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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

WHAT'S NEW ABOUT OVERNIGHT OATS?

 I caught up with Millennials’ dining habits quite by accident in a recent phone conversation with my daughter Celia.  We often talk about what we’ve been cooking, and she mentioned she had prepared overnight oats for supper. What?  Had she forgotten to eat breakfast that morning?  She heard the disbelief in my voice and described what amounts to an instant meal in a Mason jar. 

 I was amazed to learn that oatmeal had escaped its morning niche to become a popular homemade carryout meal.  It consists of rolled oats mixed with a few chia seeds, layered in a Mason jar with fruit at the bottom and on top.  Milk of any variety is added to moisten the oats.  Yogurt and honey are recommended add-ins.  

 Although there’s no cooking involved, overnight oats is not a  source of immediate gratification.  The oats take at least four hours to absorb the milk in the refrigerator, so it ends up being an overnight process.  A video link Celia sent me showed how to plan a week's worth of meals choosing a different fruit combination for each day of the week.  Open the refrigerator on Wednesday and look for the jar with strawberries and bananas.  That’s the instant part.

 

As hard as I tried to imagine the pleasures of eating of cold, uncooked rolled oats, my mind kept defaulting to soggy cardboard.  When I shared my reaction with Celia, she assured me the consistency of overnight oats is closer to that of rice pudding.  There was only one way to find out.  I had to give it a try

Measuring and pouring ingredients into a Mason jar felt like lab work rather than cooking.  In this scientific mood, I recalled all the outrageously healthful properties of oats.  It has more soluble fiber than any other plus beta-glucan that makes it so effective in lowering blood cloresterol, regulating blood sugar and boosting the immune system.  What’s not to like? 

The next day I chose to sit on a shaded bench in the park to enjoy my chilled jar of overnight oats for lunch.  All the ingredients tasted as I predicted they would.  The oats were disappointingly thick, sticky and flavorless.  I wished I had added more honey and was grateful for the texture from the fruit. 

That evening I prepared a pot of old-fashioned oatmeal with steel cut oats.  I simmered them for four minutes in boiling water, took the pot off the heat, covered and left it at room temperature overnight.  The grains were plump, tender with a slight al dente finish by morning.  A quick reheating in the microwave renewed their comforting scent of toasted grain that invited a sprinkling of brown sugar, sliced banana and cold milk. 

Overnight oats may not be the first riff on a humble grain that’s been the staple start to the day since antiquity.  It’s best known previous reincarnation was Bircher Muesli, a health cereal created around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Brenner.  At every meal he treated recovering tuberculosis patients to a buffet of raw grated apples, rolled oats, dried fruit and nuts with a side of yogurt.   

So, would you like your oatmeal soaked overnight in milk, cooked in water or dry with yogurt?  

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

BITTERSWEET FRUIT DESSERTS

I am always hungry to taste a fresh take on a classic recipe.  Too often we associate innovative cooking withchefs whose success depends on their preparation of the next awesome dish. But a new idea need not be time consuming work for a kitchen of  prep cooks.  I’ve made it a priority over the years to show home cooks how to get out of a recipe rut and have fun experimenting.   

An adventurous group of students gathered in the Chicago's Alliance Française kitchen on a recent Saturday with just this objective in mind.  Our goal was a makeover of three classic fruit desserts with the addition of a single bitter ingredient.  Which  would we add?  How would we choose to pair and add them to the recipes?  And would they improve on the flavors we already knew and loved? This kind of risk-taking is fun!

 

                                                

                                                                                                

In our first experiment, we inserted a layer of burnt caramel between a pre-baked sweet pastry crust and a decorative layer of fresh strawberries and raspberries.   The caramel replaced a traditional vanilla custard filling.  Voila, we created an energized Berry Tart with Burnt Caramel.

 

 

To make comparisons easier, we used the same pastry shell recipe for a Lemon Tart.  The bitter element in this dessert was a thin layer of very dark chocolate smoothed between the pre-baked crust and curd.  Everything was going according to plan until the very last moment.  

As the lemon curd was spooned over the semi-set layer of chocolate, a thin swirl of dark liquid rose up to the surface.  On no! We'd created a spoiler alert.  The chocolate layer had been outed. Never mind.  The abstract pattern created by the drizzle became part of the experiment.  I rather liked it.

(How bitter was the chocolate?  The group tasted bars with 82% and 88% cocoa respectively and unanimously preferred the one with a higher level of cocoa solids. FYI: Most dark chocolate bars have 40-60% cocoa)

                             

 

In the third dessert we replaced the time-honored orange butter sauce that accompanies Crêpe Suzette with a tangy Orange Marmalade. We first cooked a small batch of marmalade from Artisanal Preserves that includes the bitter peel.  We poured off some not-quite-set marmalade to coat the crêpes and proceeded to gel and jar the remaining marmalade, another five minutes of work.

