30 April 2006

Vanilla Cream Pie recipe

More on Vanilla: Here is a straightforward recipe for Vanila Cream Pie from RecipeSource:
Vanilla Cream Pie


3/4 c Sugar
1/4 c Plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 ts Salt
3 Egg yolks; beaten
3 c Milk
1 1/2 tb Butter or margarine
1 1/2 ts Vanilla extract
1 Baked 9-inch pastry shell
3/4 c Whipping cream
1/3 c Powdered sugar; sifted


Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy saucepan;
stir well.
Combine egg yolks and milk; gradually stir into sugar mixture.
Cook over medium heat,
stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.
Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla.
Immediately pour into pastry shell.
Cover filling with wax paper.
Let cool 30 minutes; then chill until firm.
Beat whipping cream until foamy;
gradually add powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form.
Spread whipped cream over filling. Chill.
Yield: one 9-inch pie.

Vanilla: Travels in Search of America's Most Popular Flavor

Following our blog on Vanilla, we recommend the following book, Vanilla: Travels in Search of America's Most Popular Flavor, on the plant and bean for you who are vanillaholics (blurb from Jessica's Biscuit):

The fascinating, kaleidoscopic story of one of the world's most exotic and sensual plants and how it transformed history. From the Aztec Indians to Martha Stewart, vanilla has been synonymous with sweetening foods. Yet it's also in chili, perfume, paint, desserts, car tires, and soda. In Tim Ecott's Vanilla, learn the fascinating history of the world's most sought-after flavoring.The story of vanilla is a botanical mystery, a plant that traveled the world but would not bear fruit outside Mexico until a twelve-year-old African slave on an island figured out how to cultivate it. Now endangered in the wild and the world's most labor-intensive agricultural crop, vanilla is more expensive to procure today than at any time in its history. Tim Ecott follows its journey from Mexico to Madagascar and back to America, meeting the farmers, the brokers, and the ice-cream makers who make vanilla a multimillion-dollar business.In the tradition of books like Tobacco, Tim Ecott's Vanilla is a whimsical journey that chronicles the incredible power of one velvety brown, long, and slender bean.

Vanilla: Travels in Search of America's Most Popular Flavor

by Ecott, Tim
Hardcover - 352 pages
Published: May 2004
ISBN: 0802117759
Grove Press

Available online from Jessica'sBiscuit and BarnesandNoble.


Did you know vanilla comes from orchids? And why is a vanilla bean so pricey? Here are some explanations:

Vanilla is a flavoring, in its pure form known as vanillin, derived from orchids in the genus Vanilla. The name came from the Spanish word "vainilla", diminutive form of "vaina" (meaning "sheath"), which is in turn derived from Latin "vagina".

The main species harvested for vanillin is Vanilla planifolia. It is a native of Mexico, though now widely grown throughout the tropics. Madagascar is the world's largest producer. Additional sources include Vanilla pompona and Vanilla tahitiensis (grown in Tahiti).

The part of the plant in which the distinctive flavory compounds are found is the fruit, resulting from the pollination of the flower. One flower produces one fruit. Vanilla planifolia flowers are hermaphrodite: they carry both male (anther) and female (stigma) organs; however, to avoid self-pollenization (which would tend to result in genetic deficiencies), a membrane separates those organs. Such flowers may only be naturally pollinated by a specific bee found in Mexico. Growers have tried to bring this bee into other growing locales, to no avail. The only way to produce fruits is thus artificial pollination.

A simple and efficient artificial pollination method was introduced in 1841 by a 12 year-old slave named Edmond Albius on Réunion, then a French colony, in the Indian Ocean. This method is still used today. Using a needle, an agricultural worker folds back the membrane separating the anther and the stigma, then presses the anther on the stigma. The flower is then self-pollenized, and will produce a fruit. The vanilla flower lasts about one day, sometimes less, thus growers have to inspect their plantations every day for open flowers, a human-intensive task.

The fruit (a bean), if left on the plant, will ripen and open at the end; it will then exhaust the distinctive vanilla smell. The fruit contains tiny black seeds, which, in ripe fruits, carry the vanilla flavour. These black seeds are the tiny black "dust" one may find in dishes prepared with whole natural vanilla. Vanilla planifolia seeds will not germinate in normal ground; they need a certain symbiotic mushroom.

Growers reproduce the plant by cutting: they cut off parts of the plants, plant them in the ground and wait for them to grow new roots.

There are three main commercial presentations of natural vanilla:

* Whole beans
* Powder
* Extract (alcoholic solution; per FDA requirements, at least 35% vol. of alcohol)

Vanilla flavor in creams, cakes and other foodstuff may be achieved by adding some vanilla essence or by cooking vanilla beans in the liquid preparation. A stronger aroma may be attained if the beans are split in two; in this case, the innards of the beans (the seeds), consisting of flavorful tiny black grains, are mixed into the preparation. Natural vanilla gives a brownish to yellowish colour to preparations, depending on concentration.

Good quality vanilla has a strong aromatic flavour, but foodstuffs with small amounts of low quality vanilla or artificial vanilla-like flavorings are far more common, since true vanilla is much more expensive.

One major use of vanilla is in flavoring ice cream: the most common flavour of ice cream is vanilla, and thus most people consider it to be the "default" flavor. By analogy, the term "plain vanilla" or just "vanilla" is used as a synonym for "plain".

The term French vanilla is often used to designate preparations that actually have a strong vanilla aroma, and possibly contain vanilla grains, but originates from the French style of making ice cream custard base with vanilla beans, cream, and egg yolks. From Wikipedia;
photo from CreativeCommons.

Vanilla beans and vanilla extracts are available online at SuttonsBayTrading, ShopNatural and MotherNature.

29 April 2006

Endives and chicory

Everyone knows what an endive is, right? But did you know it is part of a very large family of edible greens? Read on:

Endive (Cichorium endivia) is variation of the winter leaf vegetable chicory which can be cooked or used in salads, created by growing chicory (or certain similar breeds) until its foliage sprouts, then cutting off the leaves and placing the still-living stem and root in a dark place. They grow a second bud, but without the sunlight it is white and lacks the bitterness of the normal chicory bud.

The technique of growing endives was first discovered in the 1830s in Belgium, and France remains the largest producer of endives.

Endives are part of a genus called Cichorium, made up of bitter leaf vegetables. It is divided between Cichorium endivia and Cichorium intybus. The latter includes Chicory, Belgian Endive (witloof), Radicchio and Puntarelle.

There are three main varieties of endive: Frisée, curly endive and escarole.

Curly endive (sometimes mistakenly called chicory in the United States) has green, rimmed, curly outer leaves.

Frisée has finely cut, frizzy leaves.

Escarole has broad, pale green leaves and is less bitter than the other varieties.

Endive is rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially in folate and vitamin A and K, and is high in fiber.

Chicory has prominent stems and leaves.

Belgian endive (also known as French endive and witloof; in France it is called endive and in Belgium and some parts of Northern France called chicon) has a small head of cream-coloured bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight, a process that prevents the leaves from turning green and opening up (etiolation). This is extensive manual work, as the plant has to be kept just below the dirt surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves.

Radicchio has red leaves.

Puntarelle has narrow stems and leaves.

From Wikipedia. For a recipe for Endives au Jambon, visit about.com.

27 April 2006

What to Eat: An Aisle-by Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices

Just released, and recently reviewed in The New York Times by Marion Burros, What to Eat sounds like it's worth looking at; a blurb from Jessica's Biscuit:

How do we decide what foods to eat? In recent years, this simple question has become complicated beyond belief—as supermarkets have grown to warehouse size, and as the old advice to eat foods from four food groups has been overrun by questions about organic foods, hormones, pesticides, carbohydrates, trans fats, omega-3s, supplements, health claims, extreme diets, and, above all, obesity.

Fortunately, Marion Nestle is here to tell us what’s what—to give us the facts we need to make sensible choices from the bewildering array of foods available to us. With What to Eat, this renowned nutritionist takes us on a guided tour of the supermarket, explaining the issues with verve and wit as well as a scientist’s expertise and a food lover’s experience.

