Sunday, 10 February 2013

Extolling the health benefits of Ginger

Ginger.  What is so special about ginger that makes people excited when I mention I have started this blog.  I get responses like "Oh I LOVE ginger"; "I always cook with ginger" and "Ginger is fantastic".  Which got me thinking, Why?  What is so special about ginger?

Well, I have done a little bit of research (thanks very much, Wikipedia!) and I would like to take a few moments to extoll the greatness of the ginger.

As you may know, ginger is the root of the plant.  It doesn't look much, being a light brown and bulbous thing with knobs sticking out all over it.  But as we all know, it's not what you look like, but what is on the inside that counts.  To be honest, ginger could be considered the ugly duckling.  But cut it open or grate it, and mmmmm!  It smells wonderful.

Ginger is part of the same family as cardamom (another wonderful, versatile spice) and turmeric.  Cultivation began in South Asia and spread to East Africa and the Caribbean.

What are some ways I can use Ginger?
Ginger is very versatile.  It can be used in drinks:  you can steep it in hot water to make tea,  (ginger and lemon with a little honey is wonderful for colds) or it can be juiced.  It can also be made into ginger wine, ginger liquor, ginger beer, and ginger ale.  You can also make ginger syrup to add to drinks (either alcoholic or non-alcoholic).  Ginger can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes, and it comes in different forms - as whole, fresh root; or dried and powdered; pickled; ground into a paste; or crystallised (where it has been cooked in sugar until soft).

What is it good for?
Ginger is known for its therapeutic qualities, especially gastrointestinal distress.  It has a very long tradition of being used to treat nausea, sea-sickness, dizziness, vomiting and cold sweating.  It helps to relieve the nauseous effects of morning sickness during pregnancy (although some warn against taking ginger during pregnancy due to possibly containing a teratogen (causing deformities), and one study linked ginger to miscarriage within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but other studies have shown no adverse affects of ginger on the unborn fetus during pregnancy).

Ginger beer is often drunk to help settle the stomach.  Ginger helps to relieve colic, gas, diarrhea and constipation.

Ginger is also used as a pain relief for arthritis, muscle soreness, menstrual cramps, upper respiratory tract problems, coughing and bronchitis.    

Who knew that this little root could be used to treat so many ailments, and still taste so good?

What is the best way to store Ginger?
Ginger will last in the fridge for up to 3 weeks if it is unpeeled and tightly wrapped.  Or put it into a plastic bag in the freezer for up to 6 months.  Pull it out when required and grate it (no peeling required).

The equivalent of 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger is 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger.

Ginger is a good friend and matches well with:
carrots; chocolate; fruit; ice cream; melon; onions; pumpkin; rice; tomatoes; pork; chicken; and ham.

Well, ginger has certainly proved it is versatile and can be used in many different ways in the kitchen.  I hope this inspires you to include a little bit of ginger in your day!


Saturday, 9 February 2013

More adventures in the kitchen with ginger... Jewish Ginger Cake!

I once went to a cafe with a friend who ordered the Jewish Ginger Cake that was on display.  I ordered the apple tea cake, which was very nice, but my friend's Jewish Ginger Cake was sticky and sweet and oh so good!  He has since tried to make it (he is a great cook, but not much of a baker though) and it has collapsed every time.  He has since christened it "Collapsing Jewish Ginger Cake".  But don't let the name mislead you - this cake is not just for Jews.  Or for gingers either, for that matter.  This cake is for anyone who loves a good old fashioned sticky sweet ginger cake.

As part of my adventures in the kitchen with ginger, (and also because I haven't made a cake since making a massive christmas cake, and that was 2 months ago) I decided to have a go too.

Dutch Jewish Ginger Cake
2 eggs (although my eggs were small, so I used 3)
1 1/4 cup sugar   (I only used 1 cup sugar, because I figured it will be sweet enough as it is, especially with 1 cup of golden syrup in the recipe too)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Golden Syrup
2 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda (I forgot to add the baking soda (actually I didn't even notice it in the recipe!), but it still turned out ok)
2 cups self rising flour (or use plain flour, and add 2 extra tsp baking powder, which is what I did)
1 cup warm water

Preheat the oven at 160 degrees C.

Beat eggs with sugar until creamy.
Beat oil and golden syrup into eggs.  I found that using the measuring jug for the oil first, before measuring the golden syrup in it, allowed the golden syrup to slide out easily and quickly without leaving behind a sticky mess.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and pour into the eggs/syrup mixture gradually, alternating with the warm water.

Beat until smooth.
(At this point I had been using a wooden spoon, but I found my batter had suddenly become lumpy and I couldn't beat it out with the wooden spoon, so out came the magical whizzy stick (a handheld electric mixer) and that did the job very quickly.

Grease a cake tin (preferably one with a removable base) or line with greaseproof paper.  My flatmate warned me at this point that it is a very sticky cake, and so try to put it into a cake tin that it is easy to get out of.  I didn't have greaseproof paper, so I just used a liberal amount of butter and dusted it with flour, and that worked perfectly fine.

Bake at 160 degrees C for 1 hour.

My cake didn't collapse, (although it did start leaking out of the bottom of the cake tin - I don't think I had secured the base properly) and it started burning on the bottom of the oven.  I just popped a baking tray underneath the cake tin to catch any more drips, but it had stopped by then.
I don't think my cake was as sticky as my flatmate's, so perhaps it did need the extra 1/4 cup sugar, but the cake is sweet and I don't think it needs to be any sweeter.  Or perhaps it was omitting the baking soda that made it less sticky.  I am not sure, so will need to practice again and make another one.  And I will need to make another one, as this one disappeared rather quickly.

It was delicious served warm with home made vanilla ice cream, but it is also good served with either cream or yoghurt (yoghurt being the healthier option!).