Beautiful Bounty from the Garden

The Mystery of the Mushroom

There certainly is a magical mystery about mushrooms.  Although science has not yet caught up with folklore, there does seem to be increasing interest in the mysterious properties of mushrooms (also known as “fungi”). Fungi, ultimately, create the foundation of soil – and soil building is the focus of permaculture devotées who are struggling to heal the earth and its habitants. Restoring the soil to a healthy state is as pro-life (and anti-corporate agriculture) it gets.

 

But not all mushrooms are safe for our consumption. One word of advice is to buy them from a reputable vendor who can educate you as to the proper handling and preparation.  One such vendor educated me earlier this year, explaining why it is never a good idea to consume type of mushrooms in the raw state, whether wild or cultivated. According to Dirk Hermann, the owner of LA Funghi, our bodies do not have the enzymes to digest raw mushrooms, and it is therefore prudent to cook all mushrooms before consumption.

 

That having been said, I am excited about the potential medicinal value of mushrooms.  A number of medical authorities have identified certain mushrooms as being an excellent source of certain nutrients.  In any event, mushrooms can transform an ordinary dish into an elegant, flavorful and satisfying meal.

Here are a few of my mushroom-based dishes...

Foods with Naturally Occurring Phytochemicals - A Great Alternative to Vitamin Pills!

Making the Most of Aromatics - How to Properly Prepare Onions and Other Aromatic Ingredients

This dish has astaxanthan, a naturally occurring phytochemical

Nuvo Olive Oil is high in polyphenols, vitamin E and chlorophyll

20-Minute Pasta Puttanesca

 

I learned how to make Pasta Puttanesca from a New York City mob figure (believe it or not!).  As I stood next to him in the galley of a large yacht, while docked in St.Thomas, he showed me how to carefully prepare this sauce in its Sicilian authenticity and simplicity.  All of the ingredients came from the pantry, making this dish a perfect meal made entirely from staples.

 

Pasta Puttanesca has a high nutritional profile.  In addition to the healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, chlorophyll and Vitamin E, there are the beneficial super antioxidants called polyphenols from the garlic, olives, olive oil and tomatoes.  An added benefit is that canned tomatoes have been shown to have a concentrated polyphenol content compared with fresh tomatoes.  While some of the Vitamin C is lost in the canning process, there is a significant increase in the concentration of the polyphenol antioxidant, lycopene.   Here’s a little health tip:  Peel the garlic cloves and let them sit for 15 minutes before cooking; this will optimize its strong medicinal properties.  Garlic retains 100% of its health benefits when eaten raw.  However, when sautéed in a “low and slow” fashion (as I demonstrate in my instructional video at www.junepagan.com) garlic and olive retain more of their nutritional qualities. Cooked garlic is easier to digest than raw garlic for many of us, so the “low and slow” method is a smart way to go.

 

Pasta Puttanesca works wonderfully with California olive oil.  I have discovered a particularly delicious one made by Nuvo, a boutique family-owned olive orchard in Oroville.  Upon tasting Nuvo Extra Virgin Olive Oil for the first time, I could immediately detect its richness in polyphenols, particularly oleuropein, the phenolic compound that gives olive oil its bitter and pungent aftertaste.  As I poured a small sample into a white cup, I immediately noticed its particularly vibrant yellow-green color, which predicted the bouquet of flavor that was to follow.  This oil reminds me of fresh green olives; the flavor is pleasantly mild, beginning with a fruit-like sensation, and ending with a nice peppery finish.  I have learned that best way to assess the level of oleuropein polyphenol is to look for a pronounced peppery quality in the finish on the palate. 

 

I had been searching for some time, for a quality extra virgin olive oil to use consistently in my kitchen.  I believe that I have found it in Nuvo Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  One interesting fact about Nuvo:  The trees in their orchard are over 100 years old, having originally been planted in the late 1800’s by the Freda Ehmann, considered “the mother of the California olive industry.”  According to information provided by the University of California at Davis Olive Center, the age of the tree is very important.  Older trees produce olives containing a significantly higher amount of polyphenols, which are resistant to disease.  We are now discovering that this may also have the same effect on humans.  I particularly appreciate the fact that Nuvo prints the crush date on all of their bottles.  I prefer to use olive oil within one year of the crush date to assure freshness.