We completed our three bittersweet fruit desserts with ample time to sit down together and enjoy them.  That's one of the pleasures of working together as a class.  But, a lunch composed of three stand-alone desserts?  Now that was challenging!  We managed with the help of a flute of Cremant d’Alsace.  

Before they left, I asked everyone to vote for their favorite.  The winner was.....(drum roll).... the crêpes flamed with bitter Orange Marmalade!!  My mouth is still smiling.

 

 

Links to recipes:

Strawberry, Raspberry Tart with Burnt Caramel 

Lemon and Bittersweet Chocolate Tart 

Crepes Suzette with Bitter Orange Marmalade 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A GUIDE FOR SEAFOOD SHOPPERS

 

Wild salmon from the Copper River is as much a part of our culinary heritage as Thanksgiving turkey and a lot easier to prepare. Remains of grilled salmon were recently identified along the migratory landbridge from northeastern Asia.  Now, more than 11,000 years later, I wait for late May when robust young king, sockeye and coho begin their run from icy Alaskan streams to the ocean initiating a brief three months of salmon fishing in Pacific waters.  Why is cooking this fish so inspiring?

These salmon are lean, firm fleshed and a beautiful deep orange color from a diet of krill.  The meat roasts (as do all fish) in just 10 minutes per inch (measured at its thickest point) in a 425 F oven.  I remove it when white drops of collagen (fat) begin to dot the surface.  This fat contains the highly prized long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids.  It's a nutritional windfall.  (Forget outdated advice to cook fish until it flakes!)

The demand for salmon has exceeded supplies of wild stock for a generation, well before the American Heart Association issued its recommendation that we eat two servings of fish a week as a preventative measure.  Today farmed Atlantic salmon accounts for 70% of salmon in the marketplace.  It is raised in marine pen nets principally in Norway, Chile, Scotland, north Atlantic and Washington State.  

 

 

Look carefully, and you can distinguish the difference between farmed Atlantic and wild salmon when the two lie side-by-side on a seafood counter.  Farmed salmon appears paler in color, plump and soft-fleshed from its higher fat content.  The flavor of this salmon is mild with a richer mouth-feel and, occasionally, a musty aroma.  Two important selling points account for its popularity.  It offers consistently higher Omega- 3 levels and a price point considerably lower than its wild cousins. 

Aquaculture has been a big business since the 1980‘s but its risks to the environment have been slower to penetrate consumers’ consciousness.   Americans look for the lowest priced commodity rather than the highest quality when they shop for food.  Fortunately, the ecology of the world's oceans is an international priority.  In 1994 the World Wildlife Fund, USA initiated the first of eight Aquaculture Dialogues involving 2000 participants that over two decades has forged codes of standards for 12 species of seafood raised in confinement. Standards for salmon were concluded in 2012 .   

 

 

 

Enter the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, a non-profit international group formed in 2010 that offers certification to fisheries that meet the WWF Dialogues standards.  ASC has a sister certification Council with a similar looking label, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  This consortium was formed in 1996 to certify wild fish stocks.  ASC and MSC are currently working together on certification standards for the next wave of aquaculture businesses: seaweed farms.

The ultimate way to shop for seafood is with the mobile app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.  The MBA focuses at the granular level looking at each seafood purchase as it impacts the health of the ocean.  The Watch relies on science based peer reviewed methods to evaluate wild stocks and fisheries . It ranks choices in one of three categories:  Best Buy, Good Alternative and Avoid.  Each rating includes the variety of fish, (in the case of salmon, whether it is  Chinook, Sockeye, Coho or Atlantic), how it is raised or how it was caught if it is wild, and where it originates.  The MBA maintains ties with producers, retailers and chefs; it has resources in the medical and scientific communities, and updates its listing every six months.

  

 

I recently gave my Seafood Watch mobile app a test drive.  I looked for an ASC logo next to the display of plump, glistening farmed salmon at my local Jewel-Osco (owned by Albertsons).   When the Jewel employee couldn't tell me anything about its origin, I asked to see the label from its shipping container.  This paper had an unconvincing small, black and white ASC icon in one corner.  Perhaps it was a sign of pre-certification? The name of the Chilean fishery was not one of those listed in the Seafood Watch guide. I decided to shop elsewhere.

On to Whole Foods where the choice was between a fresh farmed salmon at $10 per pound and pale, previously frozen Chinook salmon steaks at $30 a pound. The salesman (who happened to be the department manager) proudly told me that the farmed salmon came from Blue Circle Fisheries in Chile which is listed as a 'Good Alternative' on the Seafood Watch list.  He then pointed to the large blue ASC plaque behind him on the wall.  I placed my order.