30 June 2006

Hudson Valley Garlic Festival

One of our favorite foods/herbs/flavorings/fetishes(!?!) continues to be garlic, which we unceasesingly promote (and eat, eat..). And one of the events we like to help out is the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival™, which "...continues to be a fun celebration of the harvest of what garlic aficionados lovingly refer to as the 'stinking rose'."

***

Visit Hudson Valley Garlic Festival™, to learn more.

Kitchen Sense: More than 600 Recipes to Make You a Great Home Cook

A new food-related publication to snag our attention this month is
Kitchen Sense: More than 600 Recipes to Make You a Great Home Cook, by Mitchell Davis. This is the description from Jessica's Biscuit:

"Imagine if everything you needed to know to be a great home cook were contained between the covers of a single volume. There’d be new twists on cozy favorites like Macaroni and Cheese with Buttermilk Fried Onions and Crumbled Bacon, classic stews such as Chicken Paprikash, Asian-inspired dishes like Chilled Soba Salad, and all-American staples such as juicy hamburgers hot off the grill. There would be reliable, fundamental recipes for basics, including rice (white, yellow, basmati, jasmine, and brown) and vinaigrette (French, Italian, creamy, and others), along with countless creative variations. There would be boxes packed with time-saving tips and useful information on topics ranging from cleaning leafy greens to putting up jams and pickles. There’d be advice for mailing baked goods and pointers for making pan sauces. Each recipe would include not just a list of ingredients but also accurate cooking times, notes for advance prep, and specifics on how to store (and reheat or recycle) leftovers. In short, there’d be kitchen sense...

...Written with flair by a true scholar of food who enjoys cooking and eating everything, from the simplest down-home cooking to the most sophisticated international cuisine, and crammed with informed, lively, passionate opinions, Kitchen Sense is like cooking alongside the Italian-Midwestern-Thai-Hungarian-Mexican-Southern-French-Israeli-Yankee-Indian grandmother you never had."

Kitchen Sense: More than 600 Recipes to Make You a Great Home Cook
by Davis, Mitchell
Hardcover - 544 pages
June 2006
ISBN: 1400049067
Clarkson Potter (Crown)

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

27 June 2006

Huitlacoche or Cuitlacoche (corn smut)

Huitlacoche or Cuitlacoche

You may ocasionally hear about an affliction hitting corn crops called corn smut, or huitlacoche in Mexico. What exactly is it and did you know it is edible? A slightly long explanation from Wikipedia follows (photo: licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License):

Corn smut is a disease of maize caused by the pathogenic plant fungus Ustilago maydis. U. maydis causes smut disease on maize (Zea mays) and teosinte (Euchlena mexicana). Although it can infect any part of the plant it usually enters the ovaries and replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with large distorted tumors analogous to mushrooms. These tumors, or "galls", are made up of much-enlarged cells of the infected plant, fungal threads, and blue-black spores. The spores give the cob a burned, scorched appearance. In fact, the name Ustilago comes from the Latin word ustilare (to burn).

Considered a pest in most of the United States, smut feeds off the corn plant and decreases the yield. Usually smut-infected crops are destroyed. However in Mexico corn smut is called huitlacoche (IPA /wi.t͡ɬa.ko.t͡ɕe/, sometimes spelled cuitlacoche), and is considered a delicacy, even being preserved and sold for a higher price than corn. For culinary use, the galls are harvested while still immature — fully mature galls are dry and almost entirely spore-filled. The immature galls, gathered two to three weeks after an ear of corn is infected, still retain moisture and, when cooked, have a flavor described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy. Flavor compounds include sotolon and vanillin, as well as the sugar glucose.

The fungus has had difficulty entering into the American and European diets as most farmers see it as blight, despite attempts by government and high profile chefs. In the mid-1990s and due to demand created by high-end restaurants, Pennsylvania and Florida farms were allowed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to intentionally infect corn with huitlacoche. Most observers consider the program to have had little impact, although the initiative is still in progress. Regardless, the cursory show of interest is significant because the USDA has spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to eradicate huitlacoche in the United States. Moreover, in 1989 the James Beard foundation held a high-profile huitlacoche dinner. This dinner famously tried to get Americans to eat more of it by renaming it the Mexican truffle.

Huitlacoche grows best during times of drought in a 78°F to 93°F (25°C–34°C) temperature range. Aztecs purposely innoculated corn with the spores by scratching their corn plants at the soil level with a knife—thereby allowing the water-borne spores easy entrance into the plant.

Huitlacoche is available online at MexGrocer.


Stuffed Chicken Breast with Cuitlacoche San Miguel

Following our blog on huitlacoche we thought we would also feature a recipe with it. Many more recipes are available at http://www.sweetcorn.uiuc.edu/Common-smut/Recipes.htm.

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Cuitlacoche San Miguel
INGREDIENTS

8 Chicken breasts
200 gr. of cream
1 Kg of cuitlacoche San Miguel
2 garlic heads
salt, pepper
2 Big onions
epazote
Chicken thigh and legs
Eggs
Aluminum paper

DIRECTIONS

Prepared the Chicken breasts with salt and pepper. To prepare the stuffing, grind the raw chicken thigh and legs with epazote leaves, eggs and fine sliced cuitlacoche. Save half of the cuitlacoche to prepare the sauce.

Lay out the aluminum paper, enough to wrap one chicken breast. On top of the aluminum paper place one leave of epazote, on top of it, lay the chicken breast covered with the stuffing. Wrap each chicken breast and cook them for 25 minutes in a chicken soup made with the chicken bones.

Sauce

Mix and grind the onions, garlic and cuitlacoche in order to obtain a homogenous paste. In the blender mix the paste with the chicken soup. Boil it adding the cream.

