Thursday, April 27, 2017

It's Asparagus Season!!!

\One of the best things about late April and Spring is that it's peak season for one of nature's most delicious veggies - asparagus. This flavorful spear is excellent grilled or par boiled, served in soup and salad. It's also a wonderful canvas to work with, using lush ingredients to create a special dish.

David Tanis wrote about it inhis column  City Kitchen yesterday's New York Times Food section. This is asparagus season and there are many different types. He reminisces about eating the wild variety which grew along an irrigation ditch on a California ranch. It has the same look, taste and texture as the cultivated kind, It's more feral,  and not really wild, being indigenous to Europe.There's also white asparagus, big in Germany at this time of year.What's coming into the farmer's market this year is not coming from there but from Peru. They are tasty but take a bit longer to cook. For many home chefs in North America, the quick cooking green variety is the most preferred.It does come in different sizes., from pencil thin to jumbo fat with a nice medium in between. Any size should have smooth, shiny skin and tightly closed tips. Asparagus is versatile and can be served raw, charred or the preferable parboiling. The best way is simmering the stalks in salted water, drained at the right moment and served warm.

There are some good recipes included. Mr. Tanis gives us shaved asparagus salad with ginger and sesame. This may take some getting used to  since it's using the raw spears.It's pealing each one with a vegetable peeler and then cutting the asparagus into very thin - but  not paper thin - slices.Think the width of a thinly sliced onion.. They're then placed in a salad bowl and seasoned with salt and pepper.The dressing is a fiery mix of jalapeno, rice vinegar , ginger and garlic. Brown sugar is the surprising sweet factor. He also gives us the exotic dish of charred asparagus with green garlic chimmichurri sauce. It's first making the sauce which consists of chopped  parsley and chopped green garlic.Oregano and olive oil are also added. You do need the pencil thin asparagus that will be cooked on a grill or in a very hot cast-iron pan.It needs to be lightly oiled and salted first.It should not only be charred but burnt and blistered first. After cooking the sauce is poured on top of it.It's then topped with crumbled feta.The last recipe is steamed asparagus with pistachios and browned butter. It's just steaming the spears and then making a brown butter sauce that has the added zing of lemon juice. The asparagus is quickly bathed in it and then pistachio nuts are sprinkled onto the buttery spears.

Take advantage of the abundance of asparagus right now. Try it in a variety of different ways , from raw, to charred  to just simmered and served with a butter sauce. All are delicious.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Salt Tricks

Salt is one of  the most important seasonings. Without it, our foods, both savory and sweet would be blah creations.Yet many home chefs don't really know how to use it or how to vary with different types. There's so many uses and different ways to salt food - and not necessarily with a sprinkle of NaCL.

Samin Nosrat, now a regular contributor to the Wednesday's New York Times Food section wrote about it today,Many home chefs are afraid of salt, fearing it for health, but sometimes fear adding too much can ruin a dish.Yet it is needed as the great chef James beard, once asked "Where would we be without salt?" To be honest , stuck with bland , unexciting food. Salt's relationship with food is multidimensional. It has its own particular taste  while balancing and enhancing the flavors of other foods.That's why it's even needed in baking because it enhances the cake's main flavor and sweetness.Does this mean throwing all cares to the wind and increase our salt intake? No, according to Ms. Nosrat, it means we have to learn how to use salt better. Add it in the right amount at the right time in the right form.Also just don't add a pinch at the beginning of cooking a dish and then forget about it. A dish must be tasted throughout its' cooking. The mantra is taste and adjust. Just use small pinches instead of handfuls as to not have too salty a dish.

