28 December 2006

Dulse

If you spend a fair amount of time working with foods, ingredients, and recipes, you occasionally see a reference or the need for dulse (dulce) in a recipe. What exactly is it, as it is appearing more often in various cooking needs? Rather versatile and good for you to boot, it should probably be there on your shelf with your herbs and spices. Wikipedia explains much more fully:

"Dulse (Palmaria palmata (L.) Kuntze), also called dillisk, dilsk, dulse or creathnach, is a red algae that grows along the northern coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where it is a traditional food. In the Irish provinces of Connacht and Ulster, it is a well-known snack food.

Dulse grows attached to rocks by a holdfast. It grows from the mid-tide portion of the intertidal zone (the area between the high tide and low tide) and into deep water. Fronds may vary from rose to reddish-purple, and range from about 20 to 40 cm (8" to 16"). From June through September, it is picked by hand at low water, brought to drying fields (or spreading grounds) and put through a shaker to remove snails, shell pieces, etc. The fronds are spread thinly on netting and left to dry, turned once and rolled into large bales to be packaged or ground later.

Dulse is commonly used in Ireland and Atlantic Canada both as food and medicine. There it is found in many health food stores or fish markets or can be ordered directly from local distributors. Dulse is traditionally sold at the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. A variety of dulse is cultivated in Nova Scotia and marketed as Sea Parsley, sold fresh in the produce section. Dulse is now shipped around the world.

Dulse can be found in some dietary supplements, where it is often referred to as "Nova Scotia Dulce." Dulse is a good source of dietary requirements; a handful will provide more than 100% of the daily amount of Vitamin B6, 66% of Vitamin B12, a day's supply of iron and fluoride, and it is relatively low in sodium and high in potassium.

Fresh dulse can be eaten directly off the rocks before sun-drying. Sun-dried dulse is eaten as is or is ground to flakes or a powder. It can also be pan fried quickly into chips, baked in the oven covered with cheese with salsa, or simply microwaved briefly. It can also be used in soups, chowders, sandwiches and salads, or added to bread/pizza dough. Finely diced, it can also be used as a flavour enhancer in meat dishes, such as chilli, in place of monosodium glutamate."

Dulse flakes are available online at Shop Natural; dulse powder and liquid at The Vitamin Shoppe.

27 December 2006

Food for the People, Whipped Up by the People - New York Times

An article of interest in The New York Times appears in today's paper about home cooks, about what they read, and what they think. (Hey! We're not mentioned!)

"Of the top 10 best-selling cookbooks of 2006 (according to Nielsen BookScan), not one was written by a professional chef, and all have a decidedly nonprofessional focus. Four of the top 10 are by Ms. Ray, the quick-recipe queen; and four are by former caterers: Giada De Laurentiis, who has two of them; Ina Garten; and Amy Sedaris (although by her own report, Ms. Sedaris’s entire professional repertory consisted of cheese balls and cupcakes)."

Read the article:

Food for the People, Whipped Up by the People - New York Times

26 December 2006

Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon

Taste and curiosity in the cuisines of the less well-known Mediterranean countries has grown enormously in the recent past. In this new book, Arabasque, the culinary flavors of Lebanon, Morocco and Turkey are featured. Jessica's Biscuit has the details:

"In the 1960s Claudia Roden introduced Americans to a new world of tastes in her classic A Book of Middle Eastern Food. Now, in her enchanting new book, Arabesque, she revisits the three countries with the most exciting cuisines today--Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. Interweaving history, stories, and her own observations, she gives us 150 of the most delectable recipes: some of them new discoveries, some reworkings of classic dishes—all of them made even more accessible and delicious for today’s home cook.

From Morocco, the most exquisite and refined cuisine of North Africa: couscous dishes; multilayered pies; delicately flavored tagines; ways of marrying meat, poultry, or fish with fruit to create extraordinary combinations of spicy, savory, and sweet.

From Turkey, a highly sophisticated cuisine that dates back to the Ottoman Empire yet reflects many new influences today: a delicious array of kebabs, fillo pies, eggplant dishes in many guises, bulgur and chickpea salads, stuffed grape leaves and peppers, and sweet puddings.

From Lebanon, a cuisine of great diversity: a wide variety of mezze (those tempting appetizers that can make a meal all on their own); dishes featuring sun-drenched Middle Eastern vegetables and dried legumes; and national specialties such as kibbeh, meatballs with pine nuts, and lamb shanks with yogurt.

Claudia Roden knows this part of the world so intimately that we delight in being in such good hands as she translates the subtle play of flavors and simple cooking techniques to our own home kitchens."

Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
by Claudia Roden
Hardcover - 352 pages
Published: October 2006
ISBN: 030726498X
Knopf (Borzoi)

Available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble. (A limited number of autographed bookplates are still available at Jessica's Biscuit.)

