Blog Posts by Zester Daily

  • Why Digging Your Own Sweet Potatoes is Worth the Effort. (Seriously!)

     Just unearthed sweet potatoes.

    By Terra Brockman

    As soon as frost threatens here in Illinois, my brother Henry drops everything and calls all hands to come help dig the sweet potatoes.

    As I walk the rolling hills to his rich bottomland fields, my footsteps prompt the plaintive call of the Japanese yaki-imo man whose refrain -- "yaki-imo, ishi yaki-imo " (roasted sweet potatoes, stone-roasted sweet potatoes) -- resonates in my head.

    This East meets Midwest moment is not so strange since both Henry and I spent the better part of the 1980s in Japan, and since sweet potatoes were grown all over the warm zones of the Americas for some 5,000 years before they were "discovered" by Europeans and disseminated throughout the rest of the world. China now produces most of the world's sweet potatoes.

    In temperate zones like Illinois, we need to balance keeping the tubers in the ground as long as possible, with getting them out as quickly as possible when the temperatures fall. It's during those last weeks when

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  • Popped Quinoa (Corn Isn't the Only Grain that Pops!)

    Popped quinoa granolaBy Lauren Chattman

    Searching online for something fun to do with popcorn, I paged through the same old recipes for popcorn balls, caramel corn and cheese popcorn. Was there nothing new under the autumn sun? Then, I came across some information that almost made my head explode. Until a few days ago, I didn't realize that grains other than popping corn have hard impermeable hulls protecting starchy interiors. When quinoa, millet, amaranth or sorghum are heated, pressure builds up inside the grains until they pop. I immediately got out my jar of quinoa to give this a try.

    Quinoa is an ancient grain-like crop that has been cultivated in the Andes for thousands of years. Its nutritional value is beyond compare. Not only does it have twice as much protein as corn, but its protein is complete, containing all nine essential amino acids. When it comes to fiber and minerals, quinoa is also a powerhouse. And according to some studies, it may slow atherosclerosis and protect against

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  • The Surprising Dish You’ll Need for an Authentic Thanksgiving


    By Clifford A. Wright

    Our image of the first Thanksgiving is a fanciful one created in grammar-schools across the nation. We imagine Pilgrims sharing turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie with the Wampanoag tribe in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621. In fact, there was no turkey on the table although there was water fowl, lobsters and clams, and five deer brought by the Indians. There were no cranberries, no sweet potatoes, and no pumpkin pie, although there was some kind of squash.

    Nonetheless, Americans still like to assemble the traditional foods that reflect our flawed notion of a historically correct menu and preserve the continuity of our culinary culture. So we have turkey, and corn bread, and pumpkin pie, and sweet potatoes.

    Except in New England, few families serve up lobster on Thanksgiving, yet lobster should be one of the most traditional of Thanksgiving foods because it more than likely appeared at the first Thanksgiving.

    Although our

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  • Coconut oil makes a comeback with anti-cancer benefits

    High-quality virgin coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils free of trans-fatty acids. High-quality virgin coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils free of trans-fatty acids. By Ammini Ramachandran

    Coconut oil's many health benefits have been eclipsed for decades by fears about saturated fats. But now it's time for a more sophisticated understanding of the virgin coconut oil's healthful nature and its indispensable place in southern Indian cooking.

    I grew up in a world where coconuts reign supreme; the name of my home state Kerala means "land of coconut palms." Wherever it is grown around the world, coconut has a long and respected history and all parts of the palm are used in some way or another in the daily life of the people in the coconut-growing areas. It is acclaimed as Kalpavriksha -- the all-giving tree in ancient Indian classics.

    Coconut oil extracted from the firm white kernel of the mature coconut is an essential ingredient in our cuisine. In addition to its many culinary applications, coconut oil is also widely used in home remedies and in Ayurveda, Indian herbal medicine.

    Coconut oil is the most misunderstood of all coconut

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  • Fast, hearty corn soup from scratch: A ideal comfort food for fall

    By David J. Latt

    Making soup from scratch can seem daunting. Opening a can seems so much easier. But soup from a can isn't nearly as delicious as making your own. Challenge yourself with easy-to-make corn soup and get the added benefit that it is much less expensive and more nutritious.