Today’s supermarket is ground zero for the food industry, a place where the giants of agribusiness compete for sales with profits—not nutrition or health—in mind. Nestle walks us through the supermarket, section by section: produce, dairy, meat, fish, packaged foods, breads, juices, bottled waters, and more. Along the way, she untangles the issues, decodes the labels, clarifies the health claims, and debunks the sales hype. She tells us how to make sensible choices based on freshness, taste, nutrition, health, effects on the environment, and, of course, price. With Nestle as our guide, we learn what it takes to make wise food choices and are inspired to act with confidence on that knowledge.

What to Eat is the guide to healthy eating today: comprehensive, provocative, revealing, rich in common sense, informative, and a pleasure to read.

What to Eat: An Aisle-by Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices
by Nestle, Marion
Hardcover - 640 pages
May 2006
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
ISBN: 0865477043

Available online from Barnes and Noble and Jessica's Biscuit.

Dates and Pureed Dates recipe

The Date Palm Phoenix dactylifera is a palm, extensively cultivated for its edible fruit. Due to its long history of cultivation for fruit, its exact native distribution is unknown, but the date palm probably originated somewhere in the desert oases of northern Africa, and perhaps also southwest Asia. It is a medium-sized tree, 15-25 m tall, often clumped with several trunks from a single root system, but also often growing singly. The leaves are pinnate, 3-5 m long, with spines on the petiole and about 150 leaflets; the leaflets are 30 cm long and 2 cm broad. The full span of the crown ranges from 6-10 m.

have been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years. The date palm is believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf, and has been cultivated in ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt, possibly as early as 6000 BC. There is archeological evidence of cultivation in eastern Arabia in 4,000 BC.

In later times, Arabs spread dates around northern Africa and into Spain, and dates were introduced into California by the Spaniards in 1765, around Mission San Ignacio.

Food uses of Dates

Dry or soft dates are eaten out-of-hand, or may be seeded and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, candied orange and lemon peel, and marzipan. Dates can also be chopped and used in a range of sweet and savoury dishes, from tajines (see our blog) in Morocco to puddings, bread, cakes and other dessert items. Dates are also processed into cubes, paste, spread, date syrup or "honey" called dibs, powder (date sugar), vinegar or alcohol. Recent innovations include products such as sparkling date juice, used in some Islamic countries as a non-alcoholic version of champagne, for special occasions and religious times such as Ramadan.

Young date leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart, though its removal kills the palm. In India, date seeds are roasted, ground, and used to adulterate coffee. The finely ground seeds are mixed with flour to make bread in times of scarcity. The flowers of the date palm are also edible. Traditionally the female flowers are the most available for sale and weigh 300-400 grams. The flower buds are used in salad or pounded with dried fish to make a condiment for bread.

In India, North Africa, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, date palms are tapped for the sweet sap which is converted into palm sugar (known as jaggery or gur), molasses or alcoholic beverages. Excerpts from Wikipedia.

Pureed Dates

1 cup dried, pitted dates
6 tbsps. water
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 tsp. ground allspice (optional)

Puree dates, water, vanilla and allspice in blender or food processor. Use as spread on breads, desserts or a condiment for any dish.

Dried dates are availale online at ShopNatural.

25 April 2006

Big Sky Cooking

I try to keep on top of new publications about food -- anything about food, but mostly cookbooks, and pass on the ones that appear worthy of mention. Please submit your favorites, new or old.
This is one I've just come across which is not just a cookbook. Read on, from Jessica's Biscuit:

"Falling in love with the American West, one great meal at a time.

Big Sky Cooking is the ideal combination of delicious recipes, evocative prose, and lush photography--the gift book of the year for anyone who loves the American West, and especially for those who vacation (or have second homes) anywhere in the Mountain time zone. The wide-open spaces and dramatic peaks, the rolling pastures and abundant wildlife, the clean, fresh air and crystal clear waters... the West is filled with sensual seductions that lure people from all walks of life to ski and hike, to ride horses and go rafting, to hunt and fish; they come to cook, eat, and be merry.

Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright show you how to re-create this lifestyle with the perfect prairie picnic or campfire celebration, the ultimate barbecue or a civilized supper under the stars in nearly one hundred accessible recipes. Big Sky Cooking also delves into the rhythms that define life there, with lyrical reflections and descriptions from well-known writers and artists. And surrounding all this beautiful prose and delicious food are 150 stunning color photographs that capture the essence of this delicious and magical part of the country."

Big Sky Cooking
by Brokaw, Meredith Auld and Wright, Ellen
Hardcover - 224 pages
Published: April 2006
Color Photographs
ISBN: 1579652689 Artisan

Available from Jessica's Biscuit.

24 April 2006


I often add kale to vegetable soups as as the preferred green, not only for its mild amd distinctive taste, but also for its nutritional benefits. I sometimes sneak a bit of it into chiles, or lentil dishes and other recipes that call for a green leafy ingredients, usually added near the end of the preparation of the recipe. It needs only about five minutes of cooking. More from Wikipedia:

Kale (also called Borecole) is a form of cabbage (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group) in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms. The species Brassica oleracea contains a wide array of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. The Cultivar Group Acephala also includes spring greens and collard greens, which are extremely similar genetically.

Kale is the result of man's artificial selection for enlargement of leaves in the wild mustard plant.

Kale freezes well and actually tastes sweeter and tastier after being exposed to a frost.

Tender kale greens can provide an intense addition to salads, particularly when combined with other such strongly-flavored ingredients such as dry-roasted peanuts, tamari-roasted almonds, or red pepper flakes.

A traditional Portuguese soup, caldo verde, combines pureed potatoes, diced kale, olive oil, broth, and generally sliced cooked spicy sausage. Under the name of couve, kale is also popular in the former Portuguese colony of Brazil, in caldo verde or as a vegetable dish, often cooked with carne seca (shredded dried beef).

A whole culture around kale has developed in north-western Germany around the towns of Bremen and Oldenburg. There, most social clubs of any kind will have a "Grünkohlfahrt" ("kale tour") sometime in January, visiting a country inn to consume large quantities of kale, sausage and schnapps. Most communities in the area have a yearly kale festival which includes naming a "kale king".Curly kale is used in Halland, Sweden, to make långkål, an obligatory on the julbord in the region, and is commonly served together with the christmas ham. In Scotland, kale provided such a base for a traditional diet that the word in dialect Scots is synonymous with food. To be "off one's kail" is to feel too ill to eat.

Kale is a very good source of iron, calcium, vitamin C, Folic Acid, vitamin K and Carotenoids (which provide vitamin A). Due to its high nutritional value it is often recommended as a way to consume many good nutrients. From Wikipedia.

See our blog for a simple recipe for White Beans and Kale.

White Beans and Kale recipe

White Beans and Kale recipe

4 cups cooked white beans
lemon juice to taste
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste.
1 pound kale
4 garlic cloves
1 onion

Mix beans, lemon juice, salt and peppers together. Heat gently and mash slightly.

Chop onions and garlic. Saute until garlic golden. Slice the greens into shreds and add to garlic onion mix. Saute until greens wilted.

Mound beans on top of greens to serve.

From recipesource.com. And see our blog on Kale.

22 April 2006


Mead is a fermented alcoholic beverage made of honey, water, and yeast. It is generally pronounced "meed" (IPA: /miːd/). Meadhing (pronounced meth' ing) is the practice of brewing honey. Mead is also known as "honey wine," although this is inaccurate. Mead is a separate and distinct family of alcoholic beverages, completely apart from beer, wine, liqueur, and distilled beverages.

A mead that also contains spices (like cloves, cinnamon or nutmeg) or herbs (such as oregano or even lavender or chamomile) is called metheglin. The etymon of this word is derived from the Welsh word meddyglyn, meaning "medicinal liquor", as healing herbs were often stored as metheglin so they would be available over the winter (as well as making them much easier to swallow). Slavic miod/med, which means "honey", derives from the same Proto-Indo-European root.