13 December 2006

The Old-Fashioned Secret of Holiday Treats? - New York Times

Photo: Kate Sears for The New York Times

In this age of sugar alternatives in use everywhere, nothing, absolutely nothing can replace the taste of pure cane sugar, molasses, honey, or maple syrup as sweeteners in prepared foods. Whether you do your own baking, or purchase prepared goods, high fructose corn syrup (not to be confused with plain corn syrup), just doesn't cut it. Today' s New York Times provides the following article of interest:

The Old-Fashioned Secret of Holiday Treats? - New York Times


*****

Sugar cane syrup is available online at Cuban Food Market; pure cane sugar is available at MexGrocer.

10 December 2006

The Oxford Companion to Wine

As either a wonderful reference book on many aspects of wine for yourself, or as a gift for someone who appreciates wines of all kinds, the third edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, is now available. Jessica's Biscuit describes the new edition:

"Published in 1994 to worldwide acclaim, the first edition of Jancis Robinson's seminal volume immediately attained legendary status, winning every major wine book award including the Glenfiddich and Julia Child/IACP awards, as well as writer and woman of the year accolades for its editor on both sides of the Atlantic. Combining meticulously-researched fact with refreshing opinion and wit, The Oxford Companion to Wine offers almost 4,000 entries on every wine-related topic imaginable, from regions and grape varieties to the owners, connoisseurs, growers, and tasters in wine through the ages; from viticulture and oenology to the history of wine. Tracing the consumption and production from the ancient world to the present day, the Companion is a remarkable resource for gaining further appreciation for a beverage whose popularity has only increased with time.

Now exhaustively updated, this third edition incorporates the very latest international research to present over 400 new entries on topics ranging from globalization and the politics of wine to brands, precision viticulture, and co-fermentation. Hundreds of other entries have also undergone major revisions, including yeast, barrel alternatives, climate change, and virtually all wine regions. Useful lists and statistics are appended, including controlled appellations and their permitted grape varieties, as well as wine production and consumption by country.

Illustrated with maps of every important wine region in the world, useful charts and diagrams, and stunning color photography, this Companion is unlike any other wine book, offering an understanding of wine in its many wider contexts - notably historical, cultural, geographic, and scientific - and serving as a truly companionable point of reference into which any wine-lover can dip, browse, and linger."

The Oxford Companion to Wine
by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding (Editor)
Hardcover - Third Edition
848 pages
ISBN 0198609906
September 2006

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

06 December 2006

A Year-Round Craving for the Latkes of Yore - New York Times; Recipe: Potato Pancakes

Hanukkah (begins December 15th) and latkes. And this time of year. Here's more for your edification from Wikipedia and The New York Times:

"...Latkes or Latkas (Yiddish: לאַטקעס) are shallow-fried cakes of grated potato and egg often flavoured with grated onion. Potato pancakes may be topped with a variety of condiments, from savoury (sour cream, various cheeses) to sweet (apple sauce, sugar with or without cinnamon) but traditionalists prefer them ungarnished...

...Latkes are traditionally eaten during the Jewish Hanukkah festival although they play no fundamental part in Hanukkah ritual. The custom probably evolved due to the preference for eating fried foods during the festival that celebrates a miracle involving oil in the Temple of ancient Israel. Variants include: cheese, apple, zucchini, spinach, leek and rice latkes..." from Wikipedia.

"TIME to make the latkes, and not because it’s almost Hanukkah. These last few years I’ve made latkes in all four seasons for a friend who loves them. Arthur is 82...

A Year-Round Craving for the Latkes of Yore - New York Times: "latkes"

Recipe: Potato Pancakes

Time: 20 minutes

2 large eggs
3 cups grated drained all-purpose potatoes
¼ cup grated onion
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons matzo meal, or as needed
Canola oil, for frying
Applesauce and sour cream for serving (optional).

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add potatoes, onion, salt and pepper, and mix well. Stir in 2 tablespoons matzo meal, and let it sit about 30 seconds to absorb moisture in batter. If necessary add more to make a thick, wet batter that is neither watery nor dry.

2. Place a large skillet over medium heat, and add 2 tablespoons oil. When oil is hot drop in heaping 1/8 cups (about 2 tablespoons) of batter, flattening them gently to make thick pancakes. When bottoms have browned, after 2 to 3 minutes, flip and brown on other side. Add oil as needed. Drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with additional salt to taste. If necessary, work in batches, keeping cooked pancakes warm. Serve hot with applesauce and sour cream, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings (about 24 small pancakes).

From The New York Times, Published: December 6, 2006.

