Thursday, July 31, 2008

Indian Cuisine -Perfect For A Summer's Day

When the weather turns hot think about exotic eating. This would be in the form of east Indian cuisine.There's nothing like the taste of it from sweet chutneys to fiery curries. Indian food is a break from ordinary food during these hot, sultry days.

Indian cooking is distinguishable from all other cuisines by its' large use of spices. You can fund everything from fenugreek to curry leaves to cardamon. These were the flavors that seduced early travelers on the Silk Route. These give lift and oomph to such traditional dishes as masala or tikki. Vegetables also play a huge part in the subcontinent's diet. Indians eat a lot of spinach and tomatoes along with chick peas. Chicken and lamb are the meats of choice. Eating beef is a sacrilege to the Hindus and most Indians are vegetarians

There are also sweet sin the Indian diet. These are not like Western sweets and are made mostly out of fried semolina and rose water. Certain spices again like cinnamon and cardamon are added.Indian children also love fresh fruits as well for a treat.

Cool down with the food of the East Indies. The spices will not only add a lift but a touch of exoticism to a hot summer's meal.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Religious Influneces On Food

It's amazing what a religion can do. It can unite , or destroy a people. It can give one a life's goal and set of rules . It can also influence the way we eat. Amazing.

There are so many different religions on this earth and each one with its' own set of dietary taboos. There is the kosher set of standards at the same time as the hallal. There is also what the Hindus believes as well as some of the minor sects.Buddhists have the healthiest diet so far with not eating any animal life.

Religions also play into the way we celebrate our holy days and holidays. So many of our dishes depend on what we're allowed to eat (such as only fish on Good Friday or no meat on Christmas Eve) Some of the German Protestant sects even make special holiday cookies symbolizing the birth of Christ.

It's truly awesome the way religion plays an important part in the world's cuisines. From earliest times it was used as part of special rituals. It still is very much in use in today's modern world

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sticky Buns America's Favorite Breakfast

There's nothing like starting off the morning with a sticky bun. This bad for you all American pastry has been around for a long time. It has got enough sugar to keep you going throughout the day. This fun food is also a good foil to your mornings hot cup of strong java.

Sticky buns are Germanic in origin , probably coming over with the Pennsylvania Dutch. They were called shcreken. The Swedes also make a variation of this which grew into the ever popular cinnamon bun.Any kind of sweet bun and still are popular with Philadelphians and South Jerseyites.

Basically a sticky bun is no more than a form of yeast bread that is rolled flat. On top of this goes melted butter, cinnamon and raisins It is then rolled back up much in the fashion of a jelly roll cut into buns and then backed. Some kind of icing is then slathered on it , whether it just be a confectioner's glaze or cream cheese icing.

If you;re vacationing in South Jersey this summer head to any bakery and pick up one. Sticky buns are the best, most decadent way to start a day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Cult of Celebrity Chef

They have millions of fan hanging on their every word. They're stalked by the paparazzi. Stores carry their products which are sold out in minutes.

Who are they?

Celebrity chefs. Thanks to America'' love of dining and cooking, we've turned everyone from Bobby Flay to Lidia Bastianich into celebuchef. They're like the Heidfi Klum of the kitchen or Leo Di Caprio of produce.

How did this phenomena come to be? There were always great chefs from Epicurus to Larousse. Throughput the centuries kings , queens presidents and noblemen have always had good cooks. Every family also had their own great cook, whether it be their mother aunt, grandmother or sister. Yet what has made today's cooks gain the kind of status usually reserved for Oscar winners?

I could say blame it on the food Channel. This is where ordinary chefs like Paula Deen have become megastars with their own line of cooking gear and magazines. I could blame it on America's desire to turn even the most ordinary person into a four star whiz.

At least it's spawned a new gneration of foode kids who spend thei rplayground hours talking about whisks and creme brules.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cotton Candy - A Fun Summer Treat

Nothing says summer fun like cotton candy. This is the treat we snack on at the Boardwalk or go crazy for at the fair. It's a fun and sweet remnant of childhood innocence. No matter how glum you are, the sight of cotton candy always brings forth a smile.

Cotton candy was on e o f those great 1904 World's Fair inventions. It was orginally called fairy floss and is still called that today in Austrailia (the Brits call it candy floss). However earlier forms of existed in Renaissance Italy where cooked sugar strands were fluffed with a fork. By the 1890's candy makers William Morrison and John C. Wharton invented a machine where sugar, coloring and flavoring could be melted and then , using centrifugal force pushes this out through mesh. The result was a cottony form of