A mead that contains fruit (such as strawberry, blackcurrant or even rose-hips) is called melomel and was also used as a delicious way to "store" summer produce for the winter.

Mulled mead is a popular winter holiday drink, where mead is flavoured with spices and warmed, traditionally by having a hot poker plunged into it...

...Mead can have a wide range of flavors, depending on the source of the honey, additives called "adjuncts" or "gruit" (including fruit and spices), yeast employed during fermentation, and aging procedure. Mead can be difficult to find commercially, though some producers have been successful marketing it. Blended varieties of mead can be known by either style represented. For instance, a mead made with cinnamon and apples can be referred to as a cinnamon cyser or as an apple metheglin.

Some meads retain some measure of the sweetness of the original honey, and some can even be considered as dessert wines. Drier meads are also available, and some producers offer sparkling meads, which (like champagne) can make for a delightful celebratory toast. There are a number of faux-meads, which are actually cheap wines with large amounts of honey added, to produce a cloyingly sweet liqueur. It has been said that "a mead that tastes of honey is as good as a wine that still tastes of grape".

Historically, meads would have been fermented by wild yeasts residing on the skins of the fruit or within the honey itself. Wild yeasts generally result in a high alcohol content and some interesting by-flavors. As commercial brewing interests 'tamed' the yeasts into the strains we recognize now, certain strains became associated with certain styles of mead. Mostly, these are strains that are also used in beer or wine production. Several commercial labs, such as White Labs, WYeast, Vierka, and others have gone so far as to develop strains specifically for mead.

Mead can also be distilled to a brandy or liqueur strength. Krupnik is a sweet Polish liqueur made through just such a process.

From Wikipedia. For more information on mead and how to make it, visit hbd.org.


In many parts of Italy, a favorite, clear after dinner drink is grappa, often served with several espresso beans beans floating on its "slippery" surface, the beans eaten as the beverage is consumed. A bit more info on grappa from Wikipedia:

Grappa, also known as Grappa Wine, is an Italian grape-based spirit of between 40% and 60% alcohol by volume (80 to 100 proof). It is made from the distillation of pomace, i.e., the residue of grapes (including the stems and seeds) that were pressed for the winemaking process. It was originally made to prevent wastage by using the leftovers at the end of the wine season. It quickly became commercialised, mass-produced, and sold to the world.

The flavour of grappa, like wine, depends on the type and quality of the grape used. However, many producers have added fruit syrup to sweeten and soften the mix so that it appeals more to the American market.

Sometimes, usually in Italy, grappa is added to espresso and known as a "Caffè Corretto", which can also be made with other alcohols, such as sambuca. The other variation of this is the "Amazza Caffè"; literally, "to kill the coffee". The espresso is drunk first, followed by a few, downed ounces of grappa served in proper glass.

20 April 2006


Once in a while there is a brand of food product that goes beyond its trademarked name to become an icon in everyday uses in the kitchen and consumption (see our blog on Tabasco). Nutella is another of those products. To anyone who has travelled to Europe, Nutella is ubiquitous. It is eaten for breakfast on anything, for lunch on anything (great on fruit!), for snacks; you name the meal and time. It can now be found in most supermarkets in the U.S. More from Wikipedia:

"Nutella is the brand-name of a chocolate and hazelnut spread created in the 1940s by the Italian company, Ferrero (also known for their Ferrero Rocher sweets). Nutella is used as a spread on sandwiches and on other food items...

...Worldwide, the spread outsells all brands of peanut butter combined. In Italy, Nutella has become a cultural and social phenomenon. Many books have been written about it, and it is the core of a celebrated scene in the movie Bianca, by the Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti, in which a character relieves his post-coital anxieties by eating from a gigantic jar. It is also very popular in the rest of Europe and in Australia, mostly with children and teenagers. This is less true in the United States, where the product was only available as an expensive import until the 2000s. In the United States, basketball star Kobe Bryant was a former spokesman for Nutella, having grown up in Italy. The brand name has become synonymous with chocolate and hazelnut spread in many countries...

...Nutella is briefly mentioned in Chloé Doutre-Roussel's "The Chocolate Connoisseur", which includes an anecdote of her mother flying into Mexico with several jars and smearing it on her face to convince a Customs Officer that it was a facial mask, and not a banned food product. Among the facts listed in Doutre-Roussel's book regarding Nutella are:

* The spread was initially named "Supercrema Gianduja", and was so popular that in the aftermath of World War 2 Italian stores offered a service called "smearing", which allowed local children to bring in a slice of bread on which they could have some Nutella spread.
* Ferrero changed the name from "Supercrema Gianduja" to "Nutella" in 1964.
* Italy produces 179,000 tons of Nutella every year.
* Although the ingredients are well known, the exact recipe is kept "as secret as Coca-Cola's".
* In Europe the Nutella jar is usually made of glass, whereas in North America it is made of plastic.

...(And) Gnutella, a file sharing protocol, is named as a pun on 'Nutella' and the GNU licensing scheme. It is pronounced identically to 'Nutella'."

Visit NutellaUSA for more information on this product.

19 April 2006

Crayfish, crawfish, crawdads

Crayfish, sometimes called crawfish, or crawdads are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are closely related. They are found in bodies of fresh water that do not freeze to the bottom, and which have shelter against predators. Most crayfish cannot tolerate polluted water, although some species such as the invasive Procambarus clarkii are more hardy. Some crayfish have been found living as much as 3 m (10 feet) underground.

The name "crayfish" does not derive from the word "fish", but rather from the Old French word escrevisse (Modern French écrevisse) meaning "crevice" and referring to the habit of the animal. The word has been modified to "crayfish" by association with "fish". The largely American variant "crawfish" is similarly derived. (This derivation is an example of folk etymology.)

In New Zealand the name crayfish (or cray), refers to a spiny lobster, and crayfish are called freshwater crays or koura, the Māori name for the animal.

Crayfish as a dish

Crayfish are eaten in Europe and China, but they are perhaps most popular in Louisiana, where the standard culinary term is crawfish. They are usually boiled in a huge pot with heavy seasoning (cayenne pepper, paprika, etc.) and other items such as potatoes, sausage, corn, onions and garlic bulbs.

They are also served in various American dishes in restaurants around the United States. They may be fried or blackened. There are also specific preparations for crawfish in cajun and creole food, the best-known of which are crawfish étouffée, crawfish po' boy, crawfish pie, and crawfish beignets.

Crayfish is a popular dish in Sweden and Finland, and is by tradition primarily consumed during the fishing season in August. The boil is typically flavored with salt, sugar, and the flowers of the dill plant. The catch of domestic fresh water crayfish, and even of an implanted American species is very limited and to satisfy demand the majority of what is consumed has to be imported. Sales depended on imports from Turkey for several decades, but after a decline in supply, China and the United States are today the biggest sources of import. On the western coast of Sweden, many tend to prefer the larger salt water crayfish, which is caught in the North Sea.

The Mexican crayfish is named locally as Acocil and was a very important nutrition source of the ancient Mexican Aztec culture; now this kind of crayfish is consumed (mainly boiled) and prepared with typically Mexican sauces or condiments in central and southern Mexico. From Wikipedia.

Crawfish can be found online at cajuncrawfish.com.

100 Greatest Cajun Recipes

Related to our blog on crayfish, a.k.a. crawfish, crawdads, is this 100 Greatest Cajun Recipes, recently published:

"Chef Jude W. Theriot shares his list of core recipes that define the soul of Cajun cooking. Along the way he shares secrets, hints, and personal asides in his lagniappe, or “something extra,” sections. These helpful sections include freezer suggestions and, as in the case of Pain Perdu, explain how the dish got its name.

In recounting the history of the Cajuns from their Canadian beginnings through their migration south to Louisiana, Theriot conveys the spirit and resolve of a proud community. To know this spirit is to know what drives them to cook with such passion. From boiled crawfish, crabmeat au gratin, and shrimp gumbo to chicken étouffée, Chef Theriot has distilled the essence of Cajun cooking with his signature easy-to-follow, hearty recipes." From Jessica's Biscuit.

