29 January 2007

Herbs and Spices

Many people who do not use foods and ingredients regularly often confuse herbs and spices. Okay, so what is the general definition of an herb and a spice? (from Wikipedia):

"Herbs are plants grown for any purpose other than food, wood or beauty. Such uses include culinary, medicinal, or in some cases even spiritual usage. The green, leafy part of the plant is typically used. General usage differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs. A medicinal herb may be a shrub or other woody plant, whereas a culinary herb is a non-woody plant. By contrast, spices are the seeds, berries, bark, root, fruit, or other parts of the plant, even leaves in some cases {Many of the same substances have other uses in which they are referred to by different terms, e.g., in food preservation, medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics, perfumery or as vegetables. For example, turmeric is also used as a preservative; licorice as a medicine; garlic as a vegetable and nutmeg as a recreational drug.}.

Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are leafy, green plant parts used for flavoring purposes. Herbs, such as basil or oregano, may be used fresh, and are commonly chopped into smaller pieces; spices, however, are dried and usually ground into a powder.; although any of these, as well as any edible fruits or vegetables, may be considered "herbs" in medicinal or spiritual use. Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that they are used in small amounts and provide flavor (similar to spices) rather than substance to food."

Common herbs: Basil · Bay leaf · Boldo · Borage · Cannabis · Chervil · Chives · Coriander leaf (cilantro) · Curry leaf · Dill · Epazote · Eryngium foetidum (long coriander) · Holy basil · Houttuynia cordata (giấp cá) · Hyssop · Lavender · Lemon grass · Limnophila aromatica (rice paddy herb) · Lovage · Marjoram · Mint · Oregano · Parsley · Perilla · Rosemary · Rue · Sage · Savory · Sorrel · Stevia · Tarragon · Thai basil · Thyme

Common spices: African pepper · Ajwain (bishop's weed) · Allspice · Amchur (mango powder) · Anise · Asafoetida · Camphor · Caraway · Cardamom · Cardamom, black · Cassia · Celery seed · Chili · Cinnamon · Clove · Coriander seed · Cubeb · Cumin · Cumin, black · Dill seed · Fennel · Fenugreek · Galangal · Garlic · Ginger · Grains of paradise · Horseradish · Juniper berry · Liquorice · Mace · Mahlab · Mustard, black · Mustard, white · Nigella (kalonji) · Nutmeg · Paprika · Pepper, black · Pepper, green · Pepper, pink, Brazilian · Pepper, pink, Peruvian · Pepper, white · Pomegranate seed (anardana) · Poppy seed · Saffron · Sarsaparilla · Sassafras · Sesame · Sichuan pepper · Star anise · Sumac · Tamarind · Turmeric · Wasabi · Zedoary


Hard-to-find dried herbs, spices and extracts, natural and organic herbs and spices, can be found online at Shop Natural, Suttons Bay Trading Co., and iGourmet.

28 January 2007

Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan

Illustration by Leo Jung

The New York Times often seems more like a journal of foods and nutrition, than breaking news. Which is why I often point readers to articles that appear there. This latest entry is worth a Wow! From The New York Times Sunday Magazine. It is a long article, and is definitely worth reading if you are interested in foods, nutrition, nutritional supplements, diet, and more.

Best quote: "Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food."

Take the time to read Unhappy Meals -- even if you think you already eat "healthy".

"The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, distinctly risky if you’re a nutritionist and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or journalist. (Or, for that matter, an eater. Who wants to hear, yet again, “Eat more fruits and vegetables”?) And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition — much to the advantage of everybody involved. Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters."

Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan.

(Michael Pollan, a contributing writer, is the Knight professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” was chosen b
y the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best books of 2006.)


The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
Hardcover - 449 pages
Published: April 2006
ISBN: 1594200823

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

26 January 2007

The New York Times: Smokers Welcome: Try This at Home

Photo: Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Everyone has tasted some type of smoked food, or tried smoking food on a grill (with mixed results, usually). When it's been done well, it can add unusual and exotic tastes without calorie-laden marinades to foods. Well, here's a way you can try it on just about anything at home:

"Chefs around town seem to have that same impulse. Lately they have been smoking everything in reach — onions, tomatoes, chicken, fish, maple syrup. Some invest in professional indoor smokers, but the majority do what a home cook can easily do, rig a roasting pan with aluminum foil or use inexpensive gear like Camerons stovetop smokers."

