Saturday, May 31, 2008

Farm Fresh Goodness

Now that the warm weather is here it's time to head to your local farms.Many areas , including my overly built up state of New Jersey still has some good clean acreage. Local farms not only provide fresh produce; they also give a respite from our busy lives. There's nothing like wandering through fresh fields picking the fruits and vegetables of the season or the thrill of buying something newly harvested or just out of the oven baked.

While writing yesterday's blog on strawberries I discovered a neat website called It lets you find farms in your area or anywhere in the world for that matter. Pickyourown also has what each farm grows along with other farms that specialize in picking your own pumpkins and cutting down your own X-mas trees. Another good aspect of this site is that it gives tips and a monthly table for when to pick various fruits and vegetables. This is a definite print out to put on your fridge. It also has a must have list for picking which is essential for anyone going with children (again another must print out). Pickyourown has instructions about how to identify ripe fruit as well as how to properly pick it. This is a boon and a must have guide for any neophyte. The site also has canning and storing tips as well.

When you visit a farm take advantage of its' other products. A lot of them will have fresh baked pies made with their own fruit as well as cookies and muffins. These are incredible and come the closest to what's known as old fashioned farm baking. Also there may be some home made preserves and jams. These are a definite buy. Their flavor is more intense and delicious than the mass produced sorts A favorite NJ farm, Delicious Orchards, makes its' own raspberry jam that's pure heaven on croissants. Buy a couple of jars.Some farms will also produce their own relishes, piccalillies and chutneys which are good for summer barbecues. Take advantage of these home made favorites at any stand.

Now is the time to head to your local farms. Not only will you get the benefit of freshly picked fruits and vegetables you 'll enjoy time away from your busy schedule. There's nothing like being in the countryside surrounded by summer's bountiful harvest.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Strawberries - The First Taste of Summer

Nothing heralds the sweetness of the season like a ripe red strawberry.Its' taste brings to mind sun ripened fields, warm breezes and the joy of picking the first juicy berry of the summer. June is the official month for all things strawberry. Buy these luscious berries at your supermarket or pick them at your local farm.

Strawberries are an ancient fruit, first being cultivated in Italy as early as 234 BCE (talk about the food of the gods) and spread throughout France and Germany. They made it over the Channel to the British Isles sometime a round the 1300s. They were also found in the New World and were soon popular with colonists longing for their native English strawberries. After 1860 many parts of the US were growing strawberries and in 1900 California farms started mass producing them for commerical sales. The name itself drives from a 1,000 year old Anglo Saxon verb strewe meaning to run or to spread - because that's how the plant growns - stretching or spreading its' runners outwards. Others claim it was because straw was placed around the plants for protection.

Modern day strawberry lovers can fully appreciate the fruit and its sometimes tart , sometimes sweet earthy taste. Strawberries are wonderful if they're fresh picked. There are several pick them yourself farms - especially where I live in New Jersey, The Garden State. (check the web site for farms in your area) Remember to pick plump ruby red berries that are firm and fleshy. Stay away from green ones. They will not ripen once they're off the vine. Also remember to wear plenty of sunscreen,insect repellent, lip balm and a hat. It takes ten to fifteen minutes to pick a just a quart . You and your family will be out there for a good forty five minutes to an hour. Most farms sell their berries by the pound. Once home rinse them thoroughly to get rid of any dirt pesticides and/or bugs.I like keeping my berries in the fridge because they do spoil fast (and also attract ants). The recommended way is to layer them on paper towels to prevent moldiness.

Once home have fun with them. You can dribble chocolate syrup on them for a really decadent snack or just eat them plain. Strawberries are also good cut up in fruit salad or served sliced on vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Strawberry short cake is a yummy treat especially after a tangy barbecue. Eat all you can. A cup of strawberries is only 45 calories and has more Vitamin C than an orange. They're also high in potassium and folic acid. Strawberries are rich in calcium and magnesium, two essential minerals our bodies need.

Now is the time to celebrate the strawberry. Go out and pick this delicious and good for your fruit during this glorious weather.After all there's nothing like the taste of a ripe berry on a warm early summer day!

Easy Strawberry Shortcake For One

Any slice of pound cake or angel food cake,
one cup of sliced strawberries
Cool Whip, Redi Whip, whipped fresh cream, ice cream

Arrange sliced strawberries on cake and along its' sides. Cover with any non dairy topping or freshly whipped cream . For a real treat substitute the cream with vanilla , chocolate or even strawberry ice cream. Yum!!!!!!!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Outdoor Kitchens - Al Fresco Cooking

Imagine a dinner party where you can do all your grilling , baking and even washing up in one area. It sounds too good to be true but it can be a reality in the form of an outdoor kitchen. This is not just your dinky little hibachi or small propane grill. This is the full monty complete with everything and anything to make outdoor cooking, dining and even cleaning a real breeze.

Outdoor kitchens have been around since antiquity . Ancient Romans used outdoor ovens for bread baking and all cultures had some form of an exterior hearth. Today's versions are much more elaborate with running water, gas lines and electricity. They run anywhere from a mere $750 for a do it yourself project to $3,000 to $15,000 for a professionally built one. Also the size of your yard will also determine the size of your outdoor kitchen. You can have just a simple island , an elaborate L shaped area or a fully equipped U shaped station. An island can take off four feet of your back yard or patio while the larger ones can spread out over six to eight feet (and this is not including the table area). Before you decide on anything, map out the yard and space you want and then start reconfiguring where this new addition will go. Remember that you'll have to dig up the lawn for gas and electrical lines too. Also plan the kitchen within walking distance of the house because you'll be carrying out supplies and utensils. However don't make it too close or the grills' smoke can blacken your roof. Another good design tip is build the kitchen downwind from where your family and guests will sit. Nothing ruins a good outdoor meal like having endless smoke being blown in one's face.

Once you've decided on a location, then it's time to sort out the materials. Cinder block and steel are the best because they're long lasting and inflammable. Some outdoor kitchens are constructed of wood however there are not 100 per cent safe. Another safe bet is an all in one prefab kitchen island. This is prebuilt with openings for a grill, sink and fridge. It's easy to maintain and won't take up as much space as a larger kitchen . Another aspect to consider is counter tops. Granite and porcelain are the most preferred because they can stand up to the weather and are easily cleaned.

Depending on where you are outdoor kitchens can be used from early spring until late fall. They do need to be covered with some kind of protection once cold weather and precipitation arrive. You can buy treated canvas,simple plastic coverings or elaborate tarps for them.