 

Because the polyphenols from olive oil are known for their excellent bioavailability, it makes good sense to incorporate a few tablespoons a day into our diets.  In many parts of the world (particularly the Mediterranean), high-quality olive oil is actually considered to be an essential daily food supplement.  This is because polyphenols are believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial, and anti-viral properties.  Some experts suggest that for optimal health benefit, adopt the habit of using the same high-quality oil at the same consumption level on a daily basis.


Yield: 2-4 Servings

 

Ingredients:

 

2 Tablespoons Nuvo Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tablespoons Anchovy Paste, or more

2 Tablespoons Nuvo Olives, chopped medium dice

2 Tablespoons Capers, rinsed and chopped

2 Garlic Cloves, sliced razor thin

1 – 14½ oz. Can Chopped Organic Tomatoes

1 Tablespoon Fresh Basil (optional)

Salt and Pepper, to taste

2-4 Cups Cooked Pasta

                     

Method:

 

1.   Heat a pan over medium flame for one minute.

2.   Add olive oil and heat for 30 seconds.

3.   Add the anchovy paste, olives, capers, and garlic to the pan, and stir to dissolve the anchovy paste

4.   Cook this mixture for a few minutes until the garlic is starting to brown slightly.

5.   Add canned tomatoes. Continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes over a low-medium flame,       stirring occasionally.

6.   Taste and adjust seasoning. You may not need to salt this dish.

7.   Prepare the pasta, strain off, and add the finished sauce.

8.   You should be enjoying this dish within 20 minutes if it’s done right.


Sprouting Beans Before Cooking - A Simple Process that Makes a Significant Difference

  • Place the beans in a mason jar filled with filtered water, for 8-12 hours at room temperature.
  • Rinse the beans and place back into the mason jar, covered with fresh water.
  • Place in refrigerator.
  • Wait 3-4 days until beans start to sprout.

Food Choices - The Five Essential Elements to Consider

by June Pagan, Private Health Chef

1.         Flavor: Everybody wants their food to taste good and be satisfying. This is the TRUE first consideration for food selection, because when we don’t enjoy the food we consume, we eventually will look elsewhere until we are able to find food choices that are satisfying. During hard times like these, food satisfaction becomes even more essential, as it is one of the most basic elements of our existence.

 

2.         Health Value: This actually encompasses several areas that need to be considered, depending up the specific circumstances of each individual. Many of us are concerned about keeping our weight down, as excessive weight can lead to an array of medical problems. For others, of equal concern are specific elements of food choice. For example some of us must restrict salt intake, in order to maintain a healthy blood pressure level. Others must restrict sugar intake because of concern related to possible development of diabetes. Then there are those among us who have specific food allergies, such as being allergic to nuts, being lactose-intolerant, etc.

 

3.         Cost: Food cost is a reality that must be taken into consideration by most of us. Only the extremely wealthy can ignore cost factors entirely. For the rest of us, it is a matter of degree. Since we are what we eat, most of us try to obtain the very best foods that we can, within the realm of what is financially possible. It is no secret that the cheaper food choices out there are more prone to being compromised by over-processing (you know this is an issue when most of the ingredients read like a chemistry lesson as opposed to actual foods).

 

4.         Respecting Mother Nature by Obtaining Produce that is In Season: This is an element of food choice that many of us tend to overlook, because of the globalization changes that have taken place. For example, we can now find grapes year-round, even in the middle of winter! How is this possible? That’s an easy one – we bring them up from Chile, where it is like our summers even in the middle of February! What’s the problem with this? Well, we cannot be sure that other countries observe the same pesticide restrictions that are in place here in the United States. On the other hand, there are boutique-like farms around the world that strictly adhere to natural farming methods, operating sustainable farms (crop-rotation techniques, no use of pesticides, etc.). This means that the prudent chef must examine each source of produce on a case-by-case basis. There are no hard-and-fast rules with regard to consideration of selecting domestic versus imported of produce. Many of our farms in the United States may not be using DDT to protect their crops from insect invasion – but instead they use GMO techniques which are equally dangerous, and threaten to remove the nutritional value from our foods, as well as any flavor that might have been there. Those strawberries look delightful on the produce shelf at our local supermarket – AND they are farmed right here in California. Not so fast! Those strawberries may not have DDT on them, but they most certainly WILL have other pesticides that pose health risks, not to mention that they are very likely to have been developed using dangerous GMO techniques. Not surprisingly, I often discover that those beautiful strawberries have no flavor, even though they are so pretty in their luscious red coats.

