17 December 2007

Fruit Cake (history and recipe)

I was resisting doing a blog about the the seasonally omnipresent Fruit Cake, jokes and all. Over the years I've had a few that were quite good; the problem is when you get a whole cake as a gift: After a taste or two -- that's it for the year, enough! But what do you really know about the origin of the fruit cake? From Answers.com comes a bit of history, and trivia:

"History and lore mingle in the retelling of the fruitcake story. The ancient Egyptians made fruitcake for their departed loved ones to carry with them to the afterlife. The dense cake and preserved fruit were thought to withstand the journey, and the riches of the fruits and nuts communicated the wealth of the consumer and the family's esteem for their relative. The Middle East overflowed with the variety of dates, citrus fruit, and nuts that were virtually unknown in Northern Europe until the Crusades. Returning Crusaders brought fruit with them, but the trade that was initiated was frequently interrupted by war, and, of course, the fruit was highly perishable. These dilemmas were partially solved by drying or candying the fruit for travel, and, when the fruit reached Northern Europe, it was shared by mixing it in breads and cakes. Because the fruit came from the Holy Land, it was also revered and saved for feast days, particularly Christmas and Easter...

...The English fruitcake or Christmas cake reached its heyday in Victorian times when, with the introduction of the Christmas tree and other festive customs, religious traditions exploded into colorful, season-long celebrations. Fruitcakes (and other fruit-bearing holiday treats like the plum pudding and Irish plum cake) were made well in advance of the holidays. The cakes were wrapped in cheesecloth that had been soaked in brandy; periodically, the cheese-cloth was resoaked and the cakes rewrapped to absorb the liquid. The day before Christmas, the cakes were unwrapped, coated with marzipan or almond paste, further coated with royal icing that dried and hardened, and then glazed with apricot glaze. These Christmas cakes demonstrated such abundance that the same kind of cake is used today in England as wedding cake, and it has the advantage of preserving well for anniversary celebrations."

Read the whole story at Answers.com.

And of course, a recipe (out of the multitude that exist) from the FoodNetwork:

Creole Christmas Fruit Cake with Whiskey Sauce
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2003

INGREDIENTS

For the Simple Syrup:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest, cut in strips
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the Cake:
1/2 pound mixed dried fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries, cherries, raisins, and chopped apricots
1/2 pound, (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 ounces almond paste
4 large eggs
1/2 cup Grand Marnier, or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup bourbon

DIRECTIONS

Make a simple-syrup by combining the sugar and water in a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the lemon zest and juice and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

Combine the dried fruits in a large mixing bowl. Pour the simple-syrup over them, toss to coat and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and reserve the syrup.

Cream the butter, sugar and almond paste together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle at low speed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat until the mixture is fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, mixing in between each addition on low speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add 1/4 cup of the Grand Marnier and mix to incorporate.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-size mixing bowl and blend well. Add this mixture 1/2 cup at a time to the butter mixture with the mixer on low speed, each time mixing until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. The batter will be thick.

Add the warm fruit and all of the nuts a little at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease a bundt pan with butter or non-stick baking spray. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until golden brown and the top springs back when touched, about 45 to 50 minutes (turning the pan to ensure even browning after 30 minutes.)

Cool the cake for 20 minutes in the pan, then remove and continue to cool upside-down on wire racks.

Make tiny holes with a toothpick randomly on the rounded end of the cake. Combine the remaining simple syrup with the remaining 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier and the bourbon. Wrap the cake in a layer of cheesecloth and pour 1/4 cup of the syrup over the top of each cake. Store in a plastic zip bag for 3 or 4 days until the cake is slightly stale. Sprinkle syrup over cakes once every 2 to 3 days until all of the syrup is used. Let the cakes age for up to 3 weeks before eating.

For the Whiskey Sauce:
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine 2 3/4 cups of the cream with the bourbon and sugar in a medium-size nonstick saucepan over medium-heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1/4 cup cream. Add this to the cream-and-bourbon mixture and simmer stirring often, until the mixture thickens, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm with the fruitcake.

The sauce may be stored, after it has cooled, in an airtight container for 24 hours. When ready to serve, warm over low heat.

And for those of you who don't have the fortitude to make one (or two) from scratch, you can find many sites online that offer various versions, including: iGourmet, Hickory Farms, Figi's.

04 December 2007

"Roast Chicken and Other Stories", by Simon Hopkinson

Photo: Zachary Zavislak for The New York Times. Food stylist: Liza Zernow.



So many cookbooks, so little room to put them. I read them like novels, make notes on which recipes to use, and usually relish the stories that go along with a particular food, recipe or notable meal the author has deemed important enough to share. "Roast Chicken and Other Stories", by Simon Hopkinson is the newest publication I am awaiting the arrival of. This book seems to promise all of these aspects I enjoy reading, and I was just plain intrigued by the press it's received. From The New York Times, Food: The Way We Eat, Simon Says, by By Aleksandra Crapanzano:

"...'Roast Chicken' is one of those rare cookbooks that, once opened, becomes indispensable — perhaps because it takes so many of the dishes you thought you had already mastered and, quite simply, does them that much better. Foodies know it as the winner of the 1995 Glenfiddich award for best food book, and publishers know it as the book that trumped Harry Potter on Amazon.com’s British best-seller list. The British magazine Waitrose Food Illustrated named it the most useful cookbook ever, but here I must disagree. 'Roast Chicken and Other Stories' is far too idiosyncratic to be labeled 'useful.' Rather, it is deliciously random and highly opinionated." Read the whole article Here.

A little bit more from Jessica's Biscuit:

"In England, no food writer’s star shines brighter than Simon Hopkinson’s, whose breakthrough Roast Chicken and Other Stories was voted the most useful cookbook ever by a panel of chefs, food writers, and consumers. At last, American cooks can enjoy endearing stories from the highly acclaimed food writer and his simple yet elegant recipes.

In this richly satisfying culinary narrative, Hopkinson shares his unique philosophy on the limitless possibilities of cooking. With its friendly tone backed by the author’s impeccable expertise, this cookbook can help anyone -- from the novice cook to the experienced chef -- prepare down-right delicious cuisine . . . and enjoy every minute of it!"




Roast Chicken And Other Stories
by Simon with Bareham Hopkinson
240 Pages
Publisher: Hyperion
Pub. Date: Sep 04, 2007
Photos: Color Illustrations
ISBN-10:1401308627
ISBN-13:9781401308629



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

20 November 2007

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth

Here's a recently published cookbook that's especially appropriate for this time of year. For your own sweet tooth, or as a gift. Use at your own risk. From Jessica's Biscuit, a morsel more about it:

"Chocolate Caramel-Pecan Soufflé Cake . . . Cinnamon-Donut Bread Pudding . . . Double-Crumble Hot Apple Pies . . . Giant Coconut Cream Puffs . . . Here's a collection of desserts that gives more than 75 sticky, chewy, messy, gooey reasons to stock up on napkins. In addition to each sugary favorite, the author has included simple techniques and tools to help home cooks recreate each decadent treasure again and again. Sprinkled throughout are tips on using phyllo dough, toasting nuts, and making a heavenly ganache, so every over-the-top treat tastes as irresistible as it sounds. For the serious sweet tooth, pour a tall glass of milk and get ready to bite into all that's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey!"