100 Greatest Cajun Recipes
by Theriot, Jude W
Paperback - 224 pages
Published: April 2006
ISBN: 1589803051

Available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

17 April 2006

White Tea

White tea is tea made from new growth buds and young leaves which have been steamed or fried to inactivate polyphenol oxidation, and then dried. The buds may be shielded from sunlight to prevent formation of chlorophyll. White tea therefore retains the high concentrations of catechins which are present in fresh tea leaves.

Green tea is made from more mature tea leaves than white tea, and may be withered prior to steaming or firing. Although green tea is also rich in catechins, it may have different catechin profiles than white tea. For white tea the little buds that form on the plant are covered with silver hairs that give the young leaves a white appearance. The leaves come from a number of varieties of tea cultivars, the most popular are Da Bai (Large White), Xiao Bai (Small White), Narcissus and Chaicha bushes. According to the different standards of picking and selecting, White teas can be classified into a number of grades, further described in the varieties section.

Produced almost entirely in China and being a speciality of the province Fujian, white tea is steamed and dried almost immediately after harvesting (in some situations in the fields themselves). It is possible that this method of minimal processing accounts for this tea's added benefits. Roderick H. Dashwood, an Oregon State University biochemist, has stated that the polyphenols, called catechins, are altered through subsequent processing to other teas (green, oolong, and finally black). He has published on the anti-cancer activity of white tea.

Health Benefits

One recent study demonstrated that it removes or prevents even more tumors from the stomachs of specially bred cancer-susceptible rats than green tea, or caffeine alone (although all three were shown to have benefit).
White Tea History

White tea was really the first tea consumed and it involved the least amount of processing. Later sophistication of processing techniques involving Camellia sinensis, the plant all true teas are made from, led to green (steamed and roasted) teas and black (semi-fermented and fermented) teas.

From Wikipedia.

A large variety of teas is available online at Spotted Leopard Tea and iGourmet.

16 April 2006

Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Most people know clam chowders are being either white or red. A variation on the red, which my grandfather would make, and found in Southern New England is Rhode Island Clam Chowder. It is a more robust version of Manhattan clam chowder.

Rhode Island Clam Chowder


2 tbsps. Vegetable, corn or canola oil (not olive)
½ lb. Salt pork
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 17 ounce can chopped tomatoes, plus 8 ounces tomato plain sauce
2 dozen (or more, if desired) littleneck or cherry stone clams
4 medium size Maine potatoes, diced ½ inch
1 tsp. Red pepper
Black pepper to taste


In a large saute pan lightly brown salt pork in the oil. Add onions until wilted. Add garlic, pepper, celery and carrots, and cook until almost soft.

In a separate pan cook clams until just opened. Remove from heat and remove clams from shells and chop. Reserve the clam juice.

Put the clam juice in a six or eight quart stock pot and add the ingredients from the saute pan and simmer for about one hour.

Cook the potatoes until not quite tender. Remove potatoes and add the potato liquid to the stock pot, along with the tomatoes and red pepper. Simmer 15 minutes more, then add the potatoes and chopped clams, and simmer no longer than five minutes, as potatoes will fall apart and clams will become rubbery. Remove salt pork before serving. When reheating leftovers, remember not to overheat.

15 April 2006

Bacon and Canadian bacon

Bacon and Canadian bacon

How many different kinds of bacon are there? Read on for the basics (from Wikipedia):

Bacon is any of certain cuts of meat taken from the sides, back or belly of a pig, cured and possibly smoked. The defining element is the cut. There also exists a product called "Turkey Bacon," a pork-free substitute marketed as lower in fat. Bacon is generally considered a breakfast dish, cut into thin slices before being fried, or grilled. It is commonly used as an ingredient in recipes, and is valued both as a source of fat and for its flavour.

A side of unsliced bacon is a flitch. An individual slice of bacon is a rasher (UK and Ireland), or a slice (US). Traditionally the skin is left on the cut and is known as bacon rind. Rindless bacon is common.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland bacon comes in a wide variety of cuts and flavours whilst bacon in North America is predominantly what is known as "streaky bacon," or "streaky rashers" in the UK and Ireland. Bacon made from the meat on the back of the pig is referred to as back rashers, and is part of a traditional Irish breakfast.

Cuts of bacon

Most bacon consumed in the UK is back bacon (also called short back bacon). The cut comes from the loin in the middle of the back of the animal. It is a lean meaty cut of bacon, with relatively less fat compared to other cuts.

Back bacon is known as Canadian bacon in the United States but not in Canada, where it is simply called back bacon. In Canada, "Canadian bacon" is traditionally unsmoked back bacon that has been sweet pickle cured and coated in yellow cornmeal. This variation is also known as peameal bacon, because in times past a mixture of ground yellow peas was used for coating to improve curing and shelf-life. The "Canadian" bacon sold in the United States is plain lean back bacon.

Middle bacon is much like back bacon but is cheaper and somewhat fattier. Collar bacon is taken from the back of a pig near the head. Streaky bacon (the most common form of bacon in the United States) comes from the belly of a pig. It is very fatty with long veins of fat running parallel to the rind. Pancetta is Italian streaky bacon, smoked or green (unsmoked), with a strong flavour.

Gammon is Wiltshire cured bacon rolled into a joint. It is often boiled or baked. Boiled Bacon And Cabbage a traditional Irish recipe uses a gammon joint. Rashers of bacon are a main constituent of the traditional Irish breakfast, along with sausages.

Various forms of bacons are available online from iGourmet and FoodIreland.

14 April 2006

Black salsify and Creamed Salsify recipe

The black salsify or Spanish salsify, also known as black oyster plant, serpent root, and viper's grass, is a perennial member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), cultivated as a root vegetable.


The black salsify is native to Southern Europe and the Near East. As is indicated by its binomial name, it is generally thought to have spread to the rest of Europe from Spain.The name of the genus Scorzonera probably derives from the Old French word scorzon, meaning snake. The Celtic and Germanic peoples are believed to have eaten the black salsify, which was considered efficaceous against the bubonic plague and snake bites until the 16th century. The plant was being cultivated as a vegetable in Italy and France by 1660, however, and soon after, the Belgians were growing vast fields of it.

Food value

The black salsify is considered nutritious: it contains proteins, fats, the glycosides asparagine, choline und laevulin, as well as minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, and vitamins A, B1, E and C. Since it also contains the glycoside inulin, which consists of fructose, it is particularly suitable for diabetics.


The thick black skin of the salsify root is inedible and must be removed either prior to or after boiling. If the skin is removed prior to boiling, the peeled root should be immediately immersed in water mixed with vinegar and flour, in order to prevent discolouring. Since the root sap is extremely sticky, it is often more convenient to peel it after boiling the root for 20 to 25 minutes.

Black salsify is often eaten together with other vegetables, such as peas and carrots. But it is also popular in a white sauce, such as bechamel sauce or mustard sauce. Boiled salsify roots may also be coated with batter and deep fried. From Wikpedia.

Creamed Salsify

2 bunches salsify -- or oyster plant
2 tablespoons melted butter -- or other fat
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Wash the salsify, scrape, cut into small pieces, and drop into cold water to prevent it from turning dark. Boil in an uncovered pan in a small quantity of unsalted water for 30 minutes, or until tender, and drain. Prepare a sauce of the fat, flour, milk, salt, and pepper, pour this over the cooked salsify, reheat, and serve with the chopped parsley sprinkled over the top. From recipesource.