Serve the Stuffed Chicken Breast covered with sauce.


Huitlacoche is available online at MexGrocer.

26 June 2006

Horchata or orxata

If you've been to Spain or Mexico (and many other Latin countries), you may have observed iced, milky beverages offered for sale streetside. Horchata. And tried it. And what is it exactl?. It depends where you had it. Here's a bit of clarification from Wikipedia:

Horchata or orxata is the name for several kinds of vegetable beverages, made of ground almonds, rice, barley or tigernuts (chufas).

In Spain, it usually refers to orxata de xufes (horchata de chufas), made from tigernuts, water and sugar. Originally from Valencia, it is served ice cold as a refreshment. It has a regulating council to ensure the quality of the product and the villages where it can come from, with the Denomination of Origin. The village of Alboraia is well known for the quality of their horchatas. The idea of making horchata from tigernuts comes from the period of Muslim presence in Valencia (from the 8th to 13th century). {According to a folk etymology, James I of Aragon was offered a glass of the beverage by an Arab girl after his conquest of Valencia, and exclaimed, Això és or, xata! (This is gold, girl!).}

In Mexican cuisine, horchata is a rice based beverage. While the drink is usually white and "milky" it can be made dairy-free through the use of blanched almonds, though some recipes call for milk. Other ingredients often include sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, orange or lime. Though horchata was once typically homemade, it is now available in both ready-to-drink (shelf-stable or refrigerated) and powdered form in grocery stores. In the US, rice-based horchata is served in some Mexican restaurants, and the horchata de chufas is virtually unknown.

The horchata found in Ecuador is similar to the Mexican kind, but sesame seeds are used instead of almonds. In El Salvador, horchata is typically flavored with ground cocoa and cinnamon as well as sesame seeds, and in some cases is strained; this style is served in Salvadoran restaurants.



Various horchatas can be found online at LaTienda, and MexGrocer.

25 June 2006

The Traveler's Diet


Travelling this summer? Or, anytime of year, for that matter? And concerned about what and how to eat?

This may be the book for you, just published, The Traveler's Diet: Eating Right and Staying Fit on the Road. Here is a synopsis from Jessica's Biscuit:

No matter how healthy or balanced your diet, the minute you start traveling, all bets are off. And Peter Greenberg should know. After two decades as a television correspondent (logging an average of 400,000 air miles a year), this frequent flier finally stepped on the scale and then vowed to lose seventy pounds. Now, after sharing insider secrets on hotels, airlines, and cruise ships, he tells you the secret of diet, exercise, sleep, and losing weight while on the road. Each component of the travel process is examined; the results will surprise you and help you to learn:

# What new time zones do–and don’t do–to your metabolism
# Which airports have the best/worst food.
# What to eat before flying
# The real truth about how much water to drink–and what kind
# How to work out in flight, without turbulence
# The “healthy choice” hotel menus that lie
# When to sleep and when to stay awake–some real surprises.
# How to turn your hotel room into an instant gym
# How to stay in ship-shape while actually at sea.
# Eat well without overdoing it–even in France and Italy
# How to create healthy structure with an unstructured schedule

Together with medical, fitness, nutrition experts, and aeromedicine and exercise physiology consultants, Peter Greenberg provides a practical plan that works for road warriors and leisure travelers alike. Whether you’re jetting off to Mumbai or Memphis, this entertaining guide ensures that you arrive at your destination in style and in shape.

***

The Traveler's Diet: Eating Right and Staying Fit on the Road
by Greenberg, Peter
Paperback - 364 pages
Published: May 2006
ISBN: 0812976126
Villard Books

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

Blueberries

It's fresh-from-the-field blueberry time.


And all sorts of blueberry recipes abound. Jams. Jellies. Pies. Cupcakes. Muffins. Smoothies. Wines. You get the idea. Personally, at this time of year, when the berries flood the markets, I eat them straight. Just rinsed. But add a little creme fraiche if you like. Or just milk. Sprinkle a little raw sugar on plain berries. But don't mask the fresh berry taste. And blueberries are good for you too, very high in antioxidants. Here are the basics from Wikipedia:

Blueberries are a group of flowering plants in the genus Vaccinium, sect. Cyanococcus. The species are native to North America and eastern Asia. They are shrubs varying in size from 10 cm tall to 4 m tall; the smaller species are known as "lowbush blueberries", and the larger species as "highbush blueberries". The leaves can be either deciduous or evergreen, ovate to lanceolate, and from 1-8 cm long and 0.5-3.5 cm broad. The flowers are bell-shaped, white, pale pink or red, sometimes tinged greenish. The fruit is botanically a true berry 5-16 mm diameter with a flared "crown" at the end; they are pale greenish at first, then reddish-purple, and finally turn blue or dark purple on ripening. They have a sweet taste when mature, with variable acidity.

Uses

Blueberries are used in jellies, jams, and pies, baked into muffins, and are an ingredient of many other snacks and delicacies. Some baked products incorporate artificial blueberries, which contain no actual blueberry.

Blueberry jam is a jam made out of blueberries, sugar and water, and fruit pectin. Commercial jams often contain chemical preservatives like citric acid. Premium artisanal blueberry jam is produced in Canada and the United States from wild blueberries, which are smaller and more difficult to harvest but more intensely flavoured than cultivated blueberries. Most production is in Maine, northwestern Ontario, and in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec.

Blueberries, especially wild species, contain antioxidants which have been found to reduce the risks of some cancers. At the 2004 International Conference on Longevity, a group of researchers released details of a study that suggests certain compounds found in blueberries (and some similar fruits, including cranberries) have a significant impact in reducing the degradation of brain function, as in Alzheimer's Disease and other conditions. Research at Rutgers has also shown that blueberries may help prevent urinary tract infections.