 

5.         Sustainability: Last but certainly not least, we need to consider sustainability. This means trying to purchase the majority of our produce from local purveyors, and making sure that those purveyors source their produce from farms that employ sustainable methods – such as crop rotation, responsible use of modern science (think “pluot” or nectarine). However, we cannot always adhere to purchasing our produce from local sources. There are a variety reasons for this. For example, during the cold season a few years back, we lost our entire crop of local oranges. So if a person wanted to enjoy a glass of fresh orange juice, they had to hope that the orange crop in Florida did not suffer the same fate. There are also farms in other countries that do use a sustainable approach, with the only drawback being that food is not from a local supplier. For example, the best vanilla beans available are from the Yucatan peninsula of our neighbor to the south (Mexico). Those beans are even better than the famous beans from Tahiti, which are no longer even available in the United States.

So how do these five elements relate to my work as a private chef? Here’s how: When I venture out in to the marketplace, I am confronted with a mind-boggling array of choices. I need to consider my client’s budget. I must strive to serve meals that satisfy the palate, while not being harmful to one’s health – for example avoiding dishes that clog up the arteries, elevate blood pressure, or unduly raise one’s blood sugar level. In many cases, the food selection process is limited by specific dietary restrictions, such as food allergies or specific medical conditions. For example, if I have a client who suffers from Meniere’s disease, I must be vigilant about not using any salt in their foods, and avoiding the use of any foods are naturally high in salt (such as soy sauce, for example). I must also strive to be socially responsible in my selection of food products. Failure to do so would be unethical on many levels. Just as I would not throw old engine oil into the trash can, I also must do my very best to avoid purchasing any food products that involve the use of earth-harming methods.

 

And speaking of health issues, another aspect comes to mind that is worth mention here: Kitchen Sanitation and food handling. As a personal chef, it is my duty to pay extra attention to how food is handled. It starts with staying informed. I receive daily notices from the FDA and other agencies, as well as various newsletters that discuss the current state of the food supply. I also attend the annual Natural Products Expo. This allows me to make informed food purchasing decisions.

 

As your private chef, I will be monitoring and rotating your food inventory, if you are in agreement. Very often we look at an expiration date on a product and think that it is okay to eat because it hasn’t expired. This is not always the case. The expiration date can be confusing...does it mean that the product has a long shelf life if unopened? What if the product has been opened (for example, vegetable oil or flour)? Did you know that garlic, when refrigerated, is more likely to develop mold? Another little-known fact is that containers of minced garlic can become contaminated with botulism if not refrigerated? I also use the highest quality water possible in my baking as well my cooking, as this improves the flavor and also results in a healthier meal.

 

Another consideration is the equipment that is used in the cooking process. In my kitchen, I use stainless steel All-Clad cookware. I do not use Teflon, because it tends to chip, and pieces the Teflon can contaminate the food. Yet another often overlooked aspect of food sanitation is the sponge – I routinely put my sponges in the microwave oven for sterilization and discard them at the end of the cooking session. The surface areas are washed down with an anti-bacterial and the floors are mopped and steam cleaned.