Outdoor kitchens are a must for those that are serious about their al fresco dining. They eliminate the need to work in a hot kitchen during the year's best time and temperatures. Not only that but building them gives indoor kitchen a rest until the colder weather.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

International Grilling

This summer shake up your outdoor parties by thinking outside the country. Add a little foreign flair to your grilling. Yes it's fine to have hamburgers and hot dogs but liven it up your table by throwing in some other dishes. Many other countries around the world also have some form of "outdoors " cuisine. Take from them and turn your dinner al fresco into something more interesting.

Mexican dishes can lend themselves to outdoor grilling.These are the perfect party foods because guests can create their own dishes and load up on what they like. It's easy to grill chicken, beef and fish filets for tacos and tortillas. Also you can grill onions and peppers too. This is also a good way to showcase the vegetables of the season, like fresh corn niblets, tomatoes, lettuce and pepper. You can also serve Corona beer and finish with a sweet taco , full of different flavors of ice creams, fruits and sauces.

If Mexican is too spicy then think about a languid Italian feast outdoors. You can grill if you like, such as the Italian bistecca which you can just take Porterhouse steaks and grill them with olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and some oregano. Another choice is a full antipasto complete with different cold cuts, sliced cheeses, olives, and giardneria or pickled vegetables. Have two or three loaves of crusty Italian bread and extra plates for olive oil. Guests can dip their bread into this. Serve different wines, preferably something light. Even uncorking a bottle of Asti Spumante is a nice touch because it adds a festive air. Finish with granita, an easily made espresso ice and some amaretti, those airy almond meringues.

Other cultures have dishes that can easily spice up an outdoor feast. Morocco can lend its couscous and lamb kabobs Greek foods such as a feta salad or grilled fish with lemon can be a different spin. Sometimes just do what the French do, a simple baguette with some sliced chicken or pate, and a good wine is all you need. Finish with pears or peaches soaked in a sweet wine.

This summer season be creative with your outdoor dining. Don't stick with the tried and true. Look to other parts of the globe for interesting dishes that can be served in your back yard.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Olives For The Picking

What would summertime be without the olive? This millenniums old staple is always a welcome guest at picnics and barbecues. It's perfect chopped in salad or just on it's own. Foodies know that there are several different kids of them.It isn't just black and green but many shades in between.

Everyone knows olives are ancient but do they know how ancient? Legend has it that the goddess Athena first brought the fruit to the city named after her, Athens. The real story is that olive trees were first planted in the Mediterranean basin about 6,000 years ago. The plants originally came from Syria, Palestine and Persia (present day Iran). It was reportedly the Minoans source of wealth and what made their empire one of the wealthiest in antiquity. Religions also picked up the olive using it and its' oil in rites and symbolism. There are olive trees in Jerusalem that were first planted when Christ was there. America first saw the plant when Franciscans brought it with them to California. Currently it is still the Mediterranean that produces 93% of olives. In the states it is California that gives North America its' olive crop.

There are many different kinds of lives. Most of us usually just stick with the basic pimento stuffed green ones or the pitted black. These are good but if you want one with really rich and intense flavor then buy the Greek kalamata ones. These have been treated and pickled in a red wine vinegar brine for 12 months as opposed to the regular olives that have been given a lye bath. These are an intense deep purple color . Greece also has given us the Halidiki olive which is a tangy and green. It's the perfect mate for creamy feta . Southern Italy also produces its' large share of olives. The two most notable are the small fruity Bitetto and the larger, more robust Cerignola. You can serve these with a well rounded antipasto of provolone , prosciutto and mortadella along with crusty loaves of Italian bread. For fun snacking try the Gaeta, a purplish brown extra salty olive that is just good eaten by itself. Olives also come from France's lush Provence region where the tender Nicoise olive is grown. This is used in salads and making pissalderie a type of olive pizza.There are also the jet black Nyons and the verdant crunchy Picholines. The last has a wonderfully fruity taste and is perfect served for the holidays. Spain, another huge producer has a wide variety too.Their Arbequinas is of the green variety, small and bitter, while the Manzanilla, a large green kind that are familiar in America. The North Africa country of Morocco also produces olives, Theirs is the Beldo and is a small type of olive used more in cooking and salads and mixes.

A summer party deserves olives. There are so many to choose from , from the tart and winy Kalamatas to the Beldi and Gaeta for outdoor Southern Italian style feasts. Don't just settle on the every day ones. Experience all the different types of this ancient, delicious fruit.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Good Memorial Day To All

To every one out there a good Memorial Day. Remember those who have sacrified their lives for our country and our freedom. Keep them in mind when you have your toasts today.

This is going to be the shortest entry to date on Foodie Pantry. For all my readers just enjoy your favorite barbecue and picnic foods!

See you tomorrow.... Don't over eat or over drink and most importantly DON'T drive home drunk!!!


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bread Basket

As every person knows bread is an important part of our lives. As every foodie knows a person can't live on white bread alone. Nowadays there are so many different kinds to choose from round loaves to artisanal whites.What to choose? They're all good and delicious.

The French have cornered the market on many different varieties ofpain. The French make their bread without any fat hence the reason why it is so crisp and delicate in flavor. Usually a baguette or long bread lasts only a day otherwise it will get hard (but you cna grind up the stale baguette for some awesome bread crumbs).A sliced baguette is perfect for any kind of sandwich because the taste doesn't overpower the sandwich's filling. There is also the thinner version known as ficelle which means string. There is also the pain viennois. This is a softer, fatter version of the average baguette. The French also love a good chewy peasant loaf known as or ball. This is perfect for sopping up gravies or even for making French toast. The French also put raisins or nuts in their bread for an extra treat as well as making a type of focaccio with bacon, onions and herbs known as .

Italians are also passionate about their pane and every good Italian bread store has a huge and calorie lethal assortment.There are over 350 types of bread, each region making its' own special recipe. My Piedmontese ancestors were the first to sample the breadstick, a specialty of the royal city of Torino. These long sticks were made by a clever Piedmontese baker,Antonio Brunero, in 1679 to tempt the appetite of an ailing young Savoyard prince. The grissin strat became such a big hit that city states copied it. However for the real thing it's best to head to Piedmont and have them. Other Italian breads include the herbed focaccio , popular in central Italy and variations of pizza bread from Naples and other parts of Southern Italy. There is also the Sardinian flat bread that puffs to a nice golden brown when rebaked.

Other countries have contributed to the world's bread basket. Germany has given us rye and Easter sweet bread while India has given us nan. The US has contributed with sourdough and a variety of different breads such as banana nut and zucchini.

The next time you're in the mood for a good slice of bread, think about the different types. Don't just go all white bread. Choose a crusty baguette or a dark satisfying rye. Vary your bread basket.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Wild Honey

The flowers are in bloom and the bees are buzzing about our gardens and fields. What does this mean? Honey. It's been around for centuries, sweetening everything from food to beverages along with acting as a natural antiseptic. Nowadays there are so many different types. Foodies can have a field day picking out the various traditional and gourmet ones.