140 grams of fresh blueberries contain 3 g of fibre and 21 g of Vitamin C.

A variety of blueberry products are available online from Stonewall Kitchen, Southern Grace Farms, and iGourmet.



(Chocolate Berryblues at iGourmet.)

23 June 2006

Rosé and Blush Wines



What exactly is a rosé? Besides being neither a red or a white wine? This is the time of year when a rosé is best enjoyed, on a warm summer day with fresh fruit, a mild cheese, a freshly baked baguette. Here is a brief explanation of rosé from Wikipedia:

Rosé is a type of wine that is neither purely red wine nor purely white wine. It has some of the color typical of a red wine, but only enough to turn it pink. The pink color can range from a pale orange to a vivid near-purple, depending on the grapes and winemaking techniques.

There are three major ways to produce rosé. The first is used when rosé wine is the primary product. Red-skinned grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period. The grapes are then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation as with red wine making. Because the skins contain much of the strongly flavoured tannin and other compounds, this leaves the wine tasting more similar to a white wine. The second, saignee or bleeding, is used when the winemaker desires to impart more tannin and color to the wine, and removes some pink must. This is known as bleeding the vats. The third method, simple mixing of red and white wine, is discouraged in most wine growing regions now except for Rosé de Champagne. Even in Champagne many producers do not use this method.

European rosés are almost always dry wines while American ones, such as white Zinfandel are often very sweet. European rosés act as a refreshing substitute for heavy red wines during the summer months.

In America blush wine is usually sweet rosé wine.

Rosé wines originating from Germany are normally labelled as Weißherbst.

A wide variety of rosés are available from Wine.com, The Wine Messenger, and Kosher.com.

22 June 2006

Berries by Roger Yepsen


It's summer. It's berry time. All sorts of those luscious, delicious, colorful gems. And a new book about them. Titled Berries. More from Jessica's Biscuit:

Berries are edible jewels, distillations of sunlight, soil, and floral perfumes. Some offer ambrosial sweetness; others are assertive as herbs and spices. Yet many of us rarely encounter berries outside of a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, or raspberry-scented seltzer. Berries reintroduces us to these delightful fruits, including neglected varieties that have nearly disappeared from the American diet and garden. Roger Yepsen, author/illustrator of Apples, offers advice on finding wild berries, growing your own, and preserving them for year-round enjoyment. His gallery of sixty delicate watercolors depict berries from black currants and wild strawberries to the exotic salmonberry and Achilles Red gooseberry. And while it's hard to improve on the fresh item, Berries includes almost a hundred recipes: blueberry buckle, raspberry soup, elderberry wine, and black currant crepes. This elegant guidebook will inspire the cook, gardener, forager—and anyone with a sweet tooth—to get more involved with the wonderful world of berries.

Berries
by Yepsen, Roger
Hardcover
160 pages
Published: May 2006
Color Illustrations
ISBN: 0393060314
W.W Norton

It is available online at Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

Amaranth

Alternative grains have been gaining in popularity. Not only for the health benefits of many of them, but because they taste good too. See our previous blog on quinoa. Amaranth is another. In today's New York Times an article appears on both of them. More info on amaranth from Wikipedia:

"...Several species are raised for amaranth grain in Asia and the Americas. Amaranth grain is a crop of moderate importance in the Himalaya. It was one of the staple foodstuffs of the Incas, and it is known as kiwicha in the Andes today. It was also used by the ancient Aztecs, who called it huautli, and other Amerindian peoples in Mexico to prepare ritual drinks and foods. To this day, amaranth grains are toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey or molasses to make a treat called alegría (literally "joy") in Mexican Spanish.

Amaranth was used in several Aztec ceremonies, where images of their gods (notably Huitzilopochtli) were made with amaranth mixed with honey. The images were cut to be eaten by the people. This looked like the Christian communion to the Catholic priests, so the cultivation of the grain was forbidden for centuries.

Because of its importance as a symbol of indigenous culture, and because it is very palatable, easy to cook, and its protein particularly well suited to human nutritional needs, interest in grain amaranth (especially A. cruentis and A. hypochondriaca) was revived in the 1970s. It was recovered in Mexico from wild varieties and is now commercially cultivated. It is a popular snack sold in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, sometimes mixed with chocolate or puffed rice, and its use has spread to Europe and North America. Besides protein, amaranth grain provides a good source of dietary fiber and dietary minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and especially manganese.

The flowers of the Hopi Red Dye amaranth were used by the Hopi Indians as the source of a deep red dye. This dye has been supplanted by a coal tar dye known as Red No. 2 in North America and E123 in the E.E.C., also known as amarynth.

The genus also contains several well-known ornamental plants, such as A. caudatus (love-lies-bleeding), a native of India and a vigorous, hardy annual with dark purplish flowers crowded in handsome drooping spikes. Another Indian annual, A. hypochondriacus (prince's feather), has deeply-veined lance-shaped leaves, purple on the under face, and deep crimson flowers densely packed on erect spikes...

...Nutritional value

Amaranth greens, also called Chinese spinach, hinn choy or yin tsoi (Simplified Chinese: 苋菜; pinyin: xiàncài), callaloo, tampala, or quelite, are a common leaf vegetable throughout the tropics and in many warm temperate regions. They are a very good source of vitamins including vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, and folate, and dietary minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. However their moderately high content of oxalic acid inhibits the absorption of calcium, and also means that they should be avoided or eaten in moderation by people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Amaranth seeds, like buckwheat and quinoa, contain protein that is unusually complete for plant sources.

Amaranth and quinoa are available online at Shop Natural.