 

There is more than meets the eye at first glance, when it consumes to being a private chef. The selection of foods is at least as important as the technique of preparation. I must weigh each of the above five elements carefully, as I forage into the world of Farmer’s Markets, supermarkets, and specialty produce stores. I base many of my day-to-day menu decisions upon the availability of fresh, wholesome, and safe ingredients. After those criteria are met, I also try to purchase locally, while at the same time ensuring that the food source does not use farming techniques that are not sustainable. If the client is requesting a specific dish that would require the use of ingredients that do not measure up to the above described standards, I am sometimes able to employ carefully considered ingredient substitutes. When this is not possible, I will make suggestions of different dishes that are likely to satisfy the client without having a negative impact upon the health of those sitting at the dinner table. Each client requires a different mix of the above elements. Some of my clients have limited budgets. For those clients, I must consider cost first, and then do my best to create satisfying but healthful meals within their budgetary limitations. Some of my clients have specific health conditions. For those clients, I must design specific meals that confirm to mandatory dietary restrictions. Other clients have no serious threatening health issues, and have fairly deep pockets as well. For those clients, there is a larger focus on satisfying the palate and/or making elegant food presentations for their special guests.

 

The above described considerations are significant part of what you, the client, are paying for when you bring me aboard as your Private Chef. And these considerations take place before I ever step foot into your kitchen! Each consideration will have a certain weight (pardon the pun) to it, depending upon the specific needs of each individual. In designing a food program for my clients, I develop menu items based upon the individual needs. Think about your particular goals and any dietary restrictions.   Consider the first three of the above five elements. (The fourth and fifth elements are important, but not a part of how you establish your priorities with the food program.) For example, here is what the percentages might look like for an individual with no dietary restrictions, a hefty budget, and a demanding palate:

Flavor:  70% 

Health Value:  25% 

Cost: 5%

 

Now here is an example of what the percentages would look like for a person with dietary restrictions, orders from the doctor to lose weight, and a limited budget:

 

Flavor: 20%

Health Value: 70%

Cost: 10%



And, take a look at what the percentages would be for a person with dietary restrictions, orders from the doctor to lose weight, but money is no object:

 

Flavor: 35%

Health Value: 60%

Cost: 5%



For folks with the above percentage ratio, the menu options are expanded, because the chef can spend more time procuring exotic items from a broad range of purveyors, selecting only the very finest of ingredients. However, for those with limited budgets, do not despair! A huge part of the benefit of working with an experienced private chef is that I have the experience and expertise that allows me to serve meals that are created from specially developed recipes that emphasize flavor while at the same time adhering to specific dietary restrictions.

 

Before we meet to discuss your specific situation, food preferences, dietary needs, and budget, consider the above elements of Food Choice. This will help us to create a customized approach to your food service that will best meet your needs.

The difference between my ingredients and those found in commercial products...

This is a simple comparison that shows an example of what I do as a clean cuisine chef.  I have duplicated a complex sauce, using healthier ingredients:

Dynasty brand Hoisin sauce:

  • Water
  • Sugar
  • White vinegar
  • Soybeans
  • Rice
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Sesame oil
  • Caramel color
  • Onions
  • Red chili
  • Xanthan gum
  • Spice
  • Natural flavor
  • Citric acid
  • Star anise
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Ginger root
  • Licorice root

June’s clean cuisine version of Hoisin sauce:

  • Soy sauce
  • Organic white miso paste
  • Organic brown rice vinegar
  • Garlic powder
  • Raw honey
  • Molasses
  • Fresh ginger
  • Fresh garlic
  • Organic ketchup
  • Sesame oil
  • Chili oil

FOOD ADDITIVES – WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW COULD ACTUALLY HURT YOU

Due to the recent pet food contamination (attributed to Melamine from China), awareness about possible exposure to our food supply is at an all-time high. Less than one percent of all food imported into the United States is inspected. We realize that the FDA cannot be expected to fully protect us from all potential food dangers, even when it comes to domestic products. Hidden ingredients have become the norm, as corporations strive to optimize profit, often at the expense of our health. In order to minimize consumption of unhealthy foods, we must learn to take individual responsibility for making good food choices. The most commonly used additive in our food supply is MSG, which masquerades itself under many different names and is even found in organic food products as a “natural flavor enhancer.”

