food bloggers!

I did get very busy lately, but actually that was true before when I was blogging.  What I ran into besides lack of time to cook food, was lack of time and desire to create something new and “photogenic” and then set the dish up in a good display and take the pictures. Then I needed to work out the recipe–something I myself NEVER use–because I thought other people needed and wanted a recipe. (You know, in the event there was anyone actually reading this.)

This is what food bloggers do, and more.  My hat is off to all food bloggers no matter how many readers they have or not!  Food blogging is challenging and the photography alone takes a high level of creativity and know-how.  Despite this, there are a gazillion food bloggers out there!

But competition with other food bloggers was never my focus. What really got me blogging in the first place is my desire to write.  Cooking was and still is a very apt subject for me to write about.

But not all the time.

My life is “cooking” in many ways!  And sometimes I want to write about it.  So here’s to the great freedom and latitude of blogging!

And we’ll see where we end up.  For those who actually like my recipes and healthy dishes, no worries!  Those will still show up every now and then.

Bringing the Family Home

Thanks to all who took the time to read my posts in 2014 and for your encouraging comments which really, truly help keep me going.  Wishing you and yours the best year yet in 2015. Let’s flourish and prosper and help our fellow citizens of this planet do the same!

mycookinglifebypatty

When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Hoppin’ John was a very popular dish for New Year’s Day. Every year there would be a big Food section article about it in the Journal-Constitution.  I started making it not because I was a “Southern Girl” (I wasn’t) but because I loved making and serving beans and rice and wanted to try it.

Hoppin’ John is traditionally made from black-eyed peas and rice and is an extremely simple dish.  So why do people make it?  Is it because they drank so much champagne the night before on New Year’s Eve and need something plain to settle down with?  That seems sensible and valid. My own New Year’s Eve Garlic Habit is one reason I enjoy simple, uncomplicated Hoppin’ John the next day.  Just check out the roasted garlic post and you’ll see why!

Popular lore about Hoppin’ John varies but basically says serving this…

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Preserved Lemons – A Tradition in Moroccan, Mediterranean and Indian Cuisine

Throw Back Thursday With A Twist! (Of lemon, that is.) I ran out of my home-preserved Moroccan Lemons and decided to start another batch ASAP. And the twist is—a new use for these—-chopped preserved lemon rinds and mashed artichoke hearts as a spread on crusty bread! If you don’t want to wait a month while your lemons preserve to try this spread, some of the Whole Foods stores have both preserved lemons and artichoke hearts in their olive bar. Certainly no substitute for what I’m making in my kitchen, but not a bad alternative. Enjoy!

mycookinglifebypatty

I’ve been longing for preserved lemons and their uniquely intense flavor for months now.  What a wonderful flash of zing!  What a refreshing, piquant, tart highlight to bring simple dishes alive!

You will find recipes using preserved lemons from Northern Africa, the Middle East, from India and even in some Caribbean cuisines.  They are extremely easy to make, too!

Step One:  Gather up your ingredients.  You’ll need fresh, organic lemons.  Pick ones that look good and don’t have a lot of blemishes.  You may choose Meyer lemons or regular ones.  Wash these thoroughly.  You’ll also need course sea salt.  Do not use regular commercial salt as this has additives and it is too harsh for this use.  You’ll also need a clean jar in which to put your lemons while they preserve.  I chose a Kerr one-quart jar with  tight-fitting two piece top.  You can also use the kind of jar…

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Under the Banner of Veganism. Deprivation Diets, Eating Disorders and Orthorexia.

I reblogged this post by Somer at Vedged Out for us today. I so agree with her about deprivation diets. I did not know veganism was linked with eating disorders, did you? My immediate thought–that is a money-motivated effort by the vested interests in some food industries to sabotage healthy eating and creating less need for medical care. Even the term, “orthorexia” sounds just like some made up “disorder” created by psychiatrists in order to find yet one more reason to drug us. Beware — what better way to control a population than via their food.

Shop Your Local Farmer’s Markets

It’s Throw Back Thursday! Let’s take a little toss back to May 2012 and honor our local farmer’s.

mycookinglifebypatty

The growing season is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and soon we will be able to get freshly picked, locally grown foods!

Copley Square Farmer's Market Copley Square Farmer’s Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best things you can do to improve the nutritional value and taste of your cooking is to venture over to your local farmer’s market or roadside stand and buy fresh, locally-grown produce.  Your local natural food store may even feature local food growers and producers.  Mine does and they usually have special weekend events where you can meet and talk with these local growers and ranchers.