Many home chefs use different types of salt but don't really know what they are. Common table salt is small and dense , making it very salty. Thanks to the added iodine, it has a slightly metallic taste. It also contains anticaking agents to prevents clumps from forming or dextrose a form of sugar to stabilize the iodine. A better choice is kosher salt and the best brands are Morton's and Diamond Crystal,  the same companies that make table salt. These are perfect for sprinkling over foods. The crystals are actually hollow and crumble easily. Sea salt is the trendiest and it's what's left behind when sea water evaporates.Sometimes classified as solar sea salt, there are the unrefined and more expensive ones such as Maldon, fleur de sel and sel gris, These come in flakes and should be used as more as decoration for lettuces or, caramels or even atop cupcakes. Don't toss a handful of this into the pasta water. Use everyday salt for that. As for salting, it's all about the wrist wag.Ms.. Nosrat suggest grabbing the salt in an upturned palm, then letting it shower down with a flowing wag of the wrist.

Cooking and baking need salt to be tasty and layered. Pick out the salt needed . USe it wisely and accordingly so that dishes will pop with flavor.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Proper Washing Up

One of the lost kitchen arts is properly washing up after a meal. nhome chefs have no clue about how to hand wash china or stemware. Everyone, home chef or not, should have some knowledge of it. It will come in handy , especially if the dishwasher goes on the fritz or they move out of their mom's house,

One of the first things to consider is what dish detergent to use. Dawn is one of the best.A little goes a long way so one bottle can last to two months, even if you wash dishes three times a day. Not only, that it's gentle , with a line that features skin softening ingredients along with ones that features blends of scents that act like aroma therapy when you wash dishes. They also have a free and clean line that has no perfumes or dyes.Another good one is Seventh Generation that is all natural, Stop & Shop also has a good dishwashing soap too, that is gentle yet strong.The next step is donning rubber gloves to protect hands and nails. This is good if you've just had a manicure and don't want to ruin it. The gloves can be bulky though, and they can cause dishes and glasses to slip and break.Now the icky part - cleaning off those orts of food. Use a fork and just scrape everything into the garbage or directly into the backyard compost heap.. This prevents clogging which can lead to an expensive visit from the plumber later on. Fill the sink with hot water.It has to be very hot yet tolerable. Hot water not only sanitizes germs, but also helps in degreasing pots and pans.

Now you're all set to load the sink. Put the bigger items in first so they can soak. These are the plates, mugs and items such as pots and pans that are caked with food. Start with the silverware. It's the germiest snce it's goes in people's mouths. Plunge one piece at a time into the water while vigorously scrubbing it. Study it before putting it in the drying rack.If there's still food on it, rescrub. Use your fingers or steel wool to get it off. Wash other items such as cups and glasses that also come into contact with mouths.Regularly change the water because it will get dirty fast. Now it's time for the pots and pans., Add a little more soap and water to pans that still have burnt food stuck onto them and allow them to soak.Afterwards dry utensils, dishes, pots and pans with a clean dry  terry cloth dish towel. Some people prefer microfiber towels. They do wick away moisture very quickly and wash and dry faster than regular dish towels. The feel though, is funny.I prefer terry cloth because it 's gentle on plates and glasses surfaces and they wash and dry just as nicely as the microfiber. You can also let dinnerware air dry too. Remember to rinse out your sponge too, as well as cleaning the sink to rid of it of any food bits and soap. If the sink is dirty, bleach it ..It could easily get stained from red wine, coffee and tea being dumped in it before hand,

Properly washing dishes and utensils may be a lost kitchen art but it's a vital one. It pays to know how to clean dirty plates and glasses.Use time honored methods for sparkling results.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Lettuce Dilemma

We now have a food crisis in the States, Thanks to the horrid drought season out in California, letuce is becoming not only scarce but expensive.This is also happening in Britain where even tomaotes are becoming rarer and rarer.There is definitely going to be a impact on how we shop and how we eat? What can be done?

The shortage has been going on for a couple of months now, since mid-February. Many home chefs have seen it with the expensive price tags on ordinary heads.A head of iceberg lettuce is a whopping  $6.00 while romaine fetches as high as $8.00. Prices have quadrupled since the bad growing season (which can easily be blamed on global warming) in California, which has gone from severe drought to severe flooding. The wild weather swings naturally would impact lettuce's growing season along with the growing seasons of   other crops such as cauliflower and broccoli.There is now talk of an upcoming peach shortage too, thanks to a cold snap that affected  peach orchards and newly  flowering trees.Luckily the Spring planting is just starting here in New Jersey and other Eastern Seaboard states. That means locally grown greens , veggies and fruits will be ready  - and better priced in the upcoming months.