What is honey? It's a sweet and viscous fluid produced by honey bees and derived from flower nectar. It consists of sucrose which give its it intense sweet flavor. It contains minute amounts of vitamins and minerals as well as small amounts of antioxidants (chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase, and pinocembrin). It's been around since ancient times with records showing that there were beekeepers as early as 700 BC. It was used in ceremonial and funeral rites because it was rare and also symbolized the sweetness of life. The ancient Greeks and Israelites used it regularly as did other civilizations. It was the sweetener of choice until the 1700s when sugar from beets could be processed. Now many people use it to help lower cholesterol and lose weight. Honey is also the preferred method to suppress coughing in children.

Like any other food honey has become gourmet in the past few years. Yes, you can still buy the regular golden honey in your local supermarket but there are also artisanal ones as well.A lot of foodies lust after honeys that have been made with lavender or heather. Some even have been infused with herbs to zests to add more zing to them. There are also honey sticks and hard honey candies to satisfy any one's natual sweet tooth.

Honey has been around for centuries and it will continue to be popular. This natural sweetener is perfect on anything and even tastes good alone. Try some during this flower filled May.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chinese Cuisine - From Ancient Times To Modern Day

Recently our thought and prayers have turned to China and its' devastating earthquake. This proud , ancient land has survived a lot over the centuries from natural disasters to barbaric regimes. Yet the Chinese maintain the grace to survive and with it their love of their heritage. This heritage includes an amazing history of culinary dishes that people the world over love.

Most Americans have grown up with Chinese restaurants and take out food. I bet a lot of you foodies may not know that four regions make up the bulk of Chinese dishes. They are Szechuan, Canton, Peking and Shanghai.Most Westerners are most familiar with Szechuan and Cantonese dishes. These areas produce the most fruits , vegetables , spice and seafoods in the country. Szechuan is known for its' fiery cuisine thanks to its' native peppercorns. Canton has provided the world with sweet and sour pork as well as chow mein. Peking is known for its duck but also for its' sesame shrimp toast and drunken chicken. Shanghai is known for its' fish dishes but has also given us the delicious bean curd soup.

Anyone can create this cuisine at home. You need a good cast or steel iron wok. There are Teflon and aluminum ones out there at much lesser prices but these really aren't the best choice. You're going to need a heavy duty one that will stand up to oils and heat. Not only will you be able to stir fry but you can also steam rice and warm soups in it as well. Another must is a bamboo steamer. You can steam vegetables and rice in it, and the bamboo imparts a special flavor all its' own to it. A steamer consists of a domed lid and a circular slotted bottom or basket.These come in a variety of sizes so you can easily buy a smaller one if you have very little or no storage space. Most department and specialty shops such as Williams and Sonoma and even some Targets will carry steamers. Another must are good knives for cutting. Chinese dishes tradionally have bite size pieces of meat, tofu and vegtables as opposed to larger stalks or cuts.

Chinese cooking is a noble ancient cuisne. It is rich and varied , bringing together a unique union of meats, seafood and vegetables. It has always been with us and will continue to for future generations of Chinese nationals and foodies alike.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gourmet Lollipops - They're Not Just For Kids

There's something satisfying and comforting about a lollipop. It brings us back to our childhoods while letting us take a mini break from our daily, hectic adult lives. Luckily the sweet treat has emerged into something that appeals to adult tastes and trends. It's not just a fruit flavor kiddie sucker anymore.

Lollipops in some form or another have been around since pre historic times. Cavemen routinely put something sweet such as honey on a twig and ate it. During the Middle Ages , candies was placed on small sticks and eaten. Later boiled sugar treats were favored in the American colonies and then in 1908 the modern lollipop was born. Both California and Wisconsin can lay claim to it. A Russian immigrant, Samuel Born, made a automated lollipop machine around the same time as the Racine Confectioners Machinery Company did. The last was known for making up to forty pops per minute.

Today candy companies have gone a step further and introduced all sorts of interesting flavors to the lollipop. Instead of the usual fruit flavors such as grape or cherry, they now come in banana, chocolate mint, bubble gum, cinnamon, cotton candy and root beer float. For real foodies there's Chupa Chups, those Spanish lollies that were first made in Barcelona, Spain fifty years ago and became a worldwide sensation. This favorite of Madonna's has different tastes such as cola , chocolate and vanilla. For a really wicked treat try Lollyphile's absinthe lollipops(they also sell maple bacon flavored ones too). They are candies made with that taboo liquor absinthe (the same one that practically did in poet Oscar Wilde). You won't get the same hallucinatory kick as sipping a glass but you'll feel something. There are also margarita lollies (covered in salt) and tequilas ones complete with a worm in them from the online candy company Lollies Galore.

Foodies everywhere - indulge your inner child with one of these grown up suckers. They not only fun but kind of naughty in a good way!

You can order the absinthe lollies at Tequila and margarita lollies can be bought at

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Summer Seafood Dishes

Now with the warm weather here, everyone's mind and palate turns towards the briny deep. Summer usually means the beach and with it a taste for fresh seafood. There are so many different types of it, from lobster to shad that a foodie can spend an entire season just enjoying fish as the main dish. There are also a variety of ways ot enjoy it as wellfrom salads to barbecue. Each way is fun and flavorful, the perfect way to start the season.

The most popular seafood , without a doubt is lobster. Everyone enjoys a fresh cooked one dripping with melted butter. This cousin of a spider (yes spider, it's part of the arachnid family)is best served steamed (if you're an animal rights activist, please don't read on)as New Englanders and lobstermen did. It then should be served with freshly melted butter. However you can also chill the lobster meat and mix with mayo and celery. Serve this on a hot dog bun for the quintessential lobster roll. This is popular through the Hamptons and there are roadside stands featuring it with a side of potato chips and a Coke. if you're feeling more adventurous then try making lobster thermador which is steamed lobster with a richly spiced bechamel sauce. This does take a lot of work and ingredients plus a hot oven to create and you make want to stick with an easier dish. Lobster salad is always good. Just prepare a regular tossed salad with an oil and red wine vinegar dressing and add the cooked lobster chunks. It makes a light but elegant dinner.

Another summer seafood favorite is shrimp. With this you can grill it, turn it into a salad or just eat it boiled with a homemade or prepared hot sauce. You can also fry up popcorn shrimp which is simply the fish dipped in egg and breadcrumbs. This is a great dish for any out door party because it can be the main meal too. Serve it with three or four dipping sauces along with some fresh veggies. Remember that in preparing you have to devieln the shrimp. Most stores such as Williams and Sonoma along with Target sell shrimp deveiners but you can also use a small paring knife for this task. First peel off your shrimp's back and legs and then slice into the exposed portion. Carefully lift the vein that resembles black thread running through the meat and discard. Put deveined shrimp on ice until ready to prepare.Crab is another warm weather favorite.It can be used in salads or just boiled and served with melted butter similar to lobster.