    At the height of summer, it had seemed as if every farmer was selling an endless supply of freshly picked corn. At our farmers market in California, bushels of corn were piled high, sometimes costing as little as $1 for three ears. We'd pack half a dozen ears into our shopping bag, happy that we could have grilled corn for dinner.

    Now, with fall's chill in the air, corn is all but disappearing from the markets. If we want fresh corn on the cob, we have to rush to the market early, before the farmers sell out of what little is available. Using corn in a soup is such a fun way to say goodbye to summer.

    Soup, the perfect comfort food

    Even with the best restaurant food in the world, my

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  • The secret to perfect homemade bread

    By Martha Rose Shulman

    Like all Americans, I learned to bake using measuring cups and spoons, and have written all of my cookbooks, including baking books, using these standard American measures. When I lived in France, where cooks use weights for dry ingredients (as well as poetic measures like une noix de beurre, une pointe d'ail, a soupçon of this, a poignée of that), and bakers use them for both dry and wet ingredients, I began to see that using weights was a much easier and more accurate way to cook. But my editors have always insisted on measures. They might concede a metric conversion chart, hidden away in the appendix of the book, but they are convinced that American cooks will not buy cookbooks unless the traditional American measures are used.

    I recommend anybody who has doubts about the merits of weights over measures do this exercise as well: Measure 1 cup of flour 10 times and weigh it each time on a digital scale set to grams (grams are much more precise than

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  • The must-have kitchen tool you don't even know you need

    By Clifford A. Wright

    The most important kitchen implements not found in a typical kitchen are the mortar and pestle. Personally, I can't see how one could live without it. Real cooks can't do without a mortar and pestle, but I've met plenty of good home cooks who don't have these essential tools in their batterie de cuisine. They seem to believe that mashing something in a mortar is too labor intensive for their daily cooking.

    I see the mortar and pestle as essential, and I use it on a quite frequent basis. There are many preparations that need something crushed and mashed by pounding, resulting in a consistency that cannot be achieved by a food processor. The most familiar recipe you would make with a mortar and pestle is pesto. The meaning of the word pesto says it all. It's from the Italian pestare, to pound, and food processors don't pound, they cut and slice rapidly.

    Although pesto is the obvious first preparation for your new mortar and pestle, why not truly impress

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  • Easy, elegant gnocchi is ideal for a weeknight dinner

    By David Latt

    Often overlooked as too difficult for home cooks, gnocchi are surprisingly easy to prepare. Instead of thinking of this classic dish as a special occasion restaurant treat, we should embrace it as a simple, elegant family dinner option. That's particularly true this time of year when there is so much fresh produce available to make the perfect accompaniments to these potato dumplings.

    The only special equipment required to make gnocchi is a food mill, although, in a pinch, a grater will do. Other than that, a large pot, salted water, potatoes, flour and an egg are all you need.

    Pleasing and delicate

    Personally, I love pasta, but I crave gnocchi.

    Sensuous and luxurious, these little dumplings or "pillows" are best savored slowly, engaging in an unhurried dance of flavor and texture.

    The right pairing of sauce to gnocchi is the cook's challenge. Complementary flavors are the goal. Just about any ingredient you enjoy with pasta goes well with

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  • Kids won't eat vegetables? Try spaghetti squash for pasta lovers

    Spaghetti squash recipes are low in calories and easy to prepare.Spaghetti squash recipes are low in calories and easy to prepare.

    By Terra Brockman

    If you like the circus act where a crowd of clowns emerges from a tiny car, then you'll love spaghetti squash. It's just plain fun to cook a vegetable the shape of a small watermelon, then open it up and pull out yards of crisp-tender golden strands.

    Spaghetti squash is the delicious link between soft-skinned summer squashes and hard-skinned winter squashes. In the past decade, varieties have proliferated, leading to a broad array of sizes and shapes, and colors that range from pale ivory to deep yellow. These newer varieties also have richer tastes -- look for tivoli, orangetti, stripetti and hasta la pasta.

    But no matter what it looks like on the outside, spaghetti squash is defined by the flesh inside, which separates into long pasta-like strands when cooked. Unlike its namesake, however, this spaghetti is low in calories, free of gluten, and rich in folic acid, fiber, potassium and vitamin A.

    And it's super-easy to prepare. Simply bake,

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