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Bring on the vampires!

Garlic- not just for warding off vampires (does that even work?). Garlic is a plant of the onion family whose bulb is used to flavor dishes around the world. Not only is the flavor enjoyed by many, there are health benefits associated with it. The strong flavor creates a warming sensation, it acts as a stimulant and increases matabolism, purifies the digestive system, helps the body eliminate toxins.

I’ve always been taught that the proper way to peel the papery skin from garlic is to lay it on a hard surface such as a cutting board and using the flat side of a knife, press firmly to crush. Effective, but still messy. I’ve found another way that works better for me. Using a paring knife, nip each end off the clove and then using the knife tip, flick off the skin. Less messy and easier for me. But as with everything, use whatever works best for you.

Garlic can be used in different ways, depending on the recipe. I never recommend using dried or powdered garlic, as it contains preservatives and isn’t nearly as tasty. Garlic cloves can be roasted whole for a sweet, nutty flavor. It can be chopped, diced, mashed, pounded, or slice. The smaller the pieces you chop it into, the stronger the flavor. Garlic flavor is enhanced when it mixes with oxygen, so the more oxygen the surface is exposed to, the stronger the flavor.

Garlic can be grown at home by seperating the cloves and planting in pots or the ground. One clove will grow into one bulb later. When buying garlic, look for plump, firm bulbs. Store at home in a cool, dry place.

Using fresh garlic in recipes is ideal, but can be timing consuming and smelly. My personal hint: When you have a little extra time, peel a quantity of garlic and chop it up. A mini-chopper or food processor is great for this. Then put your chopped garlic in a small jar (think baby food jar), covering it in a light salad oil, and store it in the refridgerator for use later. Yes, I know you can buy jars of already chopped garlic. But those contain preservatives, and may have been sitting on the grocery shelves for months.

 

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The Salt (and Pepper) of the Earth

Ok, so in deciding where to start on this culinary journey, I’ve decided to try to forget everything I think I know about cooking. This means starting with the basic ingredients which are popular around the world. My first thought was to research what spices and seasonings are most used. Sounds simple enough, right? Well it is — if you want to concentrate on one particular type of food, or region. In some areas, the most popular seasonings are chilis, in others curry, in still others it is cumin. But the one universal #1 is salt. And there isn’t just one type of salt out there. Table salt, sea salt, rock salt, pickling salt, kosher salt, and fleur de sel. Each type has it’s own qualtities and not all are appropriate for cooking.

But wait– what about all the type we hear about salt being BAD for the body? Not strictly true as it turns out. Humans need to consume a certain amount of salt to stay healthy. But as in everything else, moderation is the key. Most of us have heard about the bad effects of too much salt… high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke. But too little salt can result in muscle cramps, dizziness and electrolyte imbalances. Across the globe different countries have varying recommnedations from their governments on what is an appropriate salt intake. But overall, the upper limits recommended were 2300mg of sodium per day. And minimum intakes range from 460mg- 1600mg. So there is no hard and fast rule on salt intake, just don’t overdo it.

The second most popular seasoning globally is pepper. Again, there are many to choose from. Black, white, cayenne, chili… the list goes on. And pepper can also be healthy. Black pepper has been shown to improve digestion and promote intestinel health. White pepper comes from the same plant, but the taste is not as “hot”. Cayenne pepper is much hotter, but has been said to be a natural remedy for many ailments. Some say it aids in preventing colds and flu, as an anti-fungal, preventing allergies and migraines… the list goes on. Although different salts can be mostly interchangeable (each having it’s own special properties) the same cannot be said for pepper.

As we go along and explore recipes, we will talk more about salt and pepper as they come up. But my main point is — neither one are as simple as I thought!