19 June 2006

The Seduction Cookbook

Is there a connection between certain foods and their preparation, and sexual arousal? Many foods claim to be aphrodisiacs. Oysters. Chocolate. Well, here is a book that "marries" foods and arousal. More from Barnes and Noble and the publisher:

Whether you're planning for the slow seduction of a three-course meal or an imaginative way to lead up to the real main course, here are dozens of delicious recipes and creative tips for that perfect night in - and the morning after.

In The Seduction Cookbook, author Diane Brown offers much more than romantic recipe secrets. She teaches how to heighten passion through appetizing anticipation, and shares tempting techniques for preparing and serving her creations.

Inside you'll find appetizers that will induce a little "fork-play" such as Chile Lime Shrimp; Rocket Salad with Black Mission Figs; and Ahi Tuna Ceviche with Advocado. Erotic entrees include Scallops with Asparagus and Ginger Beurre Blance and Sausages in Red Wine. And if you make it to dessert, try replacing low-carb with "low-garb" by enjoying the sweet sensation of Strawberries Stuffed with Mascarpone Cheese and Dark Chocolate or Poached Pears in Cardamom Syrup, among many others.

Diane Brown also features menus for special occasions, dishes you can make together and intimate serving suggestions. So relax, slip into something a little more comfortable.

With these simple recipes The Seduction Cookbook will surely satisfy in more ways than one.

The Seduction Cookbook: Culinary Creations for Lovers
Diane Brown
ISBN: 0974937363
Format: Hardcover, 176pp
Pub. Date: February 2005
Publisher: Innova Publishing, LLC NY

Available online from Barnes and Noble.

Sea urchins

Have you ever had sea urchin? It's still pretty hard to find in restaurants in the U.S.. I've had it several times as the centerpiece in seafood appetizers served on a bed of ice. Aside from the beauty of the sea urchin surrounded by other colorful pieces of foods from the sea, it is quite tasty, the roe not unlike salmon roe. More from Wikipedia:

Sea urchins are spiny sea creatures of the class Echinoidea found in oceans all over the world. (The name comes from their resemblance to hedgehogs, hedgehog being one meaning of the word "urchin"). Their shell, which biologists call the test, is globular in shape, and covered with spines. The size of the test in adults is typically in the range of 3 to 10 cm (1-4 in.).

Typical sea urchins have spines 1-2 cm (approximately 1/2 to 1 in.) in length (e.g. "Sea urchin", right), a millimeter or two thick, and not terribly sharp. Diadema antillarum, familiar in the Caribbean, has thin spines that can be 10-20 cm long (4-8 in.). Common colors include black and dull shades of green, olive, brown, purple, and red...

...Sea urchin is one of the favorite foods of sea otters. Recently the population of sea otters in the Monterey Bay of California has diminished. As a result, the population of sea urchins has multiplied and they are chewing up the kelp forest in the area and upsetting the ecosystem. Left unchecked, urchins will devastate their environment, creating what biologists call an urchin barren, devoid of macroalgae and associated fauna.

Humans consume the reproductive organs ("roe") either raw or briefly cooked. Sea urchin roe is a popular food in Korean cuisine, and it is called "uni" in Japanese sushi cuisine. It is also a traditional food in Chile, known as an "erizo". Apart from domestic consumption, Chile and a number of other countries export the sea urchin to Japan in order to meet its demand throughout the country. Traditionally considered an aphrodesiac, sea urchin roe has been found to contain the cannabinoid anandamide...

16 June 2006

Angostura bitters


How many of you know what angostura bitters are (is?)? Once in a while you might have a cocktail that includes it or have come an obscure recipe that mentions it. Angostura bitters has a not unpleasant, but potent and unique taste. One bottle at home might last you a lifetime. More from Wikipedia:

Angostura bitters, often simply referred to as angostura, is a concentrated bitters for food and beverage made of herbs and spices.

The recipe was developed in 1824 by German Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a Surgeon General in Simon Bolivar's army in Venezuela (more see Angostura Ltd).

Today, angostura bitters are produced by various vendors, some of which add the bark of the angostura tree (cusparia febrifuga), possibly merely to make it legal to put the word "angostura" on the label, which is a registered trademark of Angostura Ltd.

As angostura bitters are extremely concentrated, they are never drunk purely, but used to flavour drinks and food; usually only a few drops or splashes are used.

Angostura bitters are a key ingredient in many cocktails. Originally used to mask the flavour of quinine in tonic water along with gin, the mix stuck in the form of a Pink Gin, and is also used in many other alcoholic cocktails such as "Long Vodka", consisting of vodka, angostura bitter, and lemonade.

***

Angostura.com has a multitude of recipes. Here is a very simple one:

Melon & Bitters

1 Whole Water Melon sliced in half and quartered. Season with salt and pepper
Dash 40-50 dashes Angostura® aromatic bitters on the melon.
Squeeze on fresh lemon and serve in slices
Melon & Bitters
1 Whole Water Melon sliced in half and quartered. Season with salt and pepper
Dash 40-50 dashes Angostura® aromatic bitters on the melon.
Squeeze on fresh lemon and serve in slices

Be sure to visit their site for their Fun Facts.

15 June 2006

Santoku


Many of you who spend time in the kitchen have heard of the santoku. It is a handy knife to have in your arsenal of tools. Here is a concise description from Wikipedia:

The santoku bōchō (三徳包丁) or bunka bōchō (文化包丁) is a general-purpose chef's knife originating in Japan. Its unshouldered blade, which is typically between five and eight inches long, has a flat edge and a dull back which curves down near the point to a tip angle of around 60 degrees. The top of the santoku's handle is in line with the top of the blade, giving the chef's fingers plenty of room underneath. The word santoku means "three good things," a reference to the three cutting tasks it performs: slicing, dicing and mincing.