MSG has been identified as possibly playing a contributory role in a broad range of health problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, depression, and possibly even cancer. There is no fixed level of MSG consumption that has been identified as posing a health risk. Interestingly, MSG was originally developed as a tool for increasing appetite levels of the elderly population. It is now commonly used to enhance the flavor of a wide range of foods. Try a simple experiment: Take a hothouse tomato and divide it into two portions – one portion with MSG, and the other portion without MSG. The MSG-flavored portion will taste like a luscious heirloom tomato, when compared with the unflavored portion. You can imagine how eager the food processing industry has been, to utilize an additive with this flavor-enhancing capability. Unfortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that MSG may be implicated in the obesity epidemic that is now plaguing this country.

Certain natural foods contain free glutamate, of which even more is generated in the cooking process. This flavor can make those foods more appetizing and satisfying. Many Asian sauces and flavoring compounds are a by-product of concentrating plant or sea proteins. They are rendered more flavorful by increasing their glutamate content. This flavor is called umami, (which means “savory” in Japanese), and it is considered by many to be a “fifth sense" of taste.  

This all sounds wonderful from the perspective of the palate alone – but could we be hurting ourselves in the long run, by not controlling our intake of MSG. And what about the potential health risk for our children?

MSG is found in practically every processed food that we consume. Here are three ways to reduce MSG consumption – without sacrificing taste satisfaction: 

Use only the freshest available ingredients, and try to purchase organic products whenever possible

Try to avoid processed foods

Prepare meals “from scratch,” which will help to ensure that hidden additives do not find their way into your diet.

This approach helps the palate to truly appreciate the natural flavors in foods, and will also protect us and our children from possible side effects of long-term MSG consumption.

The Meal Planning Process

Planning a savory, balanced and healthy menu is a process that requires several stages. One very important stage is Visualization. By sketching my menu ideas, I am able to have an overall picture of how the different menu components fit together from several different perspectives – such as food groups, food combinations, and aesthetics at the table. Here is an example of one of my menu sketches.

Water - The Importance of Avoiding the "Inner Drought"

With many of us suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa (Dr. Steven Bratman coined this term in his book “The Health Food Eating Disorder”), it comes as a shock to me that we tend to overlook water – which is perhaps the most important substance we consume, and an key ingredient that goes into the flavor of cooked and baked foods.

 

High-end sake brewers know that the cleaner the water - the better tasting the result. Sake is made from the fermentation of rice, koji, yeast and water. It takes thirty times the amount of water to rice - to produce the final product. So it’s safe to say that water is an important ingredient in sake production. Water aids in the process of fermentation. Elements in the water can enhance or adversely affect the outcome. Too much iron can darken and create an off-flavor and fragrance. The best sakes are made with the ice run-off from mountains. Bread bakers also know that the quality of water used in the baking of breads is important, as well. Bread is the fermentation of simple honest ingredients - flour, water, salt and yeast.

 

It was once believed that New York Pizza could not be reproduced anywhere except in New York. There is an urban legend that this had something to do with the water. NYC water comes from an upstate source and is considered to be hard water. Hard water contains higher levels of calcium and magnesium. Like sake, bread is a fermented product and as such, it relies on the water to form the gluten and to give the dough consistency, yielding a very digestible result. Water with a mild hardness produces the best crust.

 

Second to oxygen, water is the most important “ingredient” for a healthy life. Most of us are chronically dehydrated. Dehydration, if not treated, can lead us into a life of suffering. Drinking a good quality mineral water helps one’s body digest and absorb nutrients from foods. When we sit down to a lovely dinner with wine, we are taking in alcohol, which is dehydrating. It is always a good idea to have water with your wine; you will have better digestion and enjoy the flavors on your palate. With the excellent selection of high-quality mineral water that is available (still and sparkling), we can enhance our dining experience, while promoting our overall health.

 

To find out where to discover some of the best mineral waters on the planet, visit  http://www.world-wide-waters.com/home.php

MEDICINAL VEAL OR CHICKEN BONE BROTH

After three months of regular use, this veal joint broth helped one of my clients in her effort to stop the progression of osteoarthritis. It has been recommended for individuals suffering from arthritis, rheumatism and osteoporosis.  I found this broth to be flavorful and refreshing.