If you're thinking of making fish dishes this summer then try grilling .You can get fresh seasonal fish at your local market. Don't opt for the whole fish however. Buying fillets would be a better choice. You can marinate them and then grill later. Try lime or lemon with oregano for a tasty and flavorful marinade.

Summer usually means heading to the beach and enjoying the ocean. You can also enjoy its' fruits the next time you make a warm weather seafood feast for yourself and friends.

Monday, May 19, 2008

French Bistro Food

Recently I wrote about the cuisine of Southern France's Provence. Today we're going to explore another facet of la cuisine francaise - bistro cooking. This is what the everyday Parisian is eating, basically simple foods yet just as tasty and well made as the Gallic haute cuisine. It may be for the common folk but it's extraordinary.

Bistro cooking is not unlike the British pub grub. I think the English stole this concept from the folks across the Channel because the French have offered good quality lunches and dinners at low prices for some centuries now. It's sometimes referred to as grand-mere cuisine or grandma's cooking. This is another name for comfort food, warm, rich and satisfying. It could include onion soup, that French classic which is redolent of caramelized onions in beef broth, topped with a rich coat of Gruyere cheese. It could be as simple as those tasty sandwiches the croque monsieur or croque madame. The first is essentially a grilled cheese made with creamy Swiss , and a slice of fresh ham on two slices of white bread. This is then fried in butter and served. A croque madame is the same except that chicken is used instead. Another bistro favorite is steak avec frites - in other words steak, usually well seasoned with shoestring potatoes. All these meals are usually accompanied by a good glass of red or white wine and a freshly tossed salad.

Bistro food can be slightly more complex. There are crepes, a street favorite throughout Paris and the Ile de France. These can be served plain with just lemon and sugar or stuffed with ratatouille, that Provencale classic along with various meats, vegetables and seafood. There is also coq au vin, which is a slow stewed rooster and burgundy stew.Cassoulet is another hearty favorite. This is simply a melange of white beans, pork sausages. chicken or duck slow cooked for hours. For somewhat lighter fare bistros will serve Coquille St. Jacques, scallops served in a cream sauce on a giant cockle shell.

French bistro cooking reflects French tastes but also the true Gallic passion for earthy foods that are filling and comforting. They satisfy a need not just for a flavorful dish but something familiar and soothing.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Oh Fudge!!!

It's amazing how the world's most simplest candy has the most complex taste. I'm talking about fudge - that rich amalgam of cream, butter and cocoa.It brings back good memories (especially if you went down to the Jersey shore every year for vacation). Fudge may not be as exotic as today gourmet chocolates with their wild mix of spices and deep cacao but it's still good. It brings back a simplicity of another era.

The actual origins of fudge are somewhat blurry . No one really knows how it was invented but speculation about it was from someone making a botched version of caramels and exclaiming "Oh fudge!". In 1888 a Vassar student's cousin sold fudge in Baltimore for 40 cents a pound and then gave the recipe to him. Another student, Emelyn Battersby Hartridge got her hands on said recipe and makes thirty pounds of it for an auction at the school. Other colleges soon followed this trend and schools such as Wellesley started to sell it too. The first commerical batch of fudge was made on Mackinac Island Michigan by Murdick's Candy Kitchen. The owners mixed everything on marble slab swhich set the standard for fudge makers all over. Shops all over, especially candy makers in Atlantic City such as James started selling varieties of fudge alongside their world famous salt water taffy.Ice cream shops also jumped on this new craze and around 1900 the hot fudge sundae was born.

Making your own batch is fun and easy to do. Use Miss Battersby Hartidge's recipe to produce the best because you'll get the perfect blend of chocolate and cream. You can add nuts such as walnuts or pecans if you want to. Other extras to add are coconuts and marshmallows for a Rocky Road fudge. Some foodies add mint extract or hazelnut for a more gourmet taste. There are also maple , peanut butter and vanilla fudge you can create however chocolate is the best.

Fudge is fun treat, simple to make but complex in taste.It is the perfect mix of all our favorite tastes rolled into one chunk of sheer perfection.

Emelyn Battersby Hartridge's Orginial recipe (taken from www.the

2 cups granulated white sugar

1 cup whole cream

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate chopped (use bakers chocolatefor this. Either Hershey's or Nestle's is very good).
1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar and cream and cook over a moderate heat. Add the chcolate when this becomes very hot.Stir constantly.Cook until mixture reaches soft ball stages(about 234-238 degrees Farenheit). Transfer to a buttered tin or pan(a brownie pan would be the best) Cut into squares before fudge completely hardens.
You can add walnuts, pecans or even almonds if you like,to this.

Friday, May 16, 2008

This Ain't Spaghetti

Most foodies know about the different types of pasta. We're pretty much over the fact that it ain't just spaghetti out there. We fill our plates with angel hair , fettuccine and even ziti. Yet many foodies may or may not know that there's a whole encyclopedia of other pastas out there as well. Each is different, yet each has the same comforting rich taste. It's surprising to know that there's really a large variety.

A lot of people know about pastina, those sweet little pasta stars used in making soup.Most cooks make pastina soup when someone in the family is feeling under the weather. It's comfort food. However many may be surprised to know that you can substitute these with ditalini(literally "little fingers" in Italian).Another pasta, used by both Greeks and Italians is orzo which translated means barley.You can easily make not only soups but salads with it as well. It also makes a good accompaniment to grilled steaks or chicken breasts.It can be used in place of risotto according to Barilla Pasta.

Large sized pasta also is also varied .There are the butterfly shaped farfalle or bow ties which are good with a simple tomato sauce.There are the wagon wheel shaped, appropriately named rotelle as well as the fusilli and cavatelli. These last two are better served with garlic and broccoli rabe than with the traditional sauces. A big trend now is bucatelli which looks like drinking straws. This is a thicker version of spaghetti and holds its own against hearty marinara sauces. It's chewy , being denser in shape and somewhat longer than regular spaghetti. There are also the weed inspired grimegna as well as the snail shelled lumarche. These are rare in the US but can be found in restaurants throughout the Italian Republic.

Pasta just ain't spaghetti. It covers a variety of different shapes and textures. These can make a dish memorable as well an instant favorite. Try them when you have a passion for a bowl of it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Foodie Tools - What Should Be In The Kitchen

What should every foodie have in his or her respective kitchen?

Good appliances and instruments. For those who thought the answer would be good food and ingredients, that is true. However to create a really good meal or gourmet quality goods, a kitchen should also have top of the line quality tools. This helps in making each meal a unique and memorable dining experience.