The santoku is a good compromise between a Cleaver (knife) and a regular chef's knife. The flat edge is excellent for slicing and mincing, very good for dicing, and works fairly well for light chopping. It is especially popular among people with smaller hands, and is commonly seen on television in the hands of female chefs.

A variety of santokus are available online from ChefsCatalog and SurLaTable.

13 June 2006

Sauternes, and Château d'Yquem


If you've never tried Château d'Yquem, you're missing a delightful, though pricey treat. A little, however, goes a long way, in taste and memory. From Wikipedia:

Sauternes, and Château d'Yquem


Sauternes is a type of dessert wine made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. This causes grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in extremely concentrated and distinctively flavored wines, typically with an arresting golden color. Sauternes is one of the few wine regions where infection with noble rot is a frequent occurrence, due to its mesoclimate. Even so, production is a hit-or-miss proposition, with widely varying harvests from year to year.

Wines from Sauternes, especially its flagship estate Château d'Yquem, can be very expensive, due largely to the very high cost of production. Barsac lies within Sauternes, and is entitled to use either name. Somewhat similar but less expensive and typically less-distinguished wines are produced in the neighboring regions of Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac.

Note that lower quality dessert wines, primarily American, are occasionally labeled as 'sauterne'.

Sauternes is a very sweet, intense wine, and is typically not served as a table wine. It can be drunk by itself in place of dessert, with a dessert, or with rich savory foods like foie gras (the canonical pairing) or Roquefort cheese.

Sauternes and sauterne-style wines are available online from TheWineMessenger and Kosher.com.

Ratatouille and Ratatouille recipe

As the summer gardens begins to produce their goods, sometimes in super abundance, a ratatouille is a great way to use those fresh veggies. A ratatouille is easy to prepare, keeps well for several days, and on really hot days, is delicious cold, with baguettes and a good, white wine (yes, white) or iced tea. From Wikipedia:

Ratatouille is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish which can be served as a meal on its own (accompanied by rice, potatoes, or simply French bread), or as a side dish. Tomatoes are a key ingredient, with onions, zucchini (courgettes), eggplant (aubergine), bell peppers, and a bit of Basil. All are sautéed in olive oil.

The name of the dish appears to derive from the French touiller, to stir, although the root of the first element "rat-" is unknown. The word ratatouille has also come to be used in non-culinary contexts in English to refer to a (generally colourful) mixture of any kind.

RECIPE
Ingredients

* Olive oil
* 1 onion
* 1 clove garlic
* 1 eggplant (aubergine)
* 1 green bell pepper
* 2 zucchinis (courgettes) (cucumber also works well)
* 6 medium tomatoes, ripe (juicy) and peeled
* salt and pepper to taste
* Herbes de Provence to taste

Directions

1. Put a large casserole on the stove on medium heat.
2. Chop the onions and garlic. When the casserole is hot, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom.
3. Add the onions and garlic and brown.
4. Chop the green pepper, zucchinis and egg plant. Add to the casserole. Stir from time to time.
5. Peel the tomatoes. Dice them or cut them into quarters, add to the casserole.
6. Five minutes later, check to see if the tomatoes have made enough juice to almost cover the vegetables - if so, perfect. If not, add water as needed (not too much).
7. Add salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence to taste. In general, 1 tbsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of pepper and 1 tbsp of the herbs will suffice.
8. Cover the casserole and let simmer on low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

12 June 2006

Tapenade

Looking for a rich spread on a baguette or cracker? If you like olives, then you know a tapenade is wonderful. Wikipedia provides the description:

Tapenade is Provençal dish consisting of pureed or finely chopped black olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil. It may also contain garlic, herbs, tuna, or brandy. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapéno.

It is a popular food in the south of France, where it is generally eaten as an hors d'œuvre, spread on toast. Sometimes it is also used to stuff filets for a main course.

Its present form was invented less than 100 years ago by the chef in the Maison Dorée in Marseille, although olive-based pastes have existed in the region for a long time.

Tapenades are available online from iGourmet and SplendidPalate.

11 June 2006

White Chocolate


Is white chocolate really chocolate? Well, if you're a purist, or semi-purist, not really. But, it is still a tasty sweet, by any other name. Read on, from Wikipedia:

White chocolate is an ivory-white confection based on cocoa butter without the cocoa solids. It also includes milk solids, sugar, lecithin, and flavorings (usually including vanilla). Cocoa butter is the ingredient used in other chocolates so that they remain solid at room temperature yet melt easily in the mouth. Thus, white chocolate has a texture like that of chocolate but does not have the same taste. Some, however, find the taste similar to milk chocolate.

White chocolate was first made in Switzerland after World War I. It was first popularly distributed in America in 1984 with the introduction of Nestlé's Alpine White Chocolate bar, which contained white chocolate and almonds.

As white chocolate does not contain cocoa solids or cocoa mass, it does not meet the standards to be called chocolate in many countries. In the United States, since 2004, white chocolate needs to be at least 20% (by weight) cocoa butter, at least 14% total milk solids, and less than 55% sweeteners such as sugar. Before this date, US firms needed temporary marketing permits to sell this cocoa solids-free chocolate. In the European Union white chocolate needs to contain not less than 20% cocoa butter and not less than 14% dry milk solids.

White chocolate can be very difficult to work with as sometimes when it is melted the cocoa butter can split and create a rather oily mess that cannot be recovered and must be discarded. As with any other form of chocolate, as soon as any water is introduced into the melted product it rapidly turns lumpy, grainy and unusable. It must then also be discarded. Some brands respond better to baking more than others; some even have a tendency to brown from being baked.

Just like any other chocolate it can be bought in large or small bricks, but these can often be difficult to work with as one must cut off chunks with a knife, often resulting in inaccurate portioning. Pastilles (small chips) are often a more precise way to use white chocolate.