What to do in the interim, though? You can still have salad but think other veggies kale is one of the few greens that is still affordable. Use it instead of iceberg or romaine .It makes an excellent Caesar salad. Add any chicken or shrimp to turn it into a main dish. Tomato are relatively cheap now, especially the vine ripes and grape varieties. Slice them up, add chopped cilantro and garlic along with olive oil and it's a nice starter or side to chicken or steak. Onions are also inexpensive . An onion salad is another idea  is grilling them and drenching them in a vinaigrette. You can even add crispy bacon to it for some color and crunch.Fresh peppers make an excellent salad base as well. Again  use them fresh or grilled for a technicolor greens dish. Use  red, green,and yellow ones along with corn niblets for a variety of fiesta salad.Peppers and tomatoes blend together well too. Try a bell pepper and grape tomato one. with a zingy dressing.

Yes, we're in the middle of lettuce crises. Don;t be bothered by it/ They 're plenty of sub ins that you can use until the local crops start springing up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Foodie Footprint

Today is Earth Day, the day when we have to honor our planet as well as cleaning up our land and water. Yet foodies and home chefs can honor the planet all year round as well as reducing their carbon footprint.

One of the best ways to cut down on energy and pollution is buying local. This is easy as we head into the Spring planting and summer harvest season. Many groceries such as Stop & Shop, Acme and Shop Rite, here in New Jersey all by from local family farms. However, they also buy from South American and Mexican farms out of season too. Try to avoid these when you can. Another good place to source locally ground fruit and veggies is your local farmer’s market. They should be opening soon in cities and towns across America and offer a wide and delicious variety of garden variety and even unusual produce. Farmer’s markets are also great places to buy honey and all natural baked goods from family owned apiaries and bakeries , along with cheese and butter from local dairies. Of course the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint is planting your own. Add more green to the environment by growing tomatoes and lettuce along with onions and carrots. Include some herbs too  to add zing to your organic meals. One of the most impactful gestures is canning. Preserving your fruits and vegetables for eating during the winter is a great idea. You don’t have to rely on foreign imports when winter comes. Just go to your pantry and pull out the green beans or cherries you preserved back in July and August.

How do you make your kitchen more energy efficient? Use your microwave instead f your oven. It takes less energy to cook food because the appliance uses heat to cook the food not the atmosphere around it as a traditional oven would. A microwave can save up to eighty per cent of power used to cook or warm up meals in an oven. Yet many eschew microwaves because of the health controversies surrounding them. This is fine because there are ways to make a stove and oven more energy efficient. Just make sure that the flame is fully underneath the cookware. This also applies to electric stoves too.Also use appropriate size pans for the job. Oversized ones will eat up too much energy and heat. They’re also cheaper too.Another must-do is don’t pose in front of the open fridge , wondering what to eat or drink.It accounts for up to seven per cent of refrigerator’s energy used. Opening the door lets warm air in which makes the fridge’s compressor has to drive it out while returning to a normal temperature for storing food.Decide what you want before you open the door.Also have an organized one too. Rooting around in it is the same as posing in front of it.Put the more popular items up front and don’t overload both the top and bottom.

Foodies can also do their part in saving the planet. Buy local. Be resourceful .Most importantly  - DON’T waste energy when you cook or store food!

Friday, April 21, 2017


Cake is one of the best things to come out of a home kitchen. There's something soothing and satisfying as well as fun about freshly baked layers with or without icing. It's fun using a mix but also fun attempting an old fashioned scratch cake. The end result is always delicious.