To top off the list a kitchen should always have a good stove. Mine is older than me, it being my Mom's stove' It's a Hotpoint and it's lasted fifty years without any fuss or bother. If you have to get a new one you should think this one. Hotpoint ovens are sold on both sides of the Atlantic and aren't that costly. If you're lucky to have a big kitchen think Aga, that do all - make all British stove and range. The next major appliance is a refrigerator. Yours should have enough room for everything from milk and orange juice to spaces for leftovers. The freezer should be accommodating enough to store prepared meals, ice cubes and a few boxes of ice pops. Make sure the freezer is roomy otherwise you'll have a mess falling down on you when you open the door(believe me, I know about this. It's no fun to get showered with boxes of frozen foods or veggies). With microwaves, have one that is family friendly and easy to use. Some cooks prefer ones with convection ovens in them. That's up to you. I just like a simple microwave to reheat or to melt butter or margarine if a recipe calls for it. I don't use mine much.

Food processors and blenders should start the secondary appliance list. These are a must for any cook because you need them for almost every dish. Get durable ones that can hold up to your cooking needs. You can go to Williams and Sonoma for top of the line machines but I've found that Target and K-Mart also have good quality blenders and food processors.Every good kitchen should also have a toaster oven and not a toaster. I learned from my family members that toaster ovens are better because you can do more with them. They also take some of the cooking burden off the regular stove as well. You can reheat but also make grilled cheese and other hot sandwiches in them. Other appliances are up to you. I love a good electric hand mixer because I can do so many things with it, whip, beat, and mix all with ease. If you want to stock your kitchen with less needed appliances, like an electric pasta and ice cream makers, then do so. Before buying ask yourself if you really need these or will they just be space wasters. A lot of times people will only use them once or twice. The pasta or ice cream maker is then forgotten after the initial thrill is gone. An espresso machine and a meat slicer are better alternatives. To me they're more practical and will be used more on a regular basis. You can also use these when you have company along with for the holidays.

As far as pots and pans, yes the expensive ones are good. but don't go to a specialty store for them. A lot of department stores will have Le Creuset for sale on a regular basis. Buy during January when the prices ar almost next to nothing. You can go to Target and K-Mart again for spatulas, ladles, knives and scissors. Again I've found that these two stores are great and absolutely well priced for all sorts of kitchenware and gadgets. Another must are thermometers. Have several for various applications. It also doesn't hurt to have a timer as well.

A foodie's kitchen should be an arsenal of good appliances and utensils. Everything should be in good working order and waiting to chop, dice, bake, cook or freeze. Remember,a good kitchen does produce good food but only if that kitchen has all the proper gear to do so.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Organic Barbecue - Is There Such A Thing?

Can you combine healthy and unhealthy eating? Is it possible to take something that's potentially carcenogenic and turn it into something nutritional? The answer is yes. If you combine organic meats with outdoor grilling you can basically transform a possibly bad for you meal into something a little more healthier.

What would go into an organic barbecue? Free range meats that you can buy at natural grocery chains like Whole Foods and its' subsidiary, Fresh Fields. The company is devoted to offering customers meat and poultry that have been compassionately treated as well as fed vegetarian and organic grains. They also specify that their meats have not been fed supplemental hormones or antibiotics which can make the finished product toxic. The store also guarantees that the animals were given unlimited space to live and pastures to roam. The cuts will cost you a bit more than your average hamburger and chicken breasts but they'll be somewhat better for you. If you have no organic or natural groceries in your area then it's time to turn to the web. There are plenty of sites that feature not only the traditional meats such as beef, and chicken, but also unusual ones like bison, ostrich. and emu meat as well. Some sites also offer milk fed lamb and veal too.

Barbecuing any meat brings out carcenegens but if you have a taste for it then go the healthier route. Use wood chips.This is somewhat safer than using your regular briquettes purchased from the local supermarket. Another plus is that the chips impart a smokey flavor on the meat, giving it an extra oomph. You can either get mesquite or hickory although most people prefer the spicier, richer mesquite. This last is used in Southwest grilling. All in all a bag of wood chips is not that expensive. Usually a 1.5 lb. bag goes for under ten dollars. Again you can buy it at your local grocery or go to the web for more gourmet ones.

If you have to barbecue this season (and you will) go for the healthier route. Stick to organic meats and grill them over wood chips. It's the best you can do for your body considering the possible threat of disease.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Caramel Goodness

There's nothing better than caramel. This rich buttery treat is the perfect dessert or pick me up after a long hard day. Caramels aren't what they used to be. Gone are the small icky squares that were packed into a plastic bag. There's a new crop out there that's been elevated to the gourmet status.

Caramel has been around in some form or other since the early 1700's. It wasn't until the 1800's that butter and cream were added to give the candy its' rich chewy texture. Vanilla, chocolate and yes, even maple syrup were added to give caramel it's unique creamy taste. Caramel, then and now, is made in copper vats over a steam heat. You can make caramel at home, using regular metal pots and pans but remember this candy gets very hot (around 240 F). If you're adept at candy making, go for it. If not you can always buy some good quality caramel.

Nowadays candy stores throughout the world sell gourmet caramels. These are bigger than the ones you grew up on. The taste is richer and more often than not they've been sprinkled with sea salt to accentuate their sweetness. The salt brings out all the flavors and heightens the caramels' flavor. Other ingredients have been added such as licorice and even habenero peppers. If you're a purist then stick to the basic vanilla and chocolate flavors. These are always the best.

Caramels are not what they used to be. Like chocolate, they entered a whole new level of gourmet status.However they still maintain their rich buttery flavor that caramel lovers around the world enjoy.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Steampunk Teas

I just discovered a new subculture called Steampunk. The best way to describe it is high tech meets late Victorian era. It has its' roots in the works of Jules Verne and Mark Twain (Wikipedia also credits Mary Shelley as well) and also in the more modern works of China Mieville. For those of you who still don't get it, think that Sixties TV show and later movie The Wild, Wild West. People involved in Steampunk dress as "modern Victorians" - women are allowed to wear pants under their crinolines while men carry their cell phones in tooled leather cases or in fobs. With this comes the passion for Victorian high teas, those grand affairs that involve delicate foreign teas and delicate sandwiches and cakes. You may not want to embrace the whole steampunk culture but you many want to indulge in an afternoon high tea.

What goes into a good high tea? First of all good china. It's nice to serve it in fine teacups with good linen underneath. If you're having qualms about this then settle for a pretty cotton tablecloth with matching napkins. Don't use plastic utensils. Always have delicate teaspoons and sugar tongs, along with servers neatly lined up. As far as teas themselves, a good Earl Grey or oolong is about the best bet. Irish breakfast tea is too strong and will overpower the taste of your sandwiches and cakes. Most teas are usually served with lemon but you can have a small pitcher of milk or cream for those who like a creamy rea. Sugar is requisite, preferably the cubed kind. If you can't get them then white or the more natural brown is fine.