White chocolate can be used for decoration of milk or dark chocolate confections or in any way the chocolates might be used.

Hebert's Candies was the first to produce White Chocolate in the United States, having seen the product made in Europe just one year earlier.

White chocolates in differing forms and treats are available from Godiva, ChocolateSource and Kosher.com.

Rhubarb-Orange Soup

We recently had a blog on rhubarb -- and not much else, save for some basic facts from Wikipedia and a link for straberry-rhubarb pie. What else to do with rhubarb? -- see blog. But here is a recipe by Mark Bittman from a story in today's Dining and Wine section of The New York Times:

Rhubarb-Orange Soup

Time: 15 minutes, plus chilling

1 medium orange
2 pounds rhubarb
1 cup sugar
Sour cream, lightly sweetened yogurt, crème anglaise, whipped cream, crème fraîche, or vanilla or other ice cream, optional.

1. Zest orange and mince zest; juice the orange. Remove string from rhubarb, then cut rhubarb into roughly 2-inch lengths.

2. Combine rhubarb, sugar, 4 cups water, orange juice and half the zest in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Wrap and refrigerate remaining zest. Turn heat to medium and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until rhubarb begins to fall apart.

3. Chill; if you're in a hurry, pour mixture into a large bowl and set that bowl in an even larger bowl filled with ice water. When cool, whisk briefly to break up rhubarb, adding reserved zest at same time. Serve cold, with sour cream or any of the alternatives listed.

Yield: 4 servings.

Photo from CreatvieCommons.

09 June 2006

The Silver Spoon


What's currently the most popular Italian cookbook? The Silver Spoon, of course. You knew that. And see below for two summer dessert recipes from the book.

As reported from Jessica's Biscuit:

The Silver Spoon is Italy's bestselling cookbook.The fastest selling cookbook ever, The Silver Spoon is a testament to the pleasures of genuine Italian regional cooking. It is cooking the way Italian mothers and grandmothers (and fathers and grandfathers) cook in their homes. And while experts updated ingredients, quantities and methods to suit contemporary tastes and customs, authenticity was not sacrificed.

The Silver Spoon is the most influential and successful cookbook in Italy. Originally published in 1950, it became an instant classic. Considered to be essential in every household, it is still one of the most popular wedding presents today.

From The Silver Spoon cookbook:

Coffee Ice Cream--Gelato al Caffe

scant 1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, halved
2 eggs
3/4 cup superfine sugar
3/4 cup extra strong coffee
scant 1 cup heavy cream

Pour the milk into a pan. Scrape the pulp from the vanilla bean into the milk and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool. Beat the eggs with the sugar into a bowl until pale and fluffy, then add the coffee, followed by the cream and vanilla milk. Mix well, then pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and freeze for about 20 minutes or according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Fruits of the Forest Ice Cream--Gelato aI Frutti di Bosco


31/2 cups berries, such as blackberries, loganberries, and raspberries
juice of 1/2 lemon, strained
scant 1 cup superfine sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Put the berries into a food processor, add the lemon juice, sugar and cream and process until smooth. Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and freeze for about 20 minutes or according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The Silver Spoon

by Editors of Phaidon Press
Hardcover - 1263 pages
October 2005
Color and Black and White Illustrations
ISBN: 0714845310
Phaidon Press Inc.

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

Merlot



Merlots are usually a reliable option on a wine list when one is intimidated by the other selections or when within a budget -- though some merlots are up there in price. The reds and whites can be married to just about any entree. More from Wikipedia:

Merlot is a variety of wine grape used to create a popular red wine. Merlot-based wines usually have medium body with hints of berry, plum, and currant.

Most connoisseurs consider it "easy to drink" when compared to other red wines, particularly its traditional blending partner Cabernet Sauvignon. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot an ideal grape to blend with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet. Many Merlots are made in a style popular with newer red wine drinkers (though good Merlots accompanying appropriate food are popular with many more experienced wine drinkers as well).

Merlot is produced primarily in France and California, and on a lesser scale in Australia, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, and other parts of the United States. Most wines from Bordeaux contain at least some Merlot, and in the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion it is not unusual for Merlot to comprise the majority of the blend. One of the most famous and rare wines in the world, Château Pétrus is almost all Merlot.

White Merlot is made the same way as its more famous cousin, White Zinfandel. The grapes are crushed, and after very brief or even no skin contact, the resulting pink "must" ferments. Some producers of White Merlot include Sutter Home, Forest Glen, and Beringer. It normally has a hint of raspberry flavor. White Merlot was reputedly first marketed in the late 1990s.

Merlots are available online from The Wine Messenger and Wine.com.

08 June 2006

SPAM, Spam Recipes and Spam Museum


SPAM, Spam Recipes and Spam Museum

Everyone knows what Spam (the food) is, right? Wikipedia has an entry for it, or you can find out more about it at the Hormel (the maker) web site. It's not one of my favorite foods (the word food, being used generously). But of course, if you like, really like Spam, you probably have a list of questionable edible concoctions (aka, recipes) possible with the item. Visit RecipeSource for a few of these mouth-watering possibilities.

And then, if you really have to, you can visit the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota.

04 June 2006

Best Recipes in the World: More Than 1,000 International Dishes to Cook At Home

If you have run out of really great recipes in your repetoire for your home entertaining, perhaps you should check out this book by Mark Bittman, Best Recipes in the World: More Than 1,000 International Dishes to Cook At Home. Description from Jessica's Biscuit:

"Mark Bittman traveled the world to find and bring back the best recipes of home cooks from 44 countries. This bountiful collection of new, easy, and ultra-flavorful dishes will add exciting new tastes and cosmopolitan flair to your everyday cooking and entertaining.