13 April 2006

Tomatoes and Mozzarella

After our blog on mozzarella this morning, we came across this book, Tomatoes and Mozzarella, published just this month. Here is the blurb from Jessica's Biscuit:

"Some flavor combinations are just classic: strawberries and cream, chocolate and peanut butter, olive oil and garlic. One of the most classic and universal of combinations is Tomatoes and Mozzarella, and our new book celebrates this time-honored pairing with 100 simple, sophisticated recipes. This book goes beyond the caprese salad to show just how versatile these two ingredients are. Corn Waffles with Mozzarella and Summer Salsa make a great savory brunch dish, while Ruby Grapefruit, Tomato, and Mozzarella Salad or Pizza Margherita is perfect for a light lunch. Wild Mushroom Macaroni and Cheese or Southwestern Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Chili Oil are memorable dinners no matter what the time of year, and easy Herbed Bocconcini with Sun-Dried Tomato Dipping Sauce will wow cocktail party guests! The beautiful full-color photographs and contemporary design will thrill readers and inspire them to rediscover the simple pleasures of these flavor soulmates." Available online from Jessica's Biscuit.

Tomatoes and Mozzarella
by Harron, Hallie and Sikora, Shelley
Hardcover - 176 pages
Published: April 2006
Color Photographs


If you have ever had fresh mozzarella, as freshly-made that day, compared to the plastic shrink-wrapped "stuff" available in most supermarkets, you know there is really no comparison possible between the two. Fresh mozzarella is available in some larger markets, gourmet food stores, and through some online retailers at the bottom of this blog (they vacuum pack it, and ship it quick, though I can't vouch for it). A little more from Wikipedia:

"Mozzarella is an Italian fresh cheese made from water buffalo (chiefly in Italy) or cow's milk, the second used for most types of pizza or served with sliced tomatoes and basil in Insalata caprese. It is also served alone.

The Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is a particular type of this mozzarella, it's the best for flavour or quality and it's protected by European DOP. It's a raw material in original neapolitan Pizza instead of mozzarella made with cow's milk.

Mozzarella is available fresh, it is usually rolled in the shape of a ball, about the size of softball and soaked in salted water until sold.

It's called Fior di latte if the structure is more compact and this kind of mozzarella it's used to prepare dishes cooked in the oven for example lasagna.

It's could be also twisted to form a plait called "treccia" with different lengths.

It is also available smoked (also called provola), and reduced-moisture packaged varieties. To preserve natural consistency (for no more than a couple of days), fresh mozzarella is delivered in its own liquid (whey).

In this last period there are a lot of different other types like "stuffed mozzarella", filled with olives and cooked or raw ham.

The production of mozzarella involves the mixture of curd with heated whey, followed by stretching and kneading to produce a delicate consistency -- this process is generally known as pasta filata. According to the Mozzarella di Bufala trade association, "The cheesemaker kneads it with his hands, like a baker making bread, until he obtains a smooth, shiny paste, a strand of which he pulls out and lops off, forming the individual mozzarella." Mozzarella di Bufala Campana trade organization. It is then typically formed into ball shapes or in plait. In Italy, a "rubbery" consistency is generally considered not satisfactory; the cheese is expected to be softer."

Try some fresh locally if you already haven't, or order online from iGourmet or get it or a cheese-making kit from CheesePeople.

12 April 2006


Saffron (IPA: ['sæfɹən]) is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the family Iridaceae. The flower has three stigmas, which are the distal ends of the plant's carpels. Together with its style, the stalk connecting the stigmas to the rest of the plant, these components are often dried and used in cooking as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, which has for decades been the world's most expensive spice by weight, is native to Southwest Asia. It was first cultivated in the vicinity of Greece.

Saffron is characterised by a bitter taste and an iodoform- or hay-like fragrance; these are caused by the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, that gives food a rich golden-yellow hue. These traits make saffron a much-sought ingredient in many foods worldwide. Saffron also has medicinal applications.

The word saffron originated from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which derives from the Latin word safranum. Safranum is also related to the Italian zafferano and Spanish azafrán. Safranum comes from the Arabic word asfar (أَصْفَر), which means "yellow," via the paronymous za‘faran (زَعْفَرَان), the name of the spice in Arabic...

...Several saffron cultivars are grown worldwide. Spain, a major saffron exporter, generally produces mellow varieties with less intense colour, flavour, and aroma. Spanish varieties include the 'Spanish Superior' and 'Creme' tradenames, and are graded via government-regulated minimum standards. Most Italian saffron is more potent in these characteristics. However, the world's most intense and valuable varieties disproportionately have Macedonian Greek, Iranian, and Kashmiri Indian pedigrees. Westerners may face significant obstacles in obtaining saffron from Iran and India. For example, the United States has banned the import of Iranian saffron and India has banned the export of high-grade saffron abroad. Aside from these, various "boutique" crops are available from places such as New Zealand, France, Switzerland, England, and the United States. In the U.S., for example, Pennsylvania Dutch saffron—which is known for its earthy notes—is available in relatively small quantities.

There are a handful of what are generally considered by consumers to be "premium" saffron types. For example, 'Aquila' saffron (Italian: zafferano dell'Aquila) is cultivated in the Navelli Valley, near L'Aquila, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. There, saffron is grown on some eight hectares of land. At present, this is its exclusive domain worldwide. It is distinguished by the shape and colour of its stigmas and styles as well as its high safranal content. These give 'Aquila' saffron an unusually pungent aroma. In addition, high crocin content results in exceptional colouring ability. 'Aquila' was first introduced to Italy from Inquisition-era Spain by a Dominican monk. Thereafter, for the duration of the Middle Ages, 'Aquila' became Europe's most sought-after cultivars. But in Italy the biggest saffron cultivation, for quality and quantity, is in San Gavino Monreale, Sardinia. There, saffron is grown on 40 hectares (comprising 60% of Italian production); it also has very high crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal content. Another premium saffron is the Kashmiri "Mongra" or "Lacha" saffron (Crocus sativus 'Cashmirianus'), which is among the most difficult and expensive for non-Indian consumers to obtain. It is even hard for Indian consumers to obtain, as most stores in India sell the cheaper Spanish saffron. This is due to repeated droughts, blights, and crop failures in Kashmir, combined with an Indian export ban. Kashmiri saffron is recognisable by its extremely dark maroon-purple hue, among the world's darkest, which suggests the saffron's strong flavour, aroma, and colourative effect.

Please visit Wikipedia for additional information on saffron. Saffron is available online from iGourmet, LaTienda and SuttonsBayTradingCo.


Wasabi (Wasabia japonica, Cochlearia wasabi, or Eutrema japonica) is a member of the cabbage family. Known as Japanese horseradish, its root is used as a spice and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is more akin to that of a hot mustard than a chile pepper, producing vapors that burn the sinus cavity rather than the tongue. The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. There are also other species used, such as W. koreana, and W. tetsuigi. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are W. japonica var. Duruma and Mazuma, but there are many others.

Wasabi is sold in root form, which must be very finely grated before use, or as a ready-to-use paste, which comes in tubes approximately the size and shape of travel toothpaste tubes. Once the paste is prepared it should remain covered until served to protect the flavor from evaporation. For this reason, sushi chefs usually put the wasabi between the fish and the rice.

Fresh leaves of wasabi can also be eaten and have some of the hot flavor of wasabi roots. They can be eaten as wasabi salad by pickling overnight with a salt and vinegar based dressing, or by quickly boiling them with a little soy sauce. Additionally, the leaves can be battered and deep-fried into chips.

Almost all sushi bars in America, and most in Japan, serve imitation wasabi because the real product is extremely expensive. Imitation wasabi is usually made from horseradish, mustard, and green food coloring (sometimes spirulina), often as a powder to be mixed with water to make a paste. Since real wasabi loses its flavor if dried, powders containing real wasabi do not capture the genuine flavor. To distinguish between the true variety of wasabi and the imitation product, real wasabi is known in Japan as hon-wasabi, meaning "original", or "true" wasabi.