An impressive tea depends on its' food. Fresh baked scones are always good. They can be served with butter (never ever serve margarine at a tea!!!!)jam or clotted cream. Another must is some type of sandwich. Egg salad or watercress with butter is the preferred filling however you can add deviled chicken or ham ot spice it up. After sandwiches comes fruit and either sliced cake, petite fours. cookies and bonbons. Tarts are also popular and you can easily make and bake nice lemon or nut ones. As for cookies, simple butter ones are the best and make a lovely accompaniment to the teas.

You may not want to embrace the full aspect of Steampunk culture but at least experience the romance of their Victorian inspired teas. It will bring you back to a more elegant era where food was regarding as something more. It was regarded as art.

Elegant Egg Salad Sandwiches

6 hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Bread cut into triangles with crusts removed

Shell eggs. Mince white and yolks , adding mayonnaise until a paste forms. Spread on triangle and cover with another triangle. Serves eight. Serve on pretty china dish.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

French Toast - The Perfect Mother's Day Treat

Tomorrow is Mother's Day and we'll all be treating that special lady in our life to something grand. Hopefully it will be a day at the spa or a shopping spree at her favorite store. However if you're set on the traditional, then consider breakfast in bed. It does have to be special but not fancy.

What comes under this category? French toast , otherwise known as pain perdu in France. French toast's origins started with French housewives using up stale, leftover bread and soaking it into a mix of egg and milk. It's a huge and easy to make treat in American households with it being the first "meal" a kid makes.

How you make it is up to you. I've had heated discussions with friends about what bread to use. Diners use the thick egg rich challah bread while some people are torn between regular bread and baguettes. Also the egg mixture can vary with adding a dash or orange juice or cinnamon for more flavor. Another debate is whether to use margarine or butter when frying it up. I prefer butter because of the richer taste.

Anyway you slice it , French toast is a great way to wake up Mom on her special day.

My Mom's French toast recipe
Beat 2 eggs .A dd a cup and a half with milk. Cut up a loaf of Italian or French bread into 1 inch thick slices, Dip slices of bread in a medium hot skillet. Serves two to three people. Have plenty of maple syrup, brandied maple syrup,jams or jellies on the ready.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Host's Duties

Now that the outdoor party season is here it's time for foodies to take an active responsibility in their hosting duties. In other words don't let your guests leave too plastered. The blame for drunk driving goes back to where the alcohol was first served. In order to avoid this, rethink your drinks menu.

I realize that there are some people out there who will come to a party , toting enough liquor to float a battleship. Sadly enough you can't tell them when they've had too much. You'll only cause more trouble. Sometimes it's best to omit these people from your guest list and avoid any problems. However you as a host can also limit what you serve. There are plenty of non-alcoholic mixed beverages that can be created. Best of all they can have the same bells and whistles as regular cocktails.

A good base for any powerless punch is non alcoholic apple cider. I've found that this is a great substitute for champagne. Most grocery stores sell it and at low prices too, Pick up a few bottles and served chilled. The cider is fizzy enough that it can be used in toasts and mild enough so even a child can drink it. Another fun drink is a sparkler. This is where you can add any juice to ginger ale or to selter to create a bubbly, foamy fruit drink. If you want, add pineapple juice along with coconut to seltzer and then serve in plastic coconuts. You can also create slushy non alcoholic drinks using any ice maker.

Punches are always a good addition to any party. Mix a few bottles of soft cider with cranberry juice and a cup of pure lemon juice. You can float sliced apples on top.Another good mix is a strawberry lemonade combined with sparkling water. It's refreshing and fizzy all at the same time.

As a host you have to be responsible for what happens at your party. Keep alcohol to a minimum to prevent guests from getting into accidents or much worse. Serve non alcoholic cocktails. Your gusts will still have a good time - but without the danger.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Culinary Influences

it's amazing how cuisines evolve and solidify into what defines a country or region. Like dishes themselves, there's this vast array of ingredients that go into making up a particular way of cooking. It could be outside forces or internal ones, ones from immigrants mixed with the indigenous recipes. All in all it, this is what defines a country and its' food.

The best example of this is American cuisine. Our most famous foods are taken from different countries. The phrase as "American as apple pie" is really a misnomer. Apple pie came over with the English settlers in the 1600s. A better phrase would be "as American as popcorn" or "as American as squash" because corn and squash have grown here for millenniums. The country's favorite meal - burger and fries is originally German and French. Hamburger comes from the name of a German port city Hamburg where chopped meat patties had always been served and French fries come from the French julienned way of cooking potatoes. Along the way we've also made Naples pizza our own as well as China's egg rolls and fortune cookies. The USA really doesn't have a cuisine strictly its own, It's a melting pot , just like it's people.

The US isn't the only country who had been influenced by outside forces. Italy's pasta came from Marco Polo's trips to Asia. He supposedly was the one who introduced the long noodles into Italian cuisine although there had been forms of pasta since pre-Roman times. Tomatoes from the New World also played a definitive part in shaping the Republic's cuisine as did corn. The cuisines of England and Holland were given a shot in the arms thanks to the influx of spices from the East Indies. Curries soon made their way onto tables in London and Amsterdam. What may come as the biggest surprise of all to foodies is French cuisine. It comes from Northern Italy when Catherine de Medici married into the French noble house. She brought her favorite dishes which were quickly adopted by French chefs.

It's amazing how cuisine is influenced by all sorts of forces. it could be as simple as immigrants introducing their beloved foods of their homelands to a a trader showing off his spoils from another land. Yet this is what makes all the worlds cuisines as great as they are.