With his million-copy bestseller How to Cook Everything (see our blog on this book, too), Mark Bittman made the difficult doable. Now he makes the exotic accessible. In this highly ambitious, accomplished, globe-spanning work, Bittman gathers the best recipes that people from dozens of countries around the world cook every day. And when he brings his distinctive no-frills approach to dishes that were once considered esoteric, America's home cooks will eagerly follow where they once feared to tread.

In more than a thousand recipes, Bittman compellingly demonstrates that there are many places besides Italy and France to which cooks can turn for inspiration. In addition to these favorites, he covers Spain, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Scandinavia, the Balkans, Germany, and other European destinations, giving us easy ways to make dishes like Spanish Mushroom and Chicken Paella, Greek Roast Leg of Lamb with Thyme and Orange, Russian Borscht, and Swedish Appletorte. Asian food now rivals European cuisine’s popularity, and this book reflects that: It’s the first to emphasize European and Asian cuisines equally, with easy-to-follow recipes for favorites like Vietnamese Stir-Fried Vegetables with Nam Pla, Pad Thai, Japanese Salmon Teriyaki, Chinese Black Bean and Garlic Spareribs, and Indian Tandoori Chicken.

Nor is the rest of the world ignored: there are hundreds of recipes from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America, too. All will be hits with home cooks looking to add exciting new tastes and cosmopolitan flair to their everyday repertoire."

A thousand recipes should keep you occupied for a while. The book is available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.


Best Recipes in the World:
More Than 1,000 International Dishes to Cook At Ho
me
by Bittman, Mark
Hardcover - 756 pages
October 2005
Black and White Illustrations
ISBN: 0767906721
Broadway Books

A Casting Call for the Cocktail of Summer '06

The New York Times Dining & Wine section has "A Casting Call for the Cocktail of Summer '06".

If you have a favorite, send it to dining@nytimes.com (put cocktail in the subject line) or to The Dining Section, The New York Times, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. The deadline for submissions is June 9.

Visit the The New York Times for more details. Bottoms up.

03 June 2006

Blue and White Stilton


For people who love cheese, Stilton is the king of cheeses. I can make a meal of it. For many who have not tried it, stay away from it, because you may also like it, and drive the demand and price further higher. Here's the lowdown from Wikipedia:

Stilton is a cheese of England. It is produced in two varieties: the well-known blue and the lesser-known white. Hailed by some as "the king of cheese", both have been granted the status of a protected designation of origin by the European Commission. Only cheese produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire – and made according to a strict code – may be called "Stilton".

Ironically, this means that Stilton cheese cannot legally be made in the village that — because it was sold there — gave the cheese its name. Stilton village is now in Cambridgeshire, in the former county of Huntingdonshire. There are currently just six dairies licensed to make Stilton, each being subject to regular audit by an independent inspection agency accredited to European Standard EN 45011. At present, all but one of the licenced dairies are based in the Vale of Belvoir, which straddles the Nottinghamshire-Leicestershire border. This area is commonly regarded as the heartland of stilton production, and the only current dairy producing stilton elsewhere owes this fact to a native of the Vale who bought the dairy over a century ago.

The pioneer of blue Stilton was Cooper Thornhill, owner of the Bell Inn on the Great North Road, in the village of Stilton. In 1730, Thornhill discovered a distinctive blue cheese while visiting a small farm in rural Leicestershire. He fell in love with the cheese and forged a business arrangement that granted the Bell Inn exclusive marketing rights to blue Stilton. Soon thereafter, wagon loads of cheese were being delivered to the inn. Since the main stagecoach routes from London to Northern England passed through the village of Stilton he was able to promote the sale of this cheese and the legend of Stilton rapidly spread.

To be called blue Stilton, a cheese must:

* Be made only in the three counties from local milk, which is pasteurised before use.
* Be made only in a traditional cylindrical shape.
* Be allowed to form its own crust or coat.
* Be unpressed.
* Have delicate blue veins radiating from the centre.
* Have a "taste profile typical of Stilton".

Stilton has a typical fat content of ~35%, and protein content of ~23%. Danish Blue is made in a similar way to Stilton and also possesses the distinctive blue veins.

Blue Stilton is often eaten with celery, or added to cream of celery soup. Alternatively it is eaten with various crackers and biscuits. Traditionally, port is drunk with blue Stilton.

A 2005 study carried out by the British Cheese Board discovered that when it came to dream types, Stilton cheese seemed to cause odd dreams, with 75% of men and 85% of women experiencing bizarre and vivid dreams after eating a 20g piece of the cheese 30 minutes before going to sleep.

White Stilton has not had the Penicillium roqueforti mold introduced into it which would otherwise lead to the blue veining normally associated with Stilton. It is often blended with other materials, such as chocolate or dried fruit. Otherwise it is often served with fruit cake.

Various kinds of blue and white stiltons are available online from CheesePeople and iGourmet.

Enjoy!

Ugli Fruit



Many of you have seen uglis (referring to the fruit, of course) in the supermarket. But how many of you have tried it? Here's a little incentive to giving it the taste test, from Wikipedia:

An ugli fruit is a citrus fruit created by hybridizing a grapefruit (or pomelo according to some sources) and a tangerine, and is sometimes called uniq fruit or unique fruit. Its species is Citrus reticulata x Citrus paradisi.

Native to Jamaica, the fruit was first bred in Brown's Town in 1914. It got its name from the unsightly appearance of its rough, wrinkly greenish-yellow skin, wrapped loosely around the orange pulpy citrus inside. An ugli fruit is slightly smaller than a grapefruit and has fewer seeds. It tends towards the sweet side of the tangerine rather than the bitter side of its grapefruit lineage, with a fragrant skin. The fruit is seasonal from December to April. It is distributed in the USA, UK and Europe between November and April, and is on occasion available from July to September.