The remainder of the article is at Dining and Wine from The New York Times.


A variety of home smokers is available online from CHEFS.

22 January 2007

Peanut Butter

Our latest trivia food blog is on the very common product, and almost universal peanut butter. My favorite commercial brand is Skippy Chunky, followed by and being overtaken by many of the "natural" or organic brands now on the market. Wikipedia provides us with some background on the spread:

"Peanut butter is a food made of roasted, ground, and blended peanuts, usually salted and sweetened. It is commonly sold in grocery stores, but can be made at home. Many styles are available; the most popular are creamy (smooth) and crunchy (with small chunks of peanuts), but honey-roasted, whole-nut varieties, varieties mixed with chocolate, and other variations can also be found. Creamy peanut butter is made by grinding all of the mixture very finely. The crunchier styles are either more coarsely ground or have larger pieces of peanut added back into the mixture after grinding.

Peanut butter is frequently used in sandwiches, particularly the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, candy, cookies and pastry.

It is popular mainly in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Turkey and The Netherlands, but is overshadowed by Nutella (chocolate and hazelnut spread) in other parts of Europe. It also has above-average popularity in the Philippines, parts of the Middle East, South Korea and other areas where Americans have maintained a strong presence in recent decades. It is manufactured in China, India and other emerging markets. In Israel, peanut butter has been used as the coating of Israel's most popular snack, Bamba crisps...

Nearly 50 percent of the U.S. peanut production went to peanut butter factories in 2001. This makes the U.S. the world's largest peanut butter supplier and consumer. Peanuts grown in other countries are usually harvested for cooking oil called peanut oil.

There are many types of peanuts. Small-seed peanuts are rich in oil and usually grown for peanut butter and oil. In the U.S., Runner Types and Spanish Types are two families of peanuts grown in Southern States including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. The first three states produce 60% of the peanuts that are used in peanut butter.

After harvest, peanuts are sent to factories for inspection. The inspected peanuts are roasted in ovens. After roasting, they are rapidly cooled by air to stop cooking. This helps to retain its color and oil contents.

The cooked peanuts are then rubbed between rubber belts to remove the outer skin. The kernels are split with the hearts removed and then cleaned and sorted. Next, the peanuts are sent to the grinder.

The peanuts are ground twice: pulverized to small bits first, then ground with salt, sweetener and usually a stabilizer to keep the oil from separating. So-called "old-fashioned" or "natural" peanut butter typically does not contain a stabilizer. The oils will separate after a time; these varieties are frequently stored in the refrigerator, which prevents the oil from separating back out. Skippy recently introduced a "natural" peanut butter which does not require any stirring. It does, however, contain palm oil as a stabilizer.

In the United States, peanut butter must contain a minimum of 90% peanuts, according to US food laws. Artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and preservatives are not allowed. (This is why some peanut butter manufacturers' low-calorie or low-fat or high artificial products instead call themselves peanut spread.) Some brands may add salt and sugar (indicated by dextrose, sucrose or fructose on the label) to suit the taste of the average consumer (or even molasses, as Jif does), while other brands offer peanut butter without such additives for those who prefer the unadulterated peanut taste.

Health benefits

Peanut butter provides protection against cardiovascular disease due to high levels of monounsaturated fats and Resveratrol. An excellent source of protein, and vitamins B3 and E, peanuts also contain magnesium, folate, dietary fiber and arginine.

Peanuts also contain high levels of an antioxidant called p-coumaric acid."

Bonus Trivia: Arachibutyrophobia — fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.


Natural and organic peanut butters are available online at Shop Natural.

21 January 2007

Pink Princess Cookbook

We like to highlight food publications that are attractive to younger cooks-to-be. Pink Princess Cookbook by Barbara Beery is another that we are featuring. From Jessica's Biscuit:

"From Ariel to Sleeping Beauty and Princess Jasmine to Rapunzel, everyone has a favorite. Now every girl can be a princess and create magical fairy tale treats with the Pink Princess Cookbook by the Queen of Kids’ Cuisine Barbara Beery, founder of the Batter Up Kids Culinary Center!