What Makes A Good FOodie Kitchen

This guest blog was written by my very dear friend, Neil Parsons of Mark of Excellence Remodelers out of West Long Branch, New Jersey. Neil has had twenty years of experience in the home remodeling trade and is considered the guru of both interior and exterior remodeling.
Kitchens have always been, and continue to be, the heart of every home. Less traveling and more entertaining have made certain that dust doesn’t gather on most countertops. Also, many socio-economic factors have made household sizes grow to numbers that were last seen fifty plus years ago. While some lifestyles have come full circle, today’s kitchen does not resemble any predecessor from another period.
Kitchen renovations continue to be a common request by homeowners across the country. Hanley Wood Publications does a comprehensive annual study of remodeling projects nationally and by region. The article is printed in its Remodeling Magazine and named “Cost vs. Value”. The study reviews typical projects and the average investment amounts for a midrange and upscale options. The midrange kitchen remodel is listed to have an average national investment of $55,503. The upscale version for a 200 square foot kitchen, which includes stone countertops, cherry wood cabinets, gourmet appliances and an extensive lighting package, is valued at $109,394. Every project is individualized for each client and home, therefore pricing and options vary tremendously. While not the definitive price list, “Cost vs. Value” has served as a helpful, planning guideline for homeowners for the last twenty years.
Neil Parsons, VP of Sales and Marketing at Mark of Excellence Remodeling, has seen many remodeling requests and trends evolve through the years. Kitchen remodeling is no exception. Neil lists five items or features below that are being incorporated in today’s kitchen designs that were usually not included or even discussed as recent as ten years ago.
One item is a convection oven. Convection ovens utilize fans to force heated air across the food. The forced air breaks the thin insulating layer of air that surrounds food. This process decreases the cooking time or the temperature required for the food preparation. Convection ovens are typical the second oven in a kitchen as part of a double wall oven unit or as microwave-convection oven combination.
Beverage centers can be found free standing or built into base cabinets. Beverage centers are smaller refrigerators designed to store wine, beer and soft drinks. The more expensive units have the ability to set separate temperatures for each shelf making the multi-use beverage storage possible and enjoyable for all tastes. It cuts down on the use of the much larger main refrigerator. Sizes, features and prices will vary. The price range is typically $200 to $2,000.
If the room or area permits, fireplaces are on the wish list of many families. Direct vent, natural gas fireplaces are the common choice. The options here are plentiful. Free standing, simulated wood-burning stoves require only a small area and are reasonably priced. Built-in units with a stone wall, hearth and a wood mantel can transform any room.
A generation ago every kitchen had a telephone on the wall with a phone book and note pad in the closest draw. Today cabinet layouts often contain a work station. A place for a chair, leg room and counter space. Yes the telephone is still there but it is usually accompanied by a personal computer, laptop or PDA, therefore the phone numbers are stored electronically or located on the internet. These work stations are a convenient place for note taking, children’s homework and home office use.
Now what room is not complete today without a television? Yes, televisions are on most kitchen design surveys and many families want to see them included in the final plan. While placing a television in the kitchen is not completely new the difference between placing a portable unit on the counter with cords and cables dangling and having an under-cabinet unit with a flip-down flat panel screen is vast. These built-in televisions often have other media or internet capabilities. When working in the kitchen cooks can by companioned by the news, soap operas and of course the Food Network.
Mark of Excellence Remodeling has been Appreciating Homes Since 1987. The New Jersey design + build remodeling firm has been honored with several awards for its projects and business acumen. The company has been featured in various national publications throughout the years.
One of Neil Parsons’ kitchen designs, currently being built in Monmouth County, incorporates four of the five features listed above. The addition and kitchen area has been referenced to as the “Gathering Room” from the onset of the design and development. If you would like pictures sent as the project progresses and completes send your request to or visit the website

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Salad Days - Easy Side Dishes For Outdoor Meals

With the warm weather comes the urge to grill and eat outdoors. Remember that this is easy cuisine at it's best. Meats and veggies just have to be soaked in marinade and slapped on the grill. The same is true for side dishes, Don't knock yourself on hot days, creating elaborate salad dishes. Keep the sides as easy as the main meals.

Macaroni salad is a big draw during these hot days. Most people take cooked elbow macaroni and mix it with mayo, chopped celery and onions. Although this standard is good, you can liven it up a bit. For one thing substitute the elbow macaroni with tricolor rotelli and add garlic to the mayo. This creates a flavorful aoli that goes well with grilled red meats.Another spin is ditch the mayonnaise completely and just coat the pasta with olive oil. Toss in some oregano , fresh ground pepper and sea salt for a lighter, more Mediterranean flavor. Another great salad for barbecues is one made of artichoke hearts. You can buy jars or cans of them at your local supermarket. Combine them with mixed greens or let them be the main ingredient Add peppers and sun dried tomatoes for a truly unique taste.

Potato salads always figure in at any outdoor barbecue. There's the traditional German style with red potatoes, mayo,hard boiled eggs and diced onions. This is the easiest to make and it can have variations such as olives added or even bacon bits. You can also create a Sicilian version that requires olive oil and anchovies along with lemon juice and parsley. Potato salads can also be served hot as well. These can be a bit more complicated with cooking them along with adding flour to thicken the salad.

This barbecue season make the whole meal a snap to create. Start with easy grilling and bring in 1-2-3 salads that are simple to make. These are not only quick but tasty - perfect for your outdoor meals!

Rotelli salad

1 pound rotelli
1/4 to 1/2 cup light virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup sun dried tomatoes
1/3 cup broccoli.
Black olives optional

Cook rotelli according to directions on box. Let cool. Add oil and vinegar along with garlic, tomatoes and broccoli. Add olives if you want.Toss. Keep chilled for an hour or two or serve fresh,

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cool Britannia - English Food That Rules

If you mentioned British cooking to most people, they'd grimace. This was just a scant decade ago but English cusine has changed. Drastically. British food is no longer that over boiled beef and suet pudding. Nor is it that beloved messy fry up of beans, eggs, bacon and tomatoes. It actually is good cooking using the best of Britain's farms and waters. It still reflects the English and their solid character but there's a new spin on it.

When did this culinary revolution happen in the UK? Was it always there, bubbling beneath the surface or did it just explode? My opinion is it started with The Two Fat Ladies in the late Nineties. Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Patterson opened up the world's eyes to traditional British cooking. They used eggs and produce bought fresh from roadside stands. They disregarded the current craze to count calories and infused dishes with real cream and butter as Victorian house cooks did. They made English cooking not only interesting but alluring. Another British chef, Nigella Lawson did the same, this time combining sensuality and good sense to her easy but tasty dishes. Not only that , she demonstrated how to make even the simplest dishes look complex and rich. A hipper version of the new Cool Britannia was and still is Jamie Oliver. This young wonder showed a worldwide audience how to take fresh and frozen meals and bang them together to create a memorable dinner. He gave us permission us to use pre made food stuffs to hurry along prep time , letting any novice chef look like a pro. He breathed new life to Brit staples such as mushy peas and fish and chips.

What exactly is English cuisine? That varies depending upon where you are. If you're along the coast fish is a big draw. There is the famous Cornish fish pie called stargazey where smelts' heads are poking through the crust. They're looking heavenwards or gazing towards the skies(hence the name) There is the traditional English country fare of roast partridge or jugged hare served with potatoes (a British staple no matter where you are in the UK). Britain also offers the upper class high teas with their watercress sandwiches and delicate cakes along with pub grub - hearty food that can stand up to a pint of ale or stout. If you're lucky to vacation in England this summer experience all of these. British cooking is surprisingly as varied as French or Italian cooking and as hearty as German.You can eat well in the UK no matter what you get.