Fortunately for those who either through malice or unfamiliarity come into contact with too much of this condiment, the burning sensations it can induce are short-lived compared to the effects of chile peppers. Wasabi paste bears a superficial resemblance to Mexican guacamole, a popular staple of Tex-Mex dishes, which catches some North American diners off-guard who are unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine. When used as intended, wasabi is also considered to be very tasty on roasted peas, or in small amounts on sushi or sashimi. In America, Wasabi is commonly mixed with soy sauce to make a dipping sauce for sushi and sashimi. Out side of North America however, this is generally thought to indicate classless pedestrianism and will make your guests very upset at the dining table. Wasabi's flavor dissolves very quickly in water and the best way to enjoy wasabi is to apply wasabi after dipping into soy sauce or apply wasabi to the top of the fish and then dip the bottom into soy sauce. From Wikipedia.

Various forms of wasabi are available online from AsianFoodGrocer.

10 April 2006

La Bonne Cuisine of Madame E. Saint-Ange

With little fanfare, a cooking classic has finally been translated into English: La Bonne Cuisine of Madame E. Saint-Ange: The Essential Companion for Authentic French Cooking, as the full title goes, has been a mainstay of French cooks. From Jessica's Biscuit:

"First published in 1927 to educate French housewives in the art of classical cooking, La Bonne Cuisine de Mme E.Saint-Ange has since become the bible of French culinary technique and is found on every kitchen shelf in France. A housewife as well as a professional chef, Madame Evelyn Saint-Ange wrote in a fussy yet highly instructive and engaging style, explaining in intricate detail the proper way to skim a sauce, stuff a chicken, and construct a pâté en croûte.

Though her text has never before been translated into English, she has influenced the cuisines of English-speaking countries through French-cooking experts like Julia Child and Madeleine Kamman, setting the standard for practical home cooking as well as haute cuisine.

This momentous translation--by Chez Panisse cofounder and original chef de cuisine Paul Aratow--makes Madame Saint-Ange's culinary wisdom available to English speakers for the first time. This comprehensive tome contains 1,300 authentic French recipes for such classics as Coq au Vin, Braised Beef, Quiche Lorraine, Cassoulet, and Apricot Soufflé, as well as seasonal menus. An indispensable culinary encyclopedia and an entertaining historical document, The Cuisine of Madame E. Saint-Ange is the definitive word on French cooking for culinary professionals, dedicated cooks, and Francophiles alike.

# The French equivalent of the Joy of Cooking, featuring classic French techniques,1,300 recipes, and 110 illustrations, available in English for the first time.
# The original edition has been in print continuously since its first publication in 1927.
# An indispensable source of inspiration and instruction for chefs such as Julia Child and Madeleine Kamman."

La Bonne Cuisine of Madame E. Saint-Ange: The Essential Companion for Authentic French Cooking
by Saint-Ange, Evelyn
Hardcover - 1392 pages
Published: October 2005
ISBN: 1580086055
Ten Speed Press

It is available online from Jessica's Biscuit.

09 April 2006


A scone is a bread thicker than a bannock (form of flat cake, baked on a griddle and popular in Scotland). It is made of wheat, barley or oatmeal, usually with baking powder as leavening agent. The pronunciation in the United Kingdom is open to debate. Some sections of the population pronounce it as sk'on (to rhyme with gone), and the rest pronounce it sk'own (to rhyme with cone).

The scone closely resembles an North American biscuit (many recipes are, in fact, identical) — itself not to be confused with the Commonwealth biscuit, which equates to what North Americans call a "cookie". In the United States, there is a growing tendency to refer to sweet variations as "scones" (perhaps under influence from espresso bars, where they are popular fare), while savoury ones are known as "biscuits"; in Canada, both tend to be called "biscuits" or "tea biscuits".

In the Commonwealth, scones frequently include raisins, currants, cheese or dates. In the United States, scones sold by coffee shops often include sweeter and more elaborate fillings, such as cranberries, blueberries, nuts, or even chocolate chip scones. In both the Commonwealth and North America, mass-produced scones tend to be doughier than home-made scones.

In Scotland and Ulster savoury varieties of scone include soda scones, also known as soda farls, and potato scones, normally known as tattie scones, which resemble small, thin savoury pancakes made with potato flour. Potato scones are most commonly served fried in the local equivalent of the full English breakfast. As well as fruit scones (with raisins) or cheese scones, common varieties include milk scones, cream scones, bran or wheaten scones and treacle scones.

The scone is a basic component of the cream tea.

From Wikipedia. Scones are available online at FoodIreland.


Polenta is a cornmeal mush popular in Italian, Savoy, Swiss, Austrian, Croatian, Slovenian, Serbian, Romanian, Corsican, Argentinean, Brazilian, and Mexican cuisine. It is a traditional staple food throughout much of northern Italy.

Formerly a peasant food, polenta has recently become quite upscale, with polenta dishes in restaurants and prepared polenta found in supermarkets commanding high prices. Many new recipes have given new life to an item which is, in essence, a fairly bland and common food, invigorating it with various cheeses or tomato sauces.

Polenta is made with either coarsely, medium, or finely ground dried yellow or white cornmeal (ground maize), depending on the region and the texture desired. It is similar to corn grits, with the difference that grits are made from coarsely ground corn, hull and all (most popularly from corn which has been processed into hominy, making it grittier yet). There are many different types of polenta, such as basic or soft polenta.

Regional varieties:

>in Croatia, it is common on the Adriatic coast, where it is known as palenta or pura;
>in NW part of Croatia, in and around Zagreb it is known as žganci
>the Corsican variety is called pulenta, and it is made with sweet chestnut flour rather than cornmeal.
>the Serbian variety is called palenta
>the Romanian variety is called mămăligă

Polenta is often cooked in a huge copper pot called a paiolo in Italian. In northern Italy there are many different ways to cook polenta. The most famous Lombard polenta dishes are polenta uncia, polenta concia, polenta e gorgonzola, and missultin e polenta; all are cooked with various cheeses and butter, except the last one, which is cooked with fish from Lake Como. It can also be cooked with porcini mushrooms, rapini, or other vegetables or meats, as in the Venetian poenta e osei, with little birds.

Polenta is traditionally a slowly cooked dish, sometimes taking an hour or longer to cook. This has led to a profusion of shortcuts in cooking technique, and at least one authority (Christopher Kimball of Cook's Illustrated magazine) has asserted that cooking polenta using modern ingredients should take only seven minutes. Nevertheless, instant and precooked polenta have become popular in Italy and elsewhere. From Wikipedia.

See our blog for Roasted Vegetables with Polenta recipe.

Roasted Vegetables with Polenta

Roasted Vegetables with Polenta


2 1/2 cups pieces red bell pepper
1 cup pieces vidalia onion
1 tablespoon Koroneiki Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Cyprus
non stick spray
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 tablespoons Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena - 12 Years
1/4 teaspoon Aromatic Sea Salts with red peppercorns and Coriander
2 1.1 pound Instant Polentas
1/2 cup crumbled Cabri Corolle cheese
fresh basil


Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl; arrange in a single layer on a pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 475 degrees for 25 minutes or until tender, stirring after 15 minutes. Stir in basil, vinegar, and 1/8 teaspoon aromatic sea salt. Preheat broiler. Place polenta on a baking sheet coated with non stick spray; sprinkle with aromatic sea salt. Broil 7 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Spoon roasted vegetables over polenta; sprinkle with Cabri Corolle cheese. Garnish with basil. From iGourmet. Instant polenta is available online at iGourmet.

08 April 2006

Prosciuotto with Figs and Melon

On my first trip to Italy (Venice) where I was to spend several months, my first meal upon arriving, in the middle of the night, was prosciuotto with melon. I was hungry and it was delicious. Here is a variation from RecipeSource:

Prosciuotto with Figs and Melon

12 Fresh kadota figs
1 tbsp Thyme leaves, fresh, chopped
1/4 c Honey
1/2 c Warm water
12 Prosciutto slices Very thin
1 Ripe melon (any kind)

Take six of the figs & slice them into six even wedges. Dust wedges lightly with thyme.

Thin honey with water & dip prosciutto slices in it.

Cut prosciutto into 1/4-inch strips & use them to wrap up thyme-coated fig slices.

Cut melon into thin slices.