I would much rather make the acquaintance of the people who are actually growing and raising my food than suffer a distant, from-my-wallet-to-your-cashier relationship with a huge mega-supermarket conglomerate food chain.  I am much more interested in supporting a local grower and seeing that my dollars go into his/her hands rather than having…

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Sweeten It Up Without Sugar

IT’S TOSS BACK THURSDAY! Since I’ve only been blogging for just over two years, “Throw Back Thursday” didn’t see quite appropriate. We’ll just take a little toss back to 2012.

I was just commenting back and forth with Kathy at Lake Superior Spirit about ice cream and sugar and how they are sometimes so so hard to resist. It made me think of this not-too-oldie but goodie!!

mycookinglifebypatty

It is possible to make and eat desserts and other sweet treats without using sugar.  When I say “sugar,” I include honey, agave syrup, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, glucose . . . ALL the “ose’s,” molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar.  That’s right! Even if you see them in your health food store, that does not mean they aren’t sugar or at least they act like sugar in your body and wreak all kinds of havoc with your hormones, your blood sugar, your arteries, your digestion.  (You can read about this in my article “What Is Sugar?” on the Street Articles website.)

Some brands will do anything to make you think they are healthier for you including putting their product in a brown package or labeling it with an enticing buzz word.  Would you believe that when I went to my health food store today I saw…

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN 2

How do you make the upside down come upside right?

Easy!

Though I am not much of a baker, birthdays are the exception and we recently celebrated my Hubbin’s with his favorite—pineapple upside down cake.  I’m not one to indulge in a normal cake what with all the icing and sugar. Not that I am never tempted by sugar desserts but I really don’t like all that cloying sweetness in a cake.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

  • One batch of yellow cake recipe (But we are going to make a few changes for this recipe. Keep reading.)
  • Six pineapple rings. I used organic canned pineapple in water, not syrup.
  • Dark Cherries
  • 1 1/2 cups organic pineapple juice
  • sea salt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
  • 3-6 tablespoons arrowroot

The cake mix part is pretty easy. Choose whatever recipe you wish. I use this one from Christina Pirello’s website and then I alter it to suit. My alterations included using 1/2 cup of semolina flour with the cup and a half of whole wheat pastry flour to make a lighter batter; using additional flour because I’m in a high altitude; and I used a bit more baking powder also for lightness. An upside down cake is going to be very moist and heavy so these adjustments are needed.  I also added a little tumeric—not enough to affect the flavor but, along with the semolina flour, it made a yellow cake color.

Flavor-wise, I substituted a little pineapple juice in the liquid for flavor and I added zest from a half lemon.

Now for the upside down part. Oil a medium size baking dish or cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (I use unbleached) and arrange pineapple rings on the bottom. In a sauce pan, heat up pineapple juice, sea salt and rice syrup and get it bubbling gently. Mix the arrowroot in cold water and stir it in. Use as much as it takes to make a very thick sauce. Add the lemon juice and zest from the other half of the lemon.

I let this sauce cool a little to make sure it was really thick but not going to turn into a solid gel. I also didn’t want to pour the cake mix over really hot sauce. Once cooled, pour your sauce over the pineapple rings and spread evenly. Then pour your cake mix over that.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. This is a little more baking than the basic cake recipe calls for because you’ve got a lot of moisture in the pan and you do want the cake to be done in the middle. The cake will be slightly brown around the edges and will come out clean if you stick a knife into the middle of it (not down to the pineapple part—that should be gooey)

Let the cake cool, loosen the side with a knife and turn it out. Decorate with the cherries or whatever you want to use and voila—Upside down comes right side up!

 

 

 

Fishing

While my place becomes less and less living and more and more boxes, I’m sharing with you the blogs I enjoy reading. Here’s a talented author who provides short fiction just about any day of the week. I liked this post and hope you will too!

th66KUBDTW

(Talking to an old friend is like looking into a mirror.)

Martin and Casey sat in a small boat in the middle of their favorite pond. It had been an hour with no bites and no words.

“Martin,” Casey said. “If possible for you to master a skill which would it be?”

Casey thought deeply. Nothing came to mind immediately. “I suppose that is something I’ve never considered. I’d like to be a better fisherman.”

“That’s it,” Martin said. “What about art, the crafts, academics, the trades, medicine, science, literature, or music?”

“Those are all filled,” Martin said.

“But what if you could be better than the best in one of those fields?” Casey said.

“I would just be a part of some intellectual exchange on whose the best,” Martin said. “And now that you have given me time to think about it, I’d just like to be a better person…

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