04 December 2006

The Improvisational Cook

For many people who love to cook, a recipe is merely a base on which to build a dish; a suggestion to have fun with and experiment. When something works, it's often better than the original (I write down the changes, good and bad, to remember them). A recently published cookbook, The Improvisational Cook, is a guide to the those who may be timid in tampering with a recipe that is supposedly "proven" or "tested". More from Jessica's Biscuit on this book:

"In The Improvisational Cook, Sally Schneider helps home cooks declare their independence from recipes and set lists of ingredients and offers an invitation to a fun, more spontaneous way to cook with whatever is on hand. But how do you become an improvisational cook?

Once you understand how a basic technique or a recipe works, you can then begin to improvise. Start with one of The Improvisational Cook's essential recipes, such as Caramelized Onions. A special "Understanding" section follows, explaining the internal "logic" of the recipe and its creative possibilities. With that in mind, a savory onion jam; a real onion dip; a quick bruschetta topped with the onions, anchovies, and olives; or a rustic onion soup with dried porcini mushrooms is just a step or two beyond. Sally's notated improvisations illustrate simple, clever approaches and can be followed as is or used as a jumping-off point.

The possibilities are endless. Slow-roast fish at 300 degrees, along with some cherry tomatoes and olives for a sauce. Prepare a savory lemon jam to go with lamb or veal chops, or turn it into a cake filling. Roast a whole lobster instead of a fish in a salt crust. Add minced rosemary or Earl Grey tea to butter cookie dough. Turn a brownie batter into an elegant pepper-scented chocolate cake.

Sally gives you the know-how to embellish, adapt, change, alter, modify, and experiment in your cooking with plenty of encouragement and helpful information -- the tools and insights you need to find your own voice and cook improvi-sationally. These include an exploration of the "inside" of improvisation -- the creative mind-set, where to find inspiration, how to deal with the unexpected, practical approaches to learning "what goes with what," including a chart of classic flavor affinities, and tips on organizing your kitchen to make improvising easier, from long-keeping pantry staples to makeshift tools.

Using The Improvisational Cook, you'll discover a way of cooking that's fun, unfussy, and truly pleasurable. Everyday cooking can become creative every day."

The Improvisational Cook
by Sally Schneider
Hardcover - 392 pages
September 2006
Color Photographs
ISBN: 0060731648
Harper Collins

Available online at Jessia's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

03 December 2006

Asparagus


It seems every person I know consumes asparagus at this time of year. Yes, but is it good for you? And, what's that smell afterwards. Do you eat it with a fork or with your fingers? (fingers!) Well, Wikipedia provides some answers and trivia:

"Asparagus is a type of vegetable obtained from one species within the genus Asparagus, specifically the young shoots of Asparagus officinalis. It has been used from very early times as a culinary vegetable, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius's 3rd century CE De re coquinaria, Book III.

White asparagus is cultivated by denying the plants light and increasing the amount of ultraviolet light exposed to the plants while they are being grown...

...In their simplest form, the shoots are boiled or steamed until tender and served with a light sauce like hollandaise or melted butter or a drizzle of olive oil with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. A refinement is to tie the shoots into sheaves and stand them so that the lower part of the stalks are boiled, while the more tender heads are steamed. Tall cylindrical asparagus cooking pots have liners with handles and perforated bases to make this process foolproof.

Unlike most vegetables, where the smaller and thinner are the more tender, thick asparagus stalks have more tender volume to the proportion of skin. When asparagus have been too long in the market, the cut ends will have dried and gone slightly concave. The best asparagus are picked and washed while the water comes to the boil. Meticulous cooks scrape asparagus stalks with a vegetable peeler, stroking away from the head, and refresh them in ice-cold water before steaming them; the peel is often added back to the cooking water and removed only after the asparagus is done, this is supposed to prevent diluting the flavor. Small or full-sized stalks can be made into asparagus soup. Cantonese restaurants in the United States often serve asparagus stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, or beef. Asparagus is one of few foods which is considered acceptable to eat with the hands in polite company, although this is more common in Europe.

Some of the constituents of asparagus are metabolised and excreted in the urine, giving it a distinctive, mildly unpleasant odor. The smell is caused by various sulfur-containing degradation products (e.g. thiols and thioesters). Studies showed that about 40% of the test subjects displayed this characteristic smell; and a similar percentage of people are able to smell the odor once it is produced. There does not seem to be any correlation between peoples' production and detection of the smell. The speed of onset of urine smell is rapid, and has been estimated to occur within 15-30 minutes from ingestion.

The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, the asparagus plant being rich in this compound.

Asparagus is one of the more nutritionally valuable vegetables. It is the best vegetable provider of folic acid. Folic acid is necessary for blood cell formation and growth, as well as liver disease prevention. Folic acid is also important for pregnant women as it aids in the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the developing fetus. Asparagus is also very low in calories; each stalk contains fewer than 4. It contains no fat or cholesterol, and is very low in sodium. Asparagus is a great source of potassium and fibre. Finally, the plant is a source of rutin, a compound that strengthens the walls of capillaries."