Just before serving, cut remaining figs into 6 wedges & arrange them on chilled salad plates with ham-wrapped figs & melon slices.

Note: If good melon is not available, substitute fresh berries or other fruits.

Prosciuotto is available online at iGourmet and Naso & Gola.


Prosciutto, or Parma ham, is a dry-cured ham original from central and northern Italy. It is also produced in other Adriatic countries.

Strictly speaking, prosciutto means "ham" in Italian. Therefore, it generically refers to the pork cut, and not to its specific preparation. So in Italian there is a disctinction between prosciutto crudo (literally "raw ham", that is to say cured ham, which English speakers refer to as "prosciutto") and prosciutto cotto ("cooked ham", which is similar to what English speakers call "ham", as a derivative of the pork cut).

"Parma ham" is also inaccurate when used to mean types of prosciutto crudo other than Prosciutto di Parma.

The process of making prosciutto can take anywhere from nine to eighteen months, depending on the size of the ham. First the ham is cleaned, salted, and left for about two months. Next it is washed several times to remove the salt. It is then hung in a shady, airy place. The air is important to the final quality of the ham. The ham is left until dry. This takes a variable amount of time, depending on the local climate, and size of the ham. When the ham is completely dry, it is hung in an airy place at room temperature for up to eighteen months.

Interestingly, prosciutto is never cured with nitrates (either sodium or potassium), which are generally used in ham production to produce the desired rosy color and unique flavor. Only sea salt is used. The pigmentation seems to be produced by certain bacteria, rather than a direct chemical reaction.

Sliced prosciutto crudo in Italian cuisine is usually served as an antipasto, optionally wrapped around grissini or, especially in summer, melon. From Wikipedia.

See our blog for Prosciuotto with Figs and Melon recipe.

07 April 2006


Allspice in an underutilized spice. It is a wonderful substitute for nutmeg, cinnamon, and even cloves, in recipes. Or try a bit of ground allspice on a cuppucino. Some excerpts from Wikipedia:

"Allspice has a complex aroma, hence its name. It is an aromatic spice with a taste similar to a combination of cinnamon and cloves, but hotter and more peppery. It reportedly scores between 100 and 500 su on the Scoville scale of hotness (most often used for chile peppers).

Allspice is not, as is mistakenly belived by some people who have only come across it in ground form, a mixture of spices. Rather, it is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The fruit is picked when it is green and unripe, traditionaly they are then sun dried. When dry they are brown and look like large brown peppercorns.

Allspice is most commonly sold as whole dried fruits or as a powder. The whole fruits have a longer shelf-life than the powdered product and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use. Fresh leaves are also used where available: they are similar in texture to bay leaves and are thus infused during cooking and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they lose much flavour when dried and stored. The leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop.

Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper, Myrtle pepper, pimento , or newspice, is a spice which is the dried unripe fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The name "allspice" was coined by the English, who thought it combined the flavour of several spices, such as cloves, pepper, and even cinnamon and nutmeg."

Whole and ground allspice can be found online at ShopNatural and MotherNature.

06 April 2006

Farofa and Toasted Manioc Meal recipe

Farofa is a dish of wildly varying flavors consumed in South America. It can be found commercially produced and packaged in most South American markets but is often prepared at home based on family recipes. The key ingredient of all Farofas is toasted manioc (a.k.a. cassava, yucca, or tapioca) flour. Most recipes will also contain varying amounts of salt, smoked meat, and spices. The consistency of the mixture also ranges from large grains the size of cracked bulgur wheat or couscous, down to a table-salt-sized powder. Most farofas have a very smoky and slightly salty taste, by and large used to accentuate the taste of meat, particularly barbecued meat, and the hearty stews.

Farofa is served alongside the main course and can either be sprinkled on by individual dinners to their taste preference before eating, or eaten as an accompaniment in its own right, as rice is often consumed.

This dish is particularly popular in Brazil. From Wikipedia.

Toasted Manioc Meal recipe

This is a simple recipe for toasted manioc meal (farinha de mandioca). The farofa can also be very fancy with olives, prunes, bacon, sausage, cashew nuts, banana, etc. added to it.

4 tablespoons of butter
3 cups manioc flour
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet. Add manioc meal and cook over low heat stirring constantly until golden. Sprinkle with salt, to taste. Serve in a small ceramic bowl. From maria-brazil.org.


Escargots, in French cuisine, is a dish of cooked land snails, usually served as an appetizer. In France, escargots are typically only eaten on festive occasions.

The French word escargot (meaning snail) is almost invariably used on restaurant menus (especially in North America) to refer to snails as a food item, though in most Commonwealth countries one can also order snails in English.

Not all species of snail are edible, but many (116 different species) are. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from species to species. In France, two species native to France are normally used for preparing escargots. One of these, the "petit-gris" Helix aspersa, is common in temperate climates worldwide.

Because snails eat soil, decayed matter, and a variety of leaves, the contents of their stomachs can be toxic to humans. Therefore, before they can be cooked, the snails must first be prepared by purging them of the contents of their digestive system. The process used to accomplish this varies, but generally involves a combination of fasting and purging. The methods most often used can take several days. Farms producing Helix aspersa for sale exist in Europe and in the United States. Farm-raised snails are typically fed a diet of ground cereals.

Typically, the snails are removed from their shells, gutted, cooked (usually with garlic butter), and then poured back into the shells together with the butter and sauce for serving, often on a plate with several shell-sized depressions. Special snail tongs (for holding the shell) and snail forks (for extracting the meat) are also normally provided. From Wikipedia.

A variety of escargots can be found online at iGourmet.

2006 Cookbook of the Year

Last weekend in Seattle, the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) announced this year's IACP Cookbook Award Winners.

The Cookbook of the Year in 2006 is Richard Bertinet's Dough : Simple Contemporary Breads. A master takes you through the steps to perfecting your own dough.

Richard Bertinet takes you on a journey of development, so that once you have mastered the simple recipes, you can use them to create more innovative and advanced creations. All the breads take less than one hour, with advice on how to make bread in advance, use the freezer and above all, comes the knowledge from a master-baker of how to make the perfect dough.

Dough : Simple Contemporary Breads
by Bertinet, Richard
Hardcover - 160 pages
November 2005
Color Photographs
ISBN: 1904920209
Kyle Cathie Publisher

Dough is available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

05 April 2006

Tavern on the Green

New Yorkers say it's too corny, and few venture there, unless it's for a kid's birthday party or your grandparents golden anniversary. It definitely is a tourist attraction. But Tavern on the Green is worth a try (if only to say you've been there): The atmosphere and decor is fairy-book-like. And, the food is not bad. Some rooms are definitely more attractive than others. From the web site:

"A grand café overlooking Central Park, Tavern on the Green is one of New York's most dazzling dining experiences - a real show- stopper overflowing with crystal chandeliers, hand-carved mirrors, and stained glass. Nestled in its own magical gardens, Tavern on the Green exists in a fantasy-like setting. It is no wonder the critics say, 'If Oz had a restaurant, this would be it!'...

...Built to house sheep in 1870, the building now known as Tavern on the Green became a restaurant in 1934. In 1974, Warner LeRoy, who revolutionized the American dining scene with his legendary Maxwell's Plum, took over the restaurant's lease and embarked upon a $10 million renovation.

Tavern on the Green re-opened in 1976 and is currently the highest-grossing independently-owned restaurant in the United States with annual revenues in excess of $34 million and over half a million visitors a year"...

Tavern on the Green


In Indian cuisine, a chutney (British spelling), chatni (Hindi transliteration) or catni (archaic transliteration) is a term for a variety of sweet and spicy condiments, originally from eastern India.

In its homeland, a chutney is often made to be eaten fresh, using whatever suitable strongly flavoured ingredients are locally traditional or available at the time. It would not normally contain preserving agents, since it is intended to be consumed soon after preparation.

The Hindi word equivalent of "to make chutney" is also commonly used to signify "to crush." This is because the process of making chutney often involves the crushing together of the ingredients. In fact, the use of a stone chutney maker is often regarded as vital to create the ideal chutney.