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth
by Jill O'Connor
168 Pages
Publisher: Chronicle
Pub. Date: Aug 08, 2007
Color Photographs
ISBN-10:081185566X
ISBN-13:9780811855662

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

15 November 2007

Yams; sweet potatoes

Many of you will be preparing yams (sweet potatoes) for Thanksgiving. But did you know it's only a distant relation to the potato? And do you know how nutritious it is? Here's some background from Wikipedia and whfoods.org. First from Wikipedia:

Sweet potatoes are native to the tropical parts of the Americas, and were domesticated there at least 5000 years ago. They spread very early throughout the region, including the Caribbean. They were also known before western exploration in Polynesia. How exactly they arrived there is the subject of a fierce debate which involves archaeological, linguistic and genetic evidence.

Sweet potatoes are now cultivated throughout tropical and warm temperate regions wherever there is sufficient water to support their growth.

According to 2004 FAO statistics world production is 127,000,000 tons. The majority comes from China with a production of 105,000,000 tonnes from 49,000 km². About half of the Chinese crop is used for livestock feed.

Per-capita production is greatest in countries where sweet potatoes are a staple of human consumption, led by the Solomon Islands at 160 kg per person per year and Burundi at 130 kg.

In New Zealand, sweet potato is known by its Māori name, kūmara. It was a staple food for Māori before European contact. Today, it is still very popular, although less popular than regular potatoes. There are about 85 commercial kūmara growers, with 1,220 hectares producing 20,000 tonnes of kūmara annually.

North Carolina, the leading U.S. state in sweet potato production, currently provides 40% of the annual U.S. production of sweet potatoes.

Mississippi is also a major sweet potato producing state, where they are grown on approximately 8,200 acres. Mississippi sweet potatoes contribute $19 million dollars to the economy of the state and around 150 Mississippi farmers presently grow sweet potatoes. Mississippi's top five sweet potato producing counties are Calhoun, Chickasaw, Pontotoc, Yalobusha, and Panola. The National Sweet Potato Festival is held annually the entire first week in November in Vardaman, which proclaims itself as "The Sweet Potato Capital"...

...Nutrition and health benefits

Besides simple starches, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene (a vitamin A equivalent nutrient), vitamin C, and vitamin B6.

In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value. According to these criteria, sweet potatoes earned 184 points, 100 points over the next on the list, the common potato.(NCSPC)

Sweet potato varieties with dark orange flesh have more beta carotene than those with light colored flesh and their increased cultivation is being encouraged in Africa where Vitamin A deficiency is a serious health problem. Despite the name "sweet", it may be a beneficial food for diabetics, as preliminary studies on animals have revealed that it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and to lower insulin resistance. Some Americans, including television personality Oprah Winfrey, are advocating increased consumption of sweet potatoes both for their health benefits and because of their importance in traditional Southern cuisine.

And a bit more from whfoods.org,

...Yams' complex carbohydrates and fiber deliver the goods gradually, slowing the rate at which their sugars are released and absorbed into the bloodstream. In addition, because they're rich in fiber, yams fill you up without filling out your hips and waistline. And one more benefit, yams are a good source of manganese, a trace mineral that helps with carbohydrate metabolism and is a cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. You've just got to hand it to Mother Nature; when She brings forth a food, She makes sure it integrates everything needed to contribute to your health and vitality...

...Yams are a good source of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is needed by the body to break down a substance called homocysteine, which can directly damage blood vessel walls. Individuals who suffer a heart attack despite having normal or even low cholesterol levels are often found to have high levels of homocysteine. Since high homocysteine levels are signficantly associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke, having a good supply of vitamin B6 on hand makes a great deal of sense. High intakes of vitamin B6 have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease...

Enjoy!

Cranberry Tart

Babbo’s tart with whole cranberries; Tony Cenicola/The New York Times















Everyone knows how to prepare the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, etc. for Thanksgiving, so let's skip to the finale, dessert. And there are as many desserts prepared for this meal as there are dinners prepared. But how about a couple more choices for you from The New York Times Dining and Wine section, For the Finale, a Perfect Pie (or Two), by Florence Fabricant, published: November 14, 2007:

"THE three pillars of the Thanksgiving dinner are turkey, cranberry sauce and pie. Pie baking, happily, allows more room for variation than the other tried, true and perennially required dishes do. Pies and tarts also represent a great contribution to the dinner for a guest who, when asking, “can I bring anything?” receives a resounding 'Yes!'"

For the whole article, go to For the Finale, a Perfect Pie (or Two). And one of the recipes from the article:

Recipe: Cranberry Tart

Adapted from “Dolce Italiano: Desserts From the Babbo Kitchen,” by Gina DePalma (W. W. Norton, 2007)

Time: 2 hours plus 1 hour’s chilling

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup instant or fine polenta

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced

1 large egg plus 3 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup light corn syrup

3 cups (12-ounce bag) fresh cranberries, picked over

1/2 cup heavy cream

Confectioners’ sugar, optional.

1. Place 1 1/4 cups flour, polenta, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and lemon zest in a food processor and process to blend. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand. In a small bowl, beat whole egg with oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Uncover processor, pour in liquid ingredients and pulse until a ball of dough forms. This may take 20 or more quick pulses. If necessary, sprinkle in a little water if mixture does not come together. Form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour.

2. In a 3-quart saucepan, melt remaining sugar over low heat. Stir in syrup and bring to a boil. Add cranberries and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes, until they begin to release juice. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool about 20 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough to an 12-inch circle and fit into a 10-inch loose-bottom tart pan. If dough tears, it can easily be pressed together.

4. In a bowl, whisk together cream and 2 tablespoons flour. Whisk in three egg yolks, remaining vanilla and a pinch of salt. Pour over cranberries and fold together. Pour into tart shell, place pan on a baking sheet and bake about 40 minutes, until filling bubbles but is not yet firm, and pastry browns. Cool in pan before removing sides; if desired, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

05 November 2007

1973: Teddie’s Apple Cake

Another "retro" recipe appeared in The New York Times Sunday Magazine this week, one worth passing on:

"For reasons that elude me, cakes have come to represent long hours in the kitchen, when anyone who actually makes cakes knows that cookies are the time suck. Cookies require measuring and multiple batches. Cakes get mixed up and go into the oven all at once. The most lovable ones even cool in their pans and require no icing. Which is why if you look back in The Times archives at recipes from 30 or more years ago, when most people cooked every day, there were many more cake recipes. Cake was something you whipped up every couple of days, after the previous one vanished to crumbs."

Go to 1973: Teddie’s Apple Cake for the whole article. The recipe is below:



1973: Teddie’s Apple Cake

This recipe appeared in The Times in an article by Jean Hewitt.

Butter for greasing pan

3 cups flour, plus more for dusting pan

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, like Honeycrisp or Granny Smith

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup raisins

Vanilla ice cream (optional).

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) while assembling the remaining ingredients. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.

2. Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts and raisins and stir until combined.

3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired. Serves 8.