Britain is usually known for its' well crafted literature, gifted actors and over the top rock stars. Yet it should also be famous for it's rich and varied cuisine. It definitely fits in with the rest of the country 's new Cool Britannia image.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Provence - Foodie Heaven

There is something about the southeastern corner of France that melts everyone. For artists it's the fields where Van Gogh once painted, for film buffs it's the Cannes Film Festival, and for foodies it's the amazing dishes. Provencale cuisine is simple but full of complex textures and aromas.The food is a fine marriage of land and sea.

Where is Provence exactly? It's at the very tip of the French nation, encompassing the small kingdom of Monaco in the east to Arles and Avignon in the west. It has both the Maritime and the High Provence Alps as well as a good sweep of the Mediterranean on it's southernmost side. It's here you get a perfect array of seafood, game, and herbs along with vegetables and fruits. The dishes reflect this ,combining different tastes and aromas.

Provencale cooking is rich in seafood. After all this is where bouillabaisse was born, in Marseilles, one of the southern France's biggest port cities. This wonderful saffron perfumed soup first started a simple way to use up local markets catches of the day. Local fishermen would cut up the fish , and boil it in seawater infused with local herbs. The mixture was cooked over coals on the beach. It evolved into one of the most famous dishes of French Mediterranean cuisine. The best place to have it is in Marseilles or Cap d'Antibes. Unfortunately ,unless you're making it yourself, restaurant bouillabaisse can be overly fishy or overly herbed. It has to have the right mix of both tobe moutherwatering and memorable.

Vegetables and fruit play an important part of Provencale cooking. Tomatoes abound on in therugged countryside and they're used regularly. One of my favorite recipes is for stuffed tomatoes here tomatoes are stuffed with bread crumbs and garlic and then fried.The world known ratatouille, another flavorful Provencale dish , combines them with eggplant and onions. This is a great dish to make when you have company because it's not only filling but easy to make for crowds. Fennel plays an important part in the cuisine. There's nothing like a cooling salad made with fresh stalks. Fruits are also a must in any Provence kitchen. Apricots are the biggest product and there are many recipes with them. The Provencales also make clafoutis or black cherry pudding because the fruit abounds there.Another big crop, figs grow on many farms in amongst the Maritime Alp. Every housewife and cook has many different recipes for poached and stuffed ones.

Provence - it's an inspirational Eden for artists and those who love the art of cooking. It's a foodie's paradise too, with it's rich flavors and unique, but earthy dishes.

Ratatouille (my Mom's recipe)

3 large tomatoes
1 large onion,
1 large pepper
1 zucchini
2 table spoons olive oil
1 clove garlic , minced.
sea salt and coarsely ground pepper

Cut and cube vegetables.Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add vegetables, garlic, salt and pepper and stirring occasionally. Keep over low heat until vegetables are cooked. Cover to lightly steam for one or two minutes.

Serves four. Serve with a crusty warm bagettes.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Organic Wines - Foodie Ambrosia

Here's a question - what does a foodie bring to a guest's house for dinner?

Organic wine, silly.

Having a pesticide free, all natural wine is a foodie's idea of the perfect drink. According to some it has a sweeter, purer taste with no lingering bitterness or funny "chemical" aftertaste, As with any other organic product it is truer in flavor than a regular wine would be.

What exactly is an "organic" wine? As per the USDA it's technically the grapes that are organic not the finished product. It also means that the fruit has been grown without using the conventional pesticides as well as petroleum and sewerage sludge based fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Basically it's how our ancestors grew their grapes. Early vintners only used manure from their farms and allowed all sorts of insects to live on the vines. Organic vineyards also have biodiversity meaning that other plants are allowed to grow alongside the grapes. Vintners allow weeds that are eventually pulled out by hand as to opposed to being eradicated by chemical based weed killers. Other methods may include letting armies of ladybugs and lacewings out on the vines to kills predator bugs, plants or fungus.

For you newbies looking at your first bottle , remember that the label may say one of three things: 100% organic, organic or made from organic grapes. The first signifies that the wine is indeed purely organic and that no sulfites have been added. Organic means that 95% of the final product is made from certified organic sources while having 5ppm (parts per million) of sulfites. If your wine claims to have been made from organic grapes then only 70% of it is organic. It also has sulfur dioxide added to it.

Where can you buy organic wines? Most big liquor stores today carry a full range but if you're still having trouble then search the web. There are several fine organic wine companies that produce everything form Cabernet to Champagnes. Organic wineries will also offer other fruit wines made with blueberries, strawberries or melons as their base. If you're new to the experience then I recommend sticking with the traditional wines you 're familiar with like dry whites and reds.

There's nothing like a wine that is organic. Some wines are good for you and having them made as they were centuries ago is even better. It's one more step towards a healthier and flavorful life style.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Crunchy Granola And Then Some

How do foodies start their day? Usually with a better than average breakfast (although not me. I'm not a big breakfast person,never was - never will be).A lot of outsiders may think we start off with Eggs Benedict or an exotic mango salad. That may be true in some cases. Most times foodies are into cereals but not the just from the box kind. Many begin their day off with a big bowl of granola.

Where was granola born? Everyone assumes it started at a love in in Haight Asbury or at Woodstock because it was the hippie food of choice. Granola actually started a century earlier in 1863 when Doctor James C. Jackson developed a healthy breakfast dish of twice baked Graham cracker bits. He called called granula. A second doctor John Harvey Kellogg, the father of modern day cereals, made his own version using baked and whole grains. He too called this cereal granula and was sued by Jackson. Kellogg then changed the name to "granola" and started to market it. Unfortunately people in the late 1800's and 1900's were more into Kellogg's other invention, corn flakes and granola took a back seat. It wasn't until the hippie movement of the late Sixties that granola became a staple in all natural diets. Now it's everywhere.

Where to buy the best granola? At any outdoor farmer's market such as in the one in lower Manhattan's Union Square.Here you can find all sorts of varieties with wholesome ingredients. Try to buy ones with dried cranberries or blueberries for an extra nutritional kick. Almond granola is a good choice too because the nut is not only tasty but rich in vitamins. For granola with a kick, try cinnamon or nutmeg kind.

If you or your family have wheat and nut allergies then make the granola yourselves. Start with rolled oats and if you want add rye for more flavor. Then add some dried fruit. Again cranberries and blueberries are great but also think about dried peaches, apples and apricots. Forgo any peanut butter or nuts if you or your kids have nut allergies. Concentrate on adding seeds such as sunflower or even sesame. You can also liven it up with your own dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, or even cardamon. Add raw sugar or brown sugar if you want a little sweetness. You can add maple syrup but this will make it sticky and messy to store.

Granola is not just for hippies any more.(well they could use it, considering most of them are in their sixties now). It's for foodies who like to start their day off with something that's not only good tasting but nutritious and good for them.