As soon as my new oven was installed I bought mixes, from brownie to cake ones. I love Duncan Hines and have had nothing but luck with them, knock wood. As everyone knows last week was the Easter Cupcake Extravaganza. I baked twenty-two devil's food cupcakes, topped with that yummy, creamy cream cheese frosting, the recipe coming from the All Recipes site. To be honest it was a bit too much with the topping along with the candy bunny sprinkles I bought at Target. Devil's food is elegant and should not be gaudied up . I realized that as I took the first bite. The next time the cupcakes (or cake) will be just left alone , save for a light dusting of confectioner's sugar. My next foray will be lemon cake with  - what else a lemon infused cream cheese frosting. Will I ever try Pillsbury and Betty Crocker cake mixes? Pillsbury has pineapple and strawberry flavored mixes that look intriguing. As for Betty Crocker, I may try their cherry chip and Red Velvet. Their flavors aren't that much different from Duncan Hines, though. Duncan Hines has a wider variety such as marble cake along with blue and pink velvet cake mixes.They also have an orange supreme cake which looks way too tempting.

Scratch cakes are also on my baking horizon. There's always been a controversy regarding them. Of course scratch cakes don;t have that chemical cocktail of preservatives and flavors. They do
 taste better, Butter and chocolate ones are richer tasting,making the cake eater crave another piece right away. You do need to add baking powder and granulated sugar as well as milk , salt and vanilla.Scratch cakes can also allow home bakers to be a bit more creative, subbing in almond extract for vanilla or adding fruit to the batter. I would love to try a marble scratch cake that was popular in the Eighties.My Mom and I used to bake it a lot and it was wonderful. The marble veins were dense and gooey with chocolate. The recipe itself came from the New York Daily News and unfortunately, despite the vastness of the Internet, the recipe isn't found anywhere.There is a Martha Stewart recipe which also calls for buttermilk. It's more of a pound cake, which is still good and to me, a perfect cake for summer.I may try my hand at it , just for the sake of trying it.

Cake baking is surprisingly a personal matter. Many home bakers, like myself, have definite favorites and will always stick with them. Cake is not just cake. What it is depends on the mix and brand along with how the baker makes it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Life in Food Carts

They are a staple of many cities and office campuses. They can provide a variety of tasty foods, from breakfast to even dessert that are cheap and quickly cooked. These are the food carts or lunch boxes and owning them as well as working them is as difficult as owning and working in any restaurant. Yet, they are one of the most popular occupations, especially of immigrants.

Food contributor and former restaurant reviewer Tejal Rao wrote about this little known but ever growing segment of the food industry in yesterday's New York Times Food section. For hipster foodies thinking this is a great life, having a food truck is more than hard work. They represent a dedication to a job that is back breaking and bone wearying. Bad enough the day starts off with hiring someone to drop off the cart or worse  hitching the carts to their cars if the vendors own them and looking for a parking spot big enough for both vehicles.Then there are the turf wars with other vendors.Another problem is the bathroom. One vendor, Kabir Ahmed, a Bangladeshi immigrant has to wait until his partner arrives to reileve him so he can escape to the Target across the street. Then there's the labyrinth of health codes and violations to avoid or that's the end of the business. The end of the day may provide profit but it also provides an aching back and sore feet.

Does owning a food truck have any benefits? It is a great way of getting one's cuisine out to the masses along with catering to loyal regulars.Mr. Ahmed creates twenty dishes from Biryani to all American hot dogs. To make the first he fries onions until they're translucent. He drops a variety of herbs and spices, from star anise to bay leaves into the mix along with a spoonful of garlic paste and ghee. The chicken is the last to go into the savory stew and then the rice is cooked. This too is created an extra special with dried papaya and plums added to the boiling water. Mr. Ahmed adds a soda to the meal , with all it costing only six dollars.It would cost double if it were served in a nearby restaurant. His take home pay at the end of the day is $125 or $625 a week. A yearly salary is only a little over $32,000 - not much for living in the New York metro area. There is the cautionary tale of a cart owner making a whopping three grand a day but he worked himself into sickness and has no one to take care him.Mr. Ahmed would rather have colleagues to help him out. while making less money

A food vendor's life may seem like a dream to any creative foodie or even young chef.Yet it's a dream with a few nightmares.attached. If you want it ,go for it, just be warned.