Fun food quotes

Time for a more light-hearted blog, on food of course. Some famous, and some not so well- quotes for you:


- Part of the secret to life is to eat what you want and let the food fight it out inside. - Mark Twain

- There are 4 basic food groups: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate and chocolate truffles. - Unknown

- Vegetables are a must! I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie. - Garfield / Jim Davis

- I can't cook. I use the smoke alarm as a timer. - Carol Siskind

- Everything you see I owe to spaghetti. - Sofia Loren

- I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage. - Erma Bombeck

- Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into 4 pieces with your bare hands and then eat just one of the pieces, - Juduth Viorst

- My mother's menu consisted of 2 things: take it or leave it. - Buddy Hackett

- I would like to find a stew that will give me heartburn immedietley instead of at 3 o'clock in the morning. - John Barrymore

- Chemicals; n, : notorious substance from which modern foods are made. - Unknown

- In Mexico we have a word for sushi: bait. - Jose Simmons

- Condensed milk is wonderful. I don't see how they can get a cow to sit down on those little cans. - Fred Allen

- Ham and eggs: a day's work for the chicken and a lifetime commitment for the pig. - Unknown

- I love Thanksgiving turkey. It's the only time in Los Angeles that you see natural breasts. - Arnold Schwarzenegger

- Ever wonder about those people who sepnd a fortune on bottled water? Try spelling Evian backwards. - George Crlin

- I put instant coffee in the microwave and almost went back in time. - Steven Wright

- If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. However - if life gives you pickles, you might as well give up because pickle-ade is disgusting. - Clifton J. Gray

22 October 2007

Three New Cookbooks

The fall season is when a majority of the year's new cookbooks are released, in anticipation of the holiday gift-giving frenzy. Well, cookbooks are nice and thoughtful gifts for the culinary inclined. And for the rest of us, it's a nice time to add to our gastronomic library. Several new arrivals, I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas by Marcel Desaulniers, 1080 Recipes by Simone Ortega, and Cooking by James Peterson, are highlighted below, with the descriptions courtesy of Jessica's Biscuit:

"In an era of outfitted home kitchens and food fascination, it's no wonder home cooks who never learned the fundamentals of the kitchen are intimidated. Twenty years ago, James Peterson could relate, and so he taught himself by cooking his way through professional kitchens and stacks of books, logging the lessons of his kitchen education one by one. Now one of the country's most revered cooking teachers, Peterson provides the confidence-building instructions home cooks need to teach themselves to cook consistently with ease and success. Cooking is the only all-in-one instructional that details the techniques that cooks really need to master, teaches all the basic recipes, and includes hundreds of photos that illuminate and inspire."

Cooking
by James Peterson
Hardcover Book: 624 Pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Pub. Date: Oct 01, 2007
Photos: Color Photographs
ISBN-10:1580087892

***

"Following close on the heels of the public’s love of Italian food, Spanish food is fast growing in popularity with more and more Spanish restaurants emerging all over the world and a tapas-style revolution happening in the way we eat out.

1080 Recetas de Cocina is a comprehensive collection of traditional and authentic Spanish recipes, covering everything from tortilla to bacalao. This title has been a bestseller in Spain since it was first published, and with over 2 million copies sold it can be found in most kitchens across the country. The book’s author, Simone Ortega is considered to be the doyenne of cooking in Spain and has written about food for numerous years, including for magazines and in books.

Since its first publication, over 35 years ago, 1080 has undergone several updates to keep it relevant to modern living while still preserving the integrity of the original book. For the English and American editions, the recipes have been adapted to suit readers in these countries and their kitchens, and include alternatives for local ingredients where necessary, but the authenticity of the original recipes has been carefully maintained.

Divided into 14 chapters, and including menu plans from celebrated Spanish chefs, cooking tips and a glossary of terms and ingredients, 1080 is presented in an approachable and user-friendly format. In addition, the no-fuss, encouraging style of the recipes makes this a book for everyone who has ever wanted to cook authentic Spanish food. 1080 offers readers the opportunity to take their first steps in Spanish cooking, or expand their repertoire of recipes, with one of Spain’s best loved cooks."

1080 Recipes
by Simone Ortega
Hard Cover Book: 960 Pages
Publisher: Phaidon Press Inc.
Pub. Date: Oct 01, 2007
Photos: Color Illustrations and Photographs
ISBN-10:0714848360

***
"Christmas + Chocolate = Heaven!

Oh! You Better Watch Out, or you'll find yourself as frantic as Santa's elf on December 23, baking complicated desserts for friends and family for the holidays. Instead, you can use the recipes in this book—they are simple and straightforward, but still loaded with 'Wow!' Honestly."


I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas
by Marcel Desaulniers
Hard Cover Book: 224 Pages
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Pub. Date: Oct 01, 2007
ISBN-10:0764599003

***

These three publications are available online at Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

18 October 2007

Olives

Photo: Sylwia Kapuscinski for The New York Times











Ah, olives! They're great. And almost no one ever thinks of how they come about.

And it's true, if you have ever bitten into an uncured olive, as I did years ago in Spain, you will appreciate why and how they become palatable. This recent article, "Olives, Flavored by Time, Seasoned With Memories", in the Dining and Wine section of The New York Times is must reading for oliver lovers:

"Many Americans have become olive aficionados, finicky about their picholines and arbequinas, Kalamatas and Cerignolas. But few have a sense of how olives get from the tree to the table; even fewer attempt the process at home, though it can be as simple as this: Add salt to olives. Wait."

Read the whole article here: "Olives, Flavored by Time, Seasoned With Memories".

02 October 2007

The Art Of Simple Food Notes, Lessons, And Recipes From A Delicious Revolution

It's the latest culinary offering from Alice Waters' series of indispensible writings on foods, musings, and recipes, The Art Of Simple Food Notes, Lessons, And Recipes From A Delicious Revolution. And anxiously waited by many. From Jessica's Biscuit:

"Culinary phenomenon Alice Waters proposes an entirely new way to cook and eat--simple, local, sustainable, and, above all, delicious. With 20 lessons for teaching core principles and over 200 flawless recipes, this is the basic handbook that every cook, new or experienced, must add to his or her collection this year.

Perhaps more responsible than anyone for the revolution in the way we eat, cook, and think about food, Alice Waters has “single-handedly chang[ed] the American palate” according to the New York Times. Her simple but inventive dishes focus on a passion for flavor and a reverence for locally produced, seasonal foods.

With an essential repertoire of timeless, approachable recipes chosen to enhance and showcase great ingredients, The Art of Simple Food is an indispensable resource for home cooks. Here you will find Alice’s philosophy on everything from stocking your kitchen, to mastering fundamentals and preparing delicious, seasonal inspired meals all year long. Always true to her philosophy that a perfect meal is one that’s balanced in texture, color, and flavor, Waters helps us embrace the seasons’ bounty and make the best choices when selecting ingredients. Fill your market basket with pristine produce, healthful grains, and responsibly raised meat, poultry, and seafood, then embark on a voyage of culinary rediscovery that reminds us that the most gratifying dish is often the least complex.

Named the most influential figure in the past 30 years of the American kitchen by Gourmet magazine, ALICE WATERS is the owner of Chez Panisse restaurant and the author of nine cookbooks."

The Art Of Simple Food Notes, Lessons, And Recipes From A Delicious Revolution
by Alice Waters
Hardcover Book: 448 Pages
Publisher: Clarkson Potter (Crown)
Pub. Date: Oct 02, 2007
ISBN-10:0307336794

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

26 September 2007

BBC Food website

Another wonderful source for all types of foodies can be found at BBC FOOD.

BBC Food is dedicated to culinary inspiration, with top chefs demonstrating how to create mouth-watering dishes and showing where their inspiration comes from. Chefs hunt for new ideas and creative ingredients, travelling though regions rich in culinary traditions and visiting restaurants that lead the way in gastronomic trends.