Americans pronounce the name "ugly," but in Jamaica, where it is grown, its name is pronounced "HOO-glee."

The fruit is also described by the distributor as an exotic tangelo. UGLI® is a registered trademark of Cabel Hall Citrus Ltd., used as the trade name for the exotic tangelo from Jamaica. As such, it might not be considered strictly accurate to refer to the variety itself as "ugli fruit". This variety of tangelo is believed to be a hybrid of tangerine, Seville orange and grapefruit. It was discovered growing wild in Jamaica in 1924 by a family of brothers named Sharp. The founders bred over the original scion material and eliminated nearly all the seeds from the fruit and spines from the branches. Uglis look a lot like oranges.

Irish Soda Bread and Irish Soda Bread recipe


Irish Soda Bread

No, soda bread is not made using soda, but rather baking soda. Read the details from Wikipedia:

Soda bread is a type of quick bread in which yeast has been substituted with baking soda. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Other ingredients can be added such as raisins or various forms of nuts.

The buttermilk in the dough contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. Soda bread can dry out quickly and is typically good for two to three days; it is best served warm or toasted.

Various forms of soda bread are popular throughout Ireland. The bread is either brown or white. The two major types are the loaf and the farl. The loaf form takes a more rounded shape and has a cross cut in the top to allow the bread to expand. The farl, a more flattened type of bread, is absolutely unique to Northern Ireland. It is cooked on a griddle allowing it to take a more flat shape.

Griddle Cake

Another form of soda bread popular in Ireland is the griddle cake. The mixture, using white flour, is exactly the same as for soda bread. The dough is flattened to about 4 cm and placed to cover the bottom of a frying pan or skillet, after some minutes on the heat the cake is then turned to ensure even baking.

History

Soda bread dates to approximately 1840, when bicarbonate of soda was introduced to Ireland. Bicarbonate of soda replaced yeast as the leavening agent. The climate of Ireland hindered the growth of hard wheat, which created a flour that rose easily with the assistance of yeast.

There are several theories as to the significance of the cross in soda bread. Some believe that the cross was placed in the bread to ward off evil. It is more likely that the cross is used to help with the cooking of the bread or to serve as a guideline for even slices.

Soda bread eventually became a staple of the Irish diet. It was, and still is, used as an accompaniment to a meal.

Irish soda bread is available online from FoodIreland, or you can make your own with this recipe from FoodNetwork:

Irish Soda Bread recipe

Ingredients

1/2 cup currants
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fine salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Directions

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter a baking sheet.

Put the currants in a medium bowl and cover with hot water. Soak for 15 minutes and drain.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cake flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and, using your hands, work it into flour mixture, until it is about the size of small peas. Stir in the currants.

Add the buttermilk and stir with a spatula, just until the flour is moistened and comes together in a shaggy dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead lightly until just smooth, about 1 minute. Form the dough into a ball and place on the center of the prepared baking sheet.

Using a sharp knife cut a 1/4-inch-deep "X" into the top of the dough to let the fairies out. Bake until well browned and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped lightly with your knuckles, about 1 hour.

Transfer the bread to a rack and let cool completely before serving

02 June 2006

Sorbet and Sherbet

Sorbet and Sherbet

What's the difference between sorbet and sherbet? Actually, very little. Read on to learn the slight variation in the two, from Wikipedia:

Sorbet (or sorbetto, sorbeto) is a frozen dessert made from iced fruit puree and other ingredients. The term "sherbet" is derived from the Turkish word for "sorbet", şerbat which in turn comes from Arabic.

Sorbet is a form of gelato that contains no milk, unlike ice cream. Sorbets may contain alcohol (which lowers the freezing temperature, resulting in a softer sorbet). Unlike ice cream, the machinery used whips almost no air into the sorbet, resulting in a dense and extremely flavorful product. This allows sorbet to match and sometimes exceed dairy-based gelato or ice cream for taste.

Sorbets are traditionally served between the starter course and main entrée (main course) in order to cleanse the palate. The French are responsible for this culinary tradition.

Folklore insists that Nero, the Roman Emperor, invented sorbet during the first century A.D. when he had runners along the Appian way pass buckets of snow hand over hand from the mountains to his banquet hall where it was then mixed with honey and wine. The Chinese have also made concoctions made from snow, juice, and fruit pulp for several thousand years.

Frozen desserts are believed to have been brought to France in 1533 by Catherine de Medici when she left Italy to marry the Duke of Orleans, who later became Henry II of France. By the end of the 17th century, sorbet was served in the streets of Paris, and spread to England and the rest of Europe.

Sorbet is served as a non-fat (sometimes 3% fat) and vegan alternative to ice cream.

Sherbet (in American English) is a frozen dessert made from iced sweetened fruit juice or puree. Sherbets usually have more ingredients, such as milk, egg whites, or gelatin, than sorbets. Sherbet in the United States must have a milkfat content between 1% and 2%, and a slightly higher sweetener content than ice cream; else, it must be sold as ice cream if the fat content is higher or sweetener content lower, ice milk if milk or sweetener content is lower, or as sorbet if no milk is present at all. American sherbets have a minimum density of 6 lb/gal (720 g/L) and are flavored either with fruit or other ingredients.

This frozen dessert is thought to have been developed by the Chinese, then later taught to Arab traders who in turn spread it to Europe. The term is derived from the Turkish word şerbat, which is also the source of the word "sorbet". Both sherbet and sorbet typically can be used interchangeably in recipes, although sherbet both freezes and melts slower due to the presence of milk.

Sorbet can be made into sherbet if a beaten egg white and lowfat milk are added to the mixture after it is partially frozen.

Sherbet is often sold alongside ice cream as a lower fat alternative.