Budding princesses everywhere can rescue themselves from snacktime boredom right from the kitchens of their very own castles, with special recipes that focus on the flavors and themes every princess will love. Perfect for tea parties, rainy days, themed birthday parties and other celebrations, or any creative afternoon playtime, the Pink Princess Cookbook features treats such as the signature Pink Princess Cake, Chocolate Chip-Peppermint Scones, Enchanted Unicorn Horns, and Fairy Berry Tea. These recipes are simple to make, have just a few ingredients, and teach children valuable kitchen skills while engaging their imaginations.

Expert cooking instructor and cookbook author Beery has created a book that will delight girls around the world, with sections including Perfect Princess Cakes and Cookies, Magical Princess Finger Foods, Fairy Princess Breads, Sweetest Princess Treats, and Sparkling Princess Drinks.

With full-color photography and step-by-step instructions throughout, Pink Princess Cookbook is a celebration of magic and a delightful new take on children’s cookbooks. Pink Princess Cookbook also comes with a hardcover, concealed spiral binding that lays perfectly flat on the countertop so even the smallest of cooks can work and clean around it in the kitchen. And with an easy-clean, wipe-off cover, spilt milk is no problem."

Pink Princess Cookbook
by Barbara Beery
ISBN: 1423601734
Pub. Date: September 2006
Age Range: 4 to 8
Publisher: Gibbs Smith

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

15 January 2007

Boiled Peanuts; goober peas

Do you like peanuts, peanut butter, or other things peanut? Have you ever tried boiled peanuts?

I have eaten many things, and boiled peanuts is about the only food I have tried to eat that I couldn't spit out fast enough. There, I've said it, and will probably receive many comments about this. This is one of those foods that a taste has to be acquired. Defintely acquired. Another food I've never eaten is any kind of worm, but I don't have to now because I've tried boiled peanuts. Sorry to all the folks I might offend.

What are boiled peanuts, aka, goober peas? From Wikipedia:

"Raw peanuts in the shell are put in a large pot of very heavily salted water and boiled. The boil can go on for two to four hours, depending on quantity, and the boilings will most often be of several gallons of water. Flavorings such as hot sauce or beer can be added to the boil.

The resulting food is a very soft peanut in the shell, invariably quite salty. The softened peanuts are easy to open. Oftentimes small, imature peanuts (called "pops") are included, which have even softer shells and can be eaten in entirety. These tend to absorb more salt than the larger ones.

Uneaten peanuts should be stored in a refrigerator, as they can become slimy or moldy quite quickly without refrigeration. Boiled peanuts can be frozen, and later reheated in a microwave for out of season consumption.

Given their saltiness, high protein content, and ease of storage, boiled peanuts are an excellent food for very hot weather and outdoor work."

There are quite a few places online where you can buy boiled peanuts. The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg is one site to get some if you can't live without them ot just want to try them.

13 January 2007

Wielding Kitchen Knives and Honing Office Skills - New York Times

Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

This article appears on the front page of today's New York Times.

"Forget ropes courses and golf outings. Cooking is the new wave in corporate team-building exercises. And cooking schools across the country are expanding to meet demand. Last year, Hands On Gourmet, a company in San Francisco, tripled the number of chefs it has on call, to 32. Cooking by the Book, a company based in New York, did 178 team-building events, a 24 percent increase over 2005."

Go to article: Wielding Kitchen Knives and Honing Office Skills - New York Times

11 January 2007

Baking: From My Home to Yours revisited

We don't feature many cookbooks, especially on baking, during the year (maybe 5 or less) in proportion to the number of books published (hundreds, maybe thousands). But one of the books we chose to feature was Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours in October 2006. It has been chosen as the #1 readers' favorite at Jessica's Biscuit:

"Dorie Greenspan has written recipes for the most eminent chefs in the world: Pierre Hermé, Daniel Boulud, and arguably the greatest of them all, Julia Child, who once told Dorie, "You write recipes just the way I do." Her recipe writing has won widespread praise for its literate curiosity and "patient but exuberant style." (One hard-boiled critic called it "a joy forever.") In Baking: From My Home to Yours, her masterwork, Dorie applies the lessons from three decades of experience to her first and real love: home baking. The 300 recipes will seduce a new generation of bakers, whether their favorite kitchen tools are a bowl and a whisk or a stand mixer and a baker's torch."

Revisit our blog or go to Jessica's Biscuit to see other readers' favorites or purchase the book.

07 January 2007