Created for everyone with an interest in good food, BBC Food celebrates simple, modern, fresh cooking. We hope you enjoy trying out some of the recipes featured on the site and return to find out the latest information on the best culinary programming from the BBC and other leading broadcasters.

Worth a visit at BBC FOOD.

24 September 2007

Where Flavor Was Born Recipes And Culinary Travels Along The Indian Ocean Spice Route

It's the season (besides the onset of Autumn) for the publication on new cookbooks and we're coming across a proliferation of them. We can only feature a few noteworthy books, and Where Flavor Was Born Recipes And Culinary Travels Along The Indian Ocean Spice Route, by Andreas Viestad, is one of them. Some we read, some are featured on their apparent merit. This from Jessica's Biscuit on this one:

"This extraordinary cookbook from celebrated author Andreas Viestad explores the culinary wonders along the legendary spice route, from Zanzibar to India to Bali and everywhere in between. Part travelogue, part cookbook, this colorful volume captures the spirit of each region and reveals the origins of the spices now used in everyday cooking across the globe. Nearly 100 recipes, a glossary of spices, source list, and unforgettable color photographs document the people, places, and—best of all—the irresistible cuisine at every stop on the journey. Where Flavor Was Born brings the exotic flavors—and cultures—of the Indian Ocean into the home kitchen."

Where Flavor Was Born Recipes And Culinary Travels Along The Indian Ocean Spice Route
by Andreas Viestad
Hardcover Book: 288 Pages
Publisher: Chronicle
Pub. Date: Aug 23, 2007
Photos: Color Photographs
ISBN-10:0811849651

Available online from Jessica's Biscuit.

If you've acquired a new and noteworthy food publication, anything to do with food, please feel free to submit a suggestion or review for inclusion here. Authors are especially invited to submit their works for review.

20 September 2007

The Original Master of Blood and Butter (Peter Luger)


Photo: Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

We featured the restaurant, Peter Luger, in a previous blog. And The New York Times reviews the restaurant as it celebrates its 120 years of existence. There are many resons for its long survival. One of the reasons for its longevity:

"...What a steak it was. Even before I saw it I could smell it — the acrid top note of its char, the funky bottom note of properly aged beef. I could even hear it, still sizzling from its time in one of the high-temperature broilers..."

Read the whole review at The Original Master of Blood and Butter.

24 August 2007

The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine

Ah..., The French Culinary Institute in New York City -- since 1984 it has become a destination for aspiring professionals as well as anyone wanting to hone home cooking skills, at a price. The restaurant, L'Ecole, where students serve in every capacity of a functioning eatery, can be sublime to disastrous (I've eaten there several times). Now, finally, a book has been published, The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine, which I hope is a bit more polished than the service at their restaurant.

From Jessica's Biscuit:

"In 1984, Dorothy Cann Hamilton founded The French Culinary Institute with a singular vision: She wanted to create a culinary school that combined classic French techniques with American inventiveness in a fast-paced curriculum.

Now, for the first time ever, all the best that the FCI has to offer can be found in a single sumptuous volume. The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine presents the six- and nine-month courses taught at the FCI that cover all 250 basic techniques of French cooking. Along with more than 650 full-color photographs, the book features more than 200 classic recipes as well as new recipes developed by some of the school's most famous graduates. Complete with insider tips and invaluable advice from the FCI, this will be an indispensable addition to the library of serious home cooks everywhere."

***

The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine
by French Culinary Institute and Judith Choate
Hardcover - 496 pages
August 2007
ISBN: 158479478X
Stewart Tabori & Chang

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

22 August 2007

So Many Tomatoes to Stuff in a Week

Photo: Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times


It's that time of season when your local tomatoes are at the peak of taste -- and abundance. And what to do with them all? The best way for those first, fresh red beauties is to just slice them and enjoy plain, or sprinkle a little salt and pepper, and enjoy. And sometimes I enjoy eating one like an apple, albeit a very juicy experience. When I was a child on a farm in Massachusetts, my grandmother would quarter some tomatoes fresh from the vine and let us dip them in sugar. I could never eat enough.

But for some more elaborate ideas, an article in today's New York Times, "So Many Tomatoes to Stuff in a Week", by Melissa Clark, is a good start.

13 August 2007

My Life in France; Julia Child


Julia Child would have been 95 on August 15th.

And although we've featured this work before, we would like to feature it again:

"Through bestselling cookbooks, a television series on PBS, and her work with the American Institute of Wine and Food, which she founded, and the James Beard Foundation, which she co-founded, Julia Child succeeded in changing the way we cook, eat, and think about food." And more from Jessica's Biscuit:

My Life in France, was published last year and is scheduled to be released in paperback in October. More from Jessica's Biscuit:

"This delightful memoir of Julia's years in Paris, Marseilles, and Provence opens with Paul and Julia--a tall, wide-eyed girl from Pasadena who can't cook and doesn't speak a word of French--disembarking in Le Havre, and ends with the launching of the two Mastering cookbooks and Julia wining the heart of American as "The French Chef."

Begun several months before she died, My Life in France was completed by Paul's grandnephew Alex Prud'homme, based on hours of talks with Julia and on family letters. Funny, earthy, forthright--Julia is with us on every page as she relishes the French way of life that transformed her, and us."

My Life in France
by Julia Child, with Alex Prud'homme,
Hardcover - 336 pages
Published: March 2006
ISBN: 1400043468
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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

25 July 2007

The George Mateljan Foundation

In case you missed our earlier blog on the The George Mateljan Foundation, here it is again: It is a non-profit organization free of commercial influence, which provides the website for you free of charge. The purpose is to provide you with unbiased scientific information about how nutrient-rich World's Healthiest Foods can promote vibrant health and energy and fit your personal needs and busy lifestyle:

"Food of the Week . . . Olives...

This week we celebrate olives as one of the World's Healthiest Foods. Olives are one of our oldest foods and are believed to have originated in Crete between five and seven thousand years ago. After they are harvested, they must go through special processing methods to reduce their intrinsic bitter taste and acquire the great taste that we associate with olives."

***

Subscribe to their free email newsletters there.

08 July 2007

The River Cottage Meat Book

Recently published, and already a cult book for people with an insatiable taste for meat in Great Britain, The River Cottage Meat Book, is a must for any serious carnivore.

"First published in the United Kingdom, The River Cottage Meat Book quickly became an underground hit among food cognoscenti around the world. Now tailored for American cooks, this loving, authoritative, and galvanizing ode to good meat is one part manifesto on high-quality, local, and sustainable meat production; two parts guide to choosing and storing meats and fowl; and three parts techniques and recipes for roasting, cooking, barbecuing, preserving, and processing meats and getting the most out of leftovers. With this thought-provoking and practical guide, meat eaters can knowledgeably buy and prepare meat for better health and better living, while supporting the environment, vibrant local economies, and respectful treatment of animals."

A review is featured in today's New York Times Magazine, Food: The Way We Eat, Missionary Man by Alekxandra Crapanzano.

The River Cottage Meat Book
by Hugh Whittingstall-Fearnley
Hardcover - 544 pages
Published: April 2007
ISBN: 1580088430
Ten Speed Press

The River Cottage Meat Book is available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

04 July 2007

The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas and Sweet Accompaniments

Summer and ice cream, ices, sorbets. Something cool and sweet. And time to find the ice cream maker. Recently published, The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas and Sweet Accompaniments, by David Lebovitz, comes just in time to satisfy our chilled cravings. Jessica's Biscuit gives us the scoop:

"Ripe seasonal fruits. Fragrant vanilla, toasted nuts, and spices. Heavy cream and bright liqueurs. Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Every luscious flavor is grist for the chill in David Lebovitz's ecstatic guide to the pleasures of homemade ice creams, sorbets, granitas, and more. With an emphasis on intense and sophisticated flavors, an international flair, and a bountiful helping of seasoned technique, this collection of frozen treats ranges from classic and comforting (Chocolate Sorbet) to contemporary and cutting edge (Mojito Granita). Spilling over with scrumptious sauces, crunchy toppings, and surprising mix-ins, The Perfect Scoop transforms simple ice cream into a knockout dessert.

# A generous collection of classic and contemporary recipes for ice creams, sorbets, granitas, and accompaniments, from a former Chez Panisse pastry chef and popular dessert book author.
# Includes more than 200 recipes and 45 full-color food photos.
# Features in-depth material on successful ice cream making, from choosing the right equipment and the best ingredients to crafting the perfect custard.
# Most recipes are accompanied by "Perfect Pairings"--variations and garnishes for turning homemade ice cream into fun and fanciful desserts".

Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accessories
by David Lebovitz, Lara Hata (Photographer)
Hardcover
ISBN: 1580088082
March 2007
Ten Speed Press

"The Perfect Scoop" is available online at Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

30 June 2007

Hudson Valley Garlic Festival; Garlic Bread Recipe



Saugerties, NY; Sept. 29 & 30, 2007
artwork by Bob Place


***

As a lovers of all things garlic, we have promoted The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival for several years. Here is information on this year's festivities:

* Tickets for the 2007 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival™ are priced exactly the same as they were for the last couple of years.
* Tickets bought at the gate are $7 per person. (Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult, as always,)
* Advance tickets are available at a $2 discount ($5 apiece) on our Web site. The address is http://www.hvgf.org/catalog_2007.asp

And here is a recipe for garlic bread from the their newsletter:

RECIPE (from the Garlic Goddess)

Garlic-Cheese Bread
This is a delicious tasting bread, fairly high in fat, but hey, you can't live forever. ;-)

Yield: 1 loaf.

INGREDIENTS

2 packages dry yeast
3 cups warm water
3 Tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour

Filling:
6 Tbsp butter
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 package dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS

1. Soften yeast in 1/3 cup (of the 3 cups) of warm water. Add a pinch of sugar. Within 5 to 10 minutes, the yeast should be noticeably multiplying. Add it to the remainder of the water and add the butter, salt and sugar.

2. Pour it into the bowl of a Mixer/Kneader (such as from Kitchenaid) with the kneading attachment (or into a bread bowl and use a hand-held mixer for adding up to 2 cups flour. Then knead in the rest.) Turn on the mixer and start adding the flour, stopping to scrape down the sides. When the dough is too stiff to mix, then turn out on a floured bread board and knead in the last bit of flour. (You may not have to use all of the flour.)

3. Grease a large bowl and turn the dough out and into the bowl. Turn the bread to have the greased top exposed. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and put in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

4. Then roll out dough to a 20" x 14" rectangle. Set aside while you make the filling.

To make filling:
1. Mince the garlic and saute briefly in the butter. Add the soup mix and stir to incorporate everything.

2. Let the filling cool. Then spread on the dough, up to 1" away from all sides. Sprinkle the cheese over the filling. Then roll up jelly roll fashion, staring with the 14" side. Seal edges and the ends.

3. Place on a greased cookie sheet and using a very sharp knife (or a razor blade) slash the top down the center - lengthwise, exposing some of the onion mix. Cover loosely and let rise 'til light.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. After taking out of the oven, let the bread cool on a wire rack. Wait for at least an hour before trying to slide it.

27 June 2007

In Food Safety Crackdown, China Closes 180 Plants - New York Times

This item, in today's New York Times, is important enough to be made available to anyone who may not have seen it:

"After weeks of insisting that food here is largely safe, regulators in China said Tuesday that they had recently closed 180 food plants and that inspectors had uncovered more than 23,000 food safety violations."

Read the whole article at
In Food Safety Crackdown, China Closes 180 Plants - New York Times

25 June 2007

Superfoods

In case you haven't noticed "superfoods" have been all over the news, and markets, in the past few years. They have many health and nutrition benefits, and consumers have taken notice. A recent item from the BBC states:

"There has been a dramatic rise in sales of nutrient-rich "superfoods" as more people learn of their health benefits, new research suggests.

The products which have soared in popularity include spinach, salmon and soy according to data collected by market analyst AC Nielsen."

To view the whole story, visit BBC News.

And from WebMD, 'Superfoods' Everyone Needs.

Eat Local Produce

I've been eating locally grown produce for many years for many reasons. The most important being that it's fresher and more flavorful, often picked that same morning. And then, it helps local farmers. Many large supermarkets offer locally grown produce, but the freshness often leaves a bit to be desired, e.g., my local Pathmark's offerings appear to have sit somewhere for a few days before making it to the shelves.

There are many other reasons to consume locally grown food, and here are two sites to help convince you to do so also -- if you aren't already:

Locally Grown from lime.com: According to Local Harvest, a nonprofit resource for locating farmer’s markets and family farms, most produce that Americans eat is picked more than four to seven days before it’s sold, and shipped an average of 1,500 miles before it is stocked in supermarkets (this doesn’t take into account foods that are imported from other countries). The distance that food travels, often referred to as “food miles,” is often called to attention to point out that the great distance that food is transported causes oil and energy waste, pollution and traffic, packing material waste, increased contamination risk, and the prevalence of large-scale farming practices such as use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and hybridized or genetically modified crops. Click here for more.

And click: How Does Eating Locally Grown Food Help the Environment?

21 June 2007

Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters

Did your grandmother bake goodies that bring back fond food and kitchen memories? Cakes, pastries and sweets you wish you could find somewhere? Do you wish you had asked for and saved the recipes? This recent publication, Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters: More than 100 Years of Recipes Discovered from Family Cookbooks, Original Journals, Scraps of Paper, and Grandmothers Kitchen, may not replace your grandmother's, but may close to recreating some, or create new fond ones. More from Jessica's Biscuit:

"We all have fond memories of a favorite dessert our grandmother or mother used to bake. It’s these dishes that give us comfort in times of stress, help us celebrate special occasions, and remind us of the person who used to bake for us those many years ago.

In Heirloom Baking, Marilynn Brass and Sheila Brass preserve and update 150 of these beloved desserts. The recipes are taken from their vast collection of antique manuscript cookbooks, handwritten recipes passed down through the generations that they’ve amassed over twenty years. The recipes range from the late 1800s to today, and come from a variety of ethnicities and regions. The book features such down-home and delicious recipes as Brandied Raisin Teacakes, Cuban Flan, Cranberry-Orange Cream Scones, Chattanooga Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars, and many more. Accompanying the recipes are stories from the lives of the families from which they came.

The Brass Sisters have taken care to update every recipe for today’s modern kitchens. More than 150 photographs showcase the scrumptious food in full-color detail. Finally, the Brass sisters encourage each reader to begin collecting his or her own family recipes in the lined pages and envelope at the back of the book."

Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters: More than 100 Years of Recipes Discovered from Family Cookbooks, Original Journals, Scraps of Paper, and Grandmothers Kitchen
by Marilynn and Sheila Brass
Hardcover - 312 pages
Published: September 2006
ISBN: 1579125883
Black Dog & Leventhal

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

15 June 2007

Spelt

I've come across references, and recipes calling for spelt (see book featured at the bottom of this blog). But what exactly is it and how can one use it? A good description can be found from Wikipedia:

"Spelt (Triticum spelta) was an important wheat species in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times. It now survives as a relict crop in Central Europe, but has found a new market as a health food. Spelt is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related species common wheat (T. aestivum), in which case its botanical name is considered to be Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta. ...

...The earliest archeological evidence of spelt is from the fifth millennium BC in Transcaucasia, north of the Black Sea. However, the most abundant and best-documented archaeological evidence of spelt is in Europe. Remains of spelt have been found in some later Neolithic sites (2500 - 1700 BC) in Central Europe. During the Bronze Age, spelt spread widely in central Europe. In the Iron Age (750-15 BC), spelt became a principal wheat species in southern Germany and Switzerland, and by 500 BC also in southern Britain.

References to the cultivation of spelt wheat in Biblical times (see matzo), in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and in ancient Greece, are incorrect, and result from confusion with emmer wheat.

In the Middle Ages, spelt was cultivated in parts of Switzerland, Tyrol and Germany. Spelt was introduced to the United States in the 1890s. In the 20th century, spelt was replaced in almost all those areas in which it was still grown by bread wheat. As spelt requires less fertilizers, the organic farming movement made it more popular again towards the end of the century.

Nutrition

Spelt contains about 57.9 percent carbohydrates (excluding 9.2 percent fibre), 17.0 percent protein and 3.0 percent fat, as well as dietary minerals and vitamins. As it contains a moderate amount of gluten, it is suitable for baking. In Germany, the unripe spelt grains are dried and eaten as Grünkern, which literally means "green seed".

Spelt is closely related to common wheat, and is not usually a suitable substitute for people with coeliac disease and wheat allergy...

...Usually spelt is sold in the form of a coarse pale bread, similar in colour and in texture to light rye breads but with a slightly sweet and nutty flavour.

Cookies and crackers are also produced, but are more likely to be found in a specialty bakery or health food store than in a regular grocery store.

Spelt pasta is also available in health food stores and specialty shops.

The raw grain when chewed releases trace amounts of gluten giving the mass a slight resilience, not unlike gum[citation needed] (whereas wheat becomes a sticky glutinous mass, similar to thick jam). The texture is quite pleasant, and slightly crunchy. The nutty flavour is more intense than it is in most breads and some prefer the raw substance to the baked goods.

Dutch jenever makers distill a special kind of gin made with spelt as a curiosity gin marketed for connoisseurs."

A new publication, the Official Hodgson Mill Whole-Grain Baking Companion: 400 Wholesome, Hearty Recipes for Muffins, Breads, Cookies, and More, by The Bakers of Hodgson Mill, includes recipes using spelt. Here is a bit more information on the book from Jessica's Biscuit:

" A comprehensive guide to baking with whole grains from one of America's leading flour mills.Features 100 gluten-free recipes and 50 bread machine recipes!

If your experience of whole grains translates into heavy, bitter, stale, or (in the case of pasta) mushy, take heart. A revolution in whole-grain flours and a better understanding of the techniques needed to create delicious whole-grain baked goods that are as good to eat as they are good for you has taken place in the last few years. With new flours like white whole wheat, white wheat bran, and white spelt, whole-grain baking has finally come into its own. And here to help health-conscious cooks take advantage of the new developments is The Official Hodgson Mill Whole-Grain Baking Companion. From scrumptious breads like Multigrain Currant Loaf, Sourdough Rye, and California Soy Crunch to White Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins and Perfect Buckwheat Pancakes, from Cranberry-Marmalade Scones to Cardamom Coffee Braid, 400 recipes present the best of whole-grain baking in easy-to-follow step by-step format.

Readers will be introduced to whole-grain flours (including the many kinds of whole wheat, rye, corn, spelt, oat, soy, rice, bean, buckwheat, flax, barley, quinoa, millet and more) and learn special tips for using each kind of flour, what its nutrient value is, how to store it to preserve freshness, and how to combine different flours for maximum flavor and nutrition. A chapter on baking basics takes readers with illustrated step-by-step directions through the bread making process, whether they-re creating whole-grain baked goods by hand, in a bread machine, or with a food processor, and illustrates techniques like braiding."

***

Official Hodgson Mill Whole-Grain Baking Companion: 400 Wholesome, Hearty Recipes for Muffins, Breads, Cookies, and More
by The Bakers of Hodgson Mill, Judith M. Fertig,
Paperback
ISBN: 1592332617
Pub. Date: June 2007
Fair Winds Press (MA)

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

09 June 2007

The Spice and Herb Bible

What herb should I use with what? What spice enhances a dish? Can I use this spice with that spice and with that herb? How much of which? You get the idea. Unless you do a lot of meal preparation, many spices and herbs are mystifying, and may throw you by simply their name, e.g., allspice. Published last year and the 2007 IACP Award Winner, The Spice And Herb Bible, Second Edition, by Ian Hemphill, might help you go beyond salt and pepper. From Jessica's Biscuit:

"The classic reference - expanded and in full color.

Professional chefs and home cooks use spices and herbs to enhance food flavors and to create new taste combinations and sensations. From vanilla beans to cinnamon, from cumin to tarragon, no kitchen is complete without spices and herbs.

The second edition of this classic reference is significantly expanded, with four new spices and herbs as well as 25 additional blends. The book is now printed in full color and features color photography throughout. Every herb and spice has a handsome and detailed color photograph to make identification and purchasing a breeze. The book includes fascinating and authoritative histories of a wide range of global herbs and spices such as angelica, basil, candle nut, chervil, elder, fennel, grains of paradise, licorice root, saffron, tamarind, Vietnamese mint and zedoary."

The Spice and Herb Bible
by Ian Hemphill, Kate Hemphill, Kate Hemphill
Paperback - 2ND, 640pp
ISBN: 0778801462
Pub. Date: September 2006
Rose, Robert Incorporated

The Spice and Herb Bible is available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.

05 June 2007

Raita

The fresh, local cucumbers are everywhere. And delightfully crisp and tasty. And the search goes on for new uses. An easy and healthy way to enjoy them is in a raita: A staple of many Indian restaurants. Cool and refreshing, and easy to make at home. Wikipedia provides the following on the dish and a straghtforward recipe:

"Raita is a South Asian condiment based on yogurt (dahi) and used as a sauce or dip. The yogurt is seasoned with cilantro, cumin, mint, cayenne pepper, and other herbs and spices. Vegetables such as cucumber and onions are mixed in. The mixture is served chilled. Raita has a cooling effect on the palate which makes it a good foil for spicy Indian dishes.

Southern Indian cuisine, such as that found in the Bangalore region, often uses finely chopped or diced carrots mixed with dahi yogurt.

Cucumber is not included in authentic versions of the dish, because Ayurvedic tradition considers a mixture of cucumber and yoghurt to be harmful to the body.

It could be considered similar to the Greek tzatziki.

Recipe

Ingredients:

* 200 g yogurt
* 1 medium sized cucumber (finely chopped)
* 1 medium sized onion (finely chopped)
* a handful of coriander leaves with some mint leaves
* a pinch each of cumin, cinnamon and pepper powder
* salt according to taste.

Preparation:

Mix all the ingredients in the yogurt and blend it with a blender. Keep refrigerated and serve with any kinds of Indian dishes.

31 May 2007

How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table

It's sadly obvious when I go to the local Pathmark for basic household goods and see people shopping the "fresh" produce, that most consumers don't care or don't know what fresh, wholesome, and ripe produce should look and feel like. Most of the blame, is on the supermarket for selling fruit and vegetables that should not have made it to market in the first place -- and then charging top dollar for it. Produce Pete doesn't know his produce. Often, for just a few pennies more, a shopper can find much better produce at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, or even better, a greenmarket or local farmer. And then maybe, they're going to use that poor excuse for produce for mulch and not consumption.

Just published, "How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table ", by Russ Parsons, is a guide to food selection. From Jessica's Biscuit, a synopsis:

" Critics greeted Russ Parsons’ first book, How to Read a French Fry, with raves. The New York Times praised it for its “affable voice and intellectual clarity”; Julia Child lauded it for its “deep factual information.”

Now in How to Pick a Peach, Parsons takes on one of the hottest food topics today. Good cooking starts with the right ingredients, and nowhere is that more true than with produce. Should we refrigerate that peach? How do we cook that artichoke? And what are those different varieties of pears? Most of us aren’t sure.

Parsons helps the cook sort through the produce in the market by illuminating the issues surrounding it, revealing intriguing facts about vegetables and fruits in individual profiles about them, and providing instructions on how to choose, store, and prepare these items. Whether explaining why basil, citrus, tomatoes, and potatoes should never be refrigerated, describing how Dutch farmers revolutionized the tomato business in America, exploring organic farming and its effect on flavor, or giving tips on how to recognize a ripe melon, How to Pick a Peach is Parsons at his peak."

How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table
by Russ Parsons
Hardcover - 416 pages
Published: April 2007
ISBN: 0618463488
Houghton Mifflin, Inc.

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

30 May 2007

Katz's Deli

Photo: Evan Sung for The New York Times


There are old, often beautiful, sometimes not quite so physically attractive, but all nostalgic, New York eating establishments that should be experienced, as much as The Empire State Building, Macy's or MoMa should be visited: The Oyster Bar in Grand Central, Peter Luger's or Nathan's Famous in Brooklyn, or Sylvia's in Harlem. And of course, Katz's. In our latest "review" of well-known and favorite restaurants/deli:

"To revel in its pastrami sandwich, one of the best in the land, with an eye-popping stack of brined beef that’s juicy, smoky, rapturous. To glory in the intricate ritual of the place: the taking of a ticket at the door; the lining-up in front of one of the servers who carves that beef by hand; the tasting of the thick, ridged slices the server gives us as the sandwich is being built; the nodding when we’re asked if we want pickles, because of course we want pickles."

Again rumors of its demise. "Go, Eat, You Never Know", by Frank Bruni in today's Dining and Wine section of The New York Times, reviews the menu, and attempts to dispel those rumors, again.

***

If you follow the links at NewYorkFirstCo., you can order pastrami, corned beef, and more from Katz's and other New York eateries.

24 May 2007

Popcorn

This was going to be a simple blog on a simple (I thought), common foodstuff (I thought, again): Popcorn. On looking for information on the subject, Wikipedia again proves to be the best source, though rather lenghthy. Did you know, Long Island produces more popcorn than any other region in the U.S.? Popcorn is easier to eat, than to explain where it comes from and why it "pops":

"Popcorn or Popping Corn is a type of maize which explodes from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Special varieties are grown to give improved popping yield. Some wild types will pop, but the cultivated strain is Zea mays subsp. mays, which is a special kind of flint corn. Popcorn was first formally developed by Native Americans thousands of years ago...

...Ears and kernels of an early corn variety capable of being popped were found in 1948 in an archaeological dig in a New Mexico rock shelter known as "Bat Cave". These finds are widely reported as being the oldest ears of popcorn ever found; such reports often say they are dated to be 4000–5000 years old, or more. The actual facts about the Bat Cave corn are less clear...

...As with all cereal grains, each kernel of popcorn contains a certain amount of moisture in its starchy endosperm. Unlike most other grains, the outer hull, or pericarp, of the popcorn kernel is both strong and impervious to moisture, and the starch inside consists almost entirely of a hard, dense type.

As the kernel is heated past the boiling point, water in the kernel turns to superheated, pressurized steam, contained within the moisture-proof hull. Under these conditions, the starch inside the kernel gelatinizes, softening and becoming pliable. The pressure continues to increase until the breaking point of the hull is reached: a pressure of about 135 psi, or 9.1 atmospheres.[3] at a temperature of 175 °C. The hull ruptures rapidly, causing a sudden drop in pressure inside the kernel and a corresponding rapid expansion of the steam, which expands the starch and proteins of the endosperm into an airy foam. As the foam rapidly cools, the starch and protein polymers set into the familiar crispy puff...

...Popping results are sensitive to the rate at which the kernels are heated. If heated too quickly, the steam in the outer layers of the kernel can reach high pressures and rupture the hull before the starch in the center of the kernel can fully gelatinize, leading to partially popped kernels with hard centers. Heating too slowly leads to entirely unpopped kernels: the tip of the kernel, where it attached to the cob, is not entirely moisture-proof, and when heated slowly, the steam can leak out the tip fast enough to keep the pressure from rising sufficiently to break the hull and cause the pop.

Producers and sellers of popcorn consider two major factors in evaluating the quality of popcorn: what percentage of the kernels will pop, and how much each popped kernel expands. Expansion is an important factor to both the consumer and vendor. For the consumer, larger pieces of popcorn tend to be more tender and are associated with higher quality. For the grower, distributor, and vendor, expansion is closely correlated with profit: vendors such as theaters buy popcorn by weight and sell it by volume. For both these reasons, higher-expansion popcorn fetches a higher profit per unit weight...

...Popcorn is usually served salted or sweetened. In North America, it is traditionally served salted. It is a popular snack in cinemas, where it has been served since 1912. Although small quantities can be popped in a kettle in a home kitchen, commercial sale of freshly popped popcorn is done with the help of specially designed popcorn machines, which were originally invented in Chicago, Illinois by Charles Cretors in 1885.

Charles Cretors invented and introduced the first patented steam driven popcorn machine that popped corn in oil. Previously, vendors popped corn by holding a wire basket over an open flame. At best, the result was a hot, dry, unevenly cooked confection. The Cretors machine popped corn in a mixture of one-third clarified butter, two-thirds lard and salt. This mixture could withstand the 450 degree temperature needed to pop corn and it did without producing much smoke. A fire under a boiler created steam that drove a small engine; that engine drove the gears, shaft, and agitator that stirred the corn and also powered the attention-attracting clown – the Tosty Rosty Man. A wire connected to the top of the cooking pan allowed the operator to disengage the drive mechanism, lift the cover and dump popped corn into the storage bin beneath. Exhaust from the steam engine was piped to a hollow pan below the corn storage bin and kept freshly popped corn warm – uniformly for the first time ever.

In 1893, Charles Cretors successfully introduced his popcorn popper at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition...

...Air popped popcorn is naturally high in fiber, low in calories and fat, contains no sodium, and is sugar free, which makes it an attractive snack for those who want to avoid these substances. The actual fat, sugar, and sodium content depends on the preparation method.

Popcorn is included on the list of foods that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not serving to children under four, because of the risk of choking.:

From the popcorn.org:

""Old Maids" is a term for kernels that fail to pop and are often found at the bottom of the popcorn bowl. They can, however, be rejuvenated. The water in kernels is what causes popcorn to pop, so all you need to do is re-hydrate the dried kernels.

David Woodside, author of What Makes Popcorn Pop? suggests filling "a one-quart jar three-quarters full of popcorn and adding one tablespoon of water. Cover the jar with an airtight lid and give it a few good shakes every few minutes until the popcorn has absorbed all the water. Store the jar in a cool place."

Woodside says in two or three days you can test-pop a batch of kernels. If you still get old maids, add a few more drops of water to the jar, shake it, and let it sit for a few more days."

All manner of popcorn, and some popcorn machines are available online at ThePopcornFactory. Organic popcorn is available online at ShopNatural.

And why not visit the Wyandot Popcorn Museum if you're a popcorn fanatic.

23 May 2007

Poutine revisited

Photo: Evan Sung for The New York Times


We have an update to our March 2006 blog on Poutine. Appearing in today's "Dining and Wine" section of The New York Times, "A Staple From Quebec, Embarrassing but Adored", by Kate Sekules, it brings attention to a dish very few people have tried, especially if you are watching your weight, or are slightly health-conscious. Messsy, greasy, calorie-laden. Delicious. Not for everyday consumption:

"A gloppy, caloric layering of French fries, fresh cheese curds (a byproduct of Cheddar making) and gravy, poutine goes deep into the Quebequois psyche. Somehow, Quebec’s rural roots, its split identity (Acadian farmers or Gallic gourmets?) and its earthy sense of humor are all embodied by its unofficial dish."

***

Read the whole article at A Staple From Quebec, Embarrassing but Adored. Now if only someone would come up with a low-calorie version.......

17 May 2007

Wild Women in the Kitchen Recipe Book

A bit on our lighter side of this blog, this new "cookbook" has come to our attention: Wild Women in the Kitchen Recipe Book. Featured on The Breast Cancer Site , it's your chance to get what looks like a fun food-related publication, and do a good deed at the same time. With each Wild Women in the Kitchen Recipe Book purchased, The Breast Cancer Site will fund 1.0 % of a mammogram for each Wild Women in the Kitchen Recipe Book purchased.. Here's a bit more on the book:

"Fanny Farmer would probably faint in her fondue... but these Wild Women can take the heat -- and they're cooking up a storm! Be forewarned: bland is banned in this exuberant compendium featuring 101 passion-provoking recipes personally contributed and/or tested by Bay Area chefs Lynette Rohrer and Nicole Alper, both distinguished alumnae of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

Part cookbook, part women's history Wild Women in the Kitchen dishes up a scrumptious smorgasbord of treats for the taste buds: spicy revelations about some of the world's most stimulating women and the meals that made them sizzle, and dozens of piquant quotations on the pleasures of the palate."

227 pages, paperback.
Book measures 7" sq. (17.8 cm).
Printed in the U.S.A on recycled paper.

Available online from The Breast Cancer Site.

16 May 2007

Hemp

I've just tried a new high fiber, low calorie, organic superfood. New for me anyway, and pretty tasty: Hemp. Used throughout the world in many applications, from food to clothing, its use in the U.S. is rather limited, though readily available, e.g., as a food supplement in health food stores and vitamin stores such as The Vitamin Shoppe. Wikipedia gives us a little background:

"Hemp (from Old English hænep, see cannabis (etymology)) is the common name for plants belonging to the genus Cannabis, although the term is often used to refer only to Cannabis strains cultivated for industrial (non-drug) use. Licenses for hemp cultivation are issued in the European Union and Canada. In the United Kingdom, these licenses are issued by the Home Office under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. When grown for non-drug purposes hemp is often called industrial hemp, and a common product is fiber for use in a wide variety of products. Feral hemp or ditch weed is usually naturalized fiber or oilseed strains of Cannabis that have escaped from cultivation and are self-seeding.

Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa is the variety grown for industrial use in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere, while C. sativa subsp. indica generally has poor fiber quality and is primarily used for production of recreational and medicinal drugs. A major difference lies in the amount of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, secreted in a resinous mixture by epidermal hairs called glandular trichomes; the strains of Cannabis approved for industrial hemp production in Europe and elsewhere produce only minute amounts of this psychoactive drug. Some botanists use a different taxonomic classification to circumscribe the various taxa within the Cannabis genus...

...Uses

Hemp is used for a wide variety of purposes, including the manufacture of cordage of varying tensile strength, clothing, and nutritional products. The oil from the fruits ("seeds") dries on exposure to air (similar to linseed oil) and is sometimes used in the manufacture of oil-based paints,in creams as a moisturising agent, or for cooking. Hemp seeds are often added to wild bird seed mix. In Europe and China, hemp fibers are increasingly being used to strengthen cement, and in other composite materials for many construction and manufacturing applications. Mercedes-Benz uses a "biocomposite" composed principally of hemp fiber for the manufacture of interior panels in some of its automobiles. Hemp cultivation in the United States is suppressed by laws supported by drug enforcement agencies, for fear that high THC plants will be grown amidst the low THC plants used for hemp production. Efforts are underway to change these laws, allowing American farmers to compete in the growing markets for this crop. As of 2006, China produces roughly 40% of the world's hemp fiber and has been producing much of the world's Cannabis crop throughout much of history.

Food

Hemp (the seed) may be grown also for food. The seeds are comparable to sunflower seeds, and can be used for baking, like sesame seeds. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles. A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the oils of the seed, whole hemp grain (which is sterilized as per international law), hulled hemp seed (the whole seed without the mineral rich outer shell), hemp flour, hemp cake (a by-product of pressing the seed for oil) and hemp protein powder. Hemp is also used in some organic cereals. Hemp seed can also be used to make a non-dairy "milk" somewhat similar to soy and nut milks, as well as non-dairy hemp "ice cream." Within the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) treats hemp as purely a non-food crop. Seed can and does appear on the UK market as a legal food product although cultivation licences are not available for this purpose. In North America, hemp seed food products are sold in small volume, typically in health food stores or by mail order.

Nutrition

30–35% of the weight of hempseed is oil containing 80% of the unsaturated essential fatty acids (EFAs), linoleic acid (LA, 55%) and Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA, 21–25%). These are not manufactured by the body and must be supplied by food. The proportions of linoleic acid and Alpha-linolenic acid in hempseed oil are perfectly balanced to meet human requirements for EFAs, including gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). Unlike flax oil and others, hempseed oil can be used continuously without developing a deficiency or other imbalance of EFAs. Unfortunately the high unsaturated fat content of hemp oil means that it becomes rancid rapidly and necessitates storage in dark coloured bottles or chemical preservation. The high unsaturated fat content also makes the oil unsuitable for frying. This makes hemp oil difficult to transport or store and severely limits its potential on the food market, although some marketing potential exists as a nutritional supplement.

Hemp seed also contains 20% complete and highly-digestible protein, 1/3 as edestin protein and 2/3 as albumins. Its high quality Amino Acid composition is closer to "complete" sources of proteins (meat, milk, eggs) than all other oil seeds except soy.

The ALA contained in plant seed oils by itself is sufficient for nutrition, as the body is capable of converting it into other fatty acids. However, this conversion process is inefficient, and the broader spectrum of omega-3 fatty acids obtained from oily fish is easier for the body to immediately utilize."

A wide variety of products derived from hemp can be found online at ShopNatural and TheVitaminShoppe.

***