Chutney is more familiar in North America and Europe in a form that can be stored. To this end, vegetable oil, vinegar or lemon juice are used to enhance the keeping properties.

Many authentic chutneys contain significant amounts of fresh green chilli peppers; the other main ingredient can be any of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Most vegetable chutneys are prepared cold in a blender, while many fruit chutneys do require cooking.

Beginning in the 1600's, chutneys were shipped to European countries like England and France as luxury goods. Western imitations were called "mangoed" fruits or vegetables. In the nineteenth century, brands of chutney like Major Grey's or Bengal Club created for Western tastes were shipped to Europe. Excerpts from Wikipeda.

A variety of chutneys can be found online at Nature Isle Tropical Gourmet, Indian Blend and Gourmet Grocery Online.

Mango Chutney recipe

Mango Chutney


6 Mangoes, peeled and cut -into strip
1 qt Apple cider vinegar
2 c Granulated sugar
2 c Dark brown sugar
2 c Chopped onion
6 Cloves garlic, minced
4 ts Cracked black pepper
1/2 ts Salt
2 ts Hot red (cayenne) pepper
1 Tb. cinnamon
1 Tb. minced fresh ginger root
1/2 ts Ground cloves
2 ts Ground allspice
2 ts Ground mustard seeds
1 c Raisins
1 c Carrots
3 lb Granny Smith apples, -peeled, cored and chopped


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and store overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, put the mixture in a large, heavy pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until syrupy. Let cool, then refrigerate and use within a few days. Or, for longer storage, ladle boiling-hot chutney into hot, clean pint or half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Seal the jars with new two piece canning lid, according to manufacturers directions and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Cool, label and store the jars. Makes 4 to 6 cups.

The San Mateo Times. 6/26/90 Posted by Stephen Ceideburg July 27 1990. From RecipeSource.

See our blog for more informtion on chutney.

Bouquet garni

The bouquet garni (French for "garnished bouquet") is a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string and mainly used to prepare soup, stock, and various stews. The bouquet is boiled with the other ingredients, but is removed prior to consumption.

There is no generic recipe for bouquet garni, but most recipes include parsley, thyme and bay leaves. Depending on the recipe, the bouquet garni may include basil, burnet, celery leaves, chervil, rosemary, savory and tarragon. Sometimes, vegetables such as carrot, celery, celery root, leek, onion and parsley root, are also included in the bouquet.

Sometimes, the bouquet is not bound with string, and its ingredients are filled into a small sachet, a net, or even a tea strainer instead. From Wikipedia.

Herbs placed in cheesecloth and tied with cooking twine works very well also.

04 April 2006

A New DVD about Ferran Adria, of el Bulli

Just made available!

A New DVD about Ferran Adria, of el Bulli

Anthony Bourdain, chef, author, and word traveller hosts this fascinating DVD exploring the work of Ferran Adria, the chef/owner of the famed el Bulli in Spain. Adria closes el Bulli for six months out of the year to so that he and his staff can work out new concepts in their state-of-the art lab. It is here that Anthony Bourdain takes us, tracking the process from lab to unique meal.

Decoding Ferran Adria DVD

Hosted by Anthony Bourdain
Item Number 08923 at Jessica's Biscuit
ISBN: 0-06-115707-4

Visit Jessica's Biscuit to order one of the 385 of the DVDs available.


Tofu, sometimes also called doufu (often in Chinese recipes) or bean curd (literal translation), is a food made by coagulating soy milk, and then pressing the resulting curds into blocks. The making of tofu from soy milk is similar to the technique of making cheese from milk. Wheat gluten, or seitan, in its steamed and fried forms, is often mistakenly called “tofu” in Asian or vegetarian dishes.

Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds. Although pre-made soy milk may be used, most tofu producers begin with their own soy milk, which is produced by soaking, grinding, boiling, and straining dried (or, more rarely, fresh) soybeans.

Coagulation of the protein and oil (emulsion) suspended in the boiled soy milk is the most important step in the production of tofu. This process is accomplished with the aid of coagulants. Two types of coagulants (salts and acids) are used commercially. The third type of coagulant, enzymes, is not yet used commercially but shows potential for producing both firm and “silken” tofu.

Depending on the amount of water that is extracted from the tofu curds, fresh tofu can be divided into three main varieties: Soft/silken tofu; Asian firm tofu; Western firm/dried tofu. Visit Wikipedia for a full description of these types of tofu.

Very little is known about the exact historic origins of tofu and its method of production. While there are many theories regarding tofu's origins, historical information is scarce enough as to relegate the status of most theories to either speculation or legend. Like the origins of cheese and butter, the exact origin of tofu production may never be known or proven.

What is known is that tofu production is an ancient technique. Tofu was widely consumed in ancient China, and techniques for its production and preparation were eventually spread to many other parts of Asia.

Nutrition and health information

Tofu is low in calories, contains beneficial amounts of iron (especially important for women of child bearing age) and has no cholesterol (a risk factor for heart disease). Depending on the coagulant used in manufacturing, the tofu may also be high in calcium (important for bone development and maintanence) and magnesium (especially important for athletes).

Tofu is relatively high in protein, about 10.7% for firm tofu and 5.3% for soft “silken” tofu with about 2% and 1% fat respectively as a percentage of weight.

This is a synopsis; for more on tofu, please visit Wikipedia. And see our blog for Oprah's Chocolate Tofu Cake.

Oprah's Chocolate Tofu Cake

Oprah's Chocolate Tofu Cake


Light vegetable oil cooking -- spray
8 ounces Firm tofu
1/4 cup Part-skim milk ricotta chees
4 ounces Light cream cheese
1/4 cup Pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons Unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Ground cinnamon
2 large Egg whites
3 tablespoons Light Irish cream liqueur
1 tablespoon Coffee liqueur


1/2 cup Nonfat sour cream or plain -- nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon Pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Honey

Preheat oven to 350~. Coat a 10" glass pie plate with 3 sprays of the spray. In the bowl of a processor, combine the tofu, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, syrup, cocoa, egg whites, cinnamon and liqueurs. Puree until smooth and pour into prepared pie plate. Place the pie plate on the center rack of the oven. On the bottom rack, place a baking pan filled halfway
with water.

Bake for 1 hour. While the cake is baking, combine all topping ingredients and whisk thoroughly. When the cake has cooled for an hour, remove it from the oven.

Spread the topping on evenly, decorate if you wish and return it to the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes more, until the topping sets.

Source: Rosie Daley. Courtesy of RecipeSource.

See our blog on Tofu.

03 April 2006

Breadfruit and Ulu Cakes recipe

Breadfruit is monoecious, that is male and female flowers occur separately on the same tree. The male inflorescence, consisting of thousands of tiny, creamy yellow individual flowers, is club shaped, ranging from 10 cm to 45 cm long. The inflorescence fades to dark brown with age. Honeybees are attracted to the abundant pollen produced by some varieties.


Breadfruit can be cooked and eaten at all stages of growth. It is typically consumed when mature, but still firm, and is a delicious substitute for any starchy vegetable, pasta, or rice. Mature breadfruit can be boiled, steamed, or baked and replace potatoes in many recipes. Small, immature fruits can be boiled, pickled or marinated, and have a flavor similar to that of artichoke hearts. Sliced breadfruit can be fried to make chips or ‘French fries’ or candied. Ripe fruits are creamy and sweet and can be eaten raw or used to make pies, cakes, and other desserts. Breadfruit made into a cereal or pureed ripe fruits are good foods for babies.” From breadfruit.org.

Ulu Cakes
by Danny Baker

Breadfruit - steamed or boiled, mashed
1 onion - diced
6 shrimp or prawns - diced
5 green onions - chopped
2 cup breadcrumbs or panko
salt, pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten

Mix first four ingredients, form into patties. Dip into egg and breadcrumbs. Deep fry until golden in color.

Mac Nut Sauce
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup chopped basil
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup oil
salt, pepper to taste


From the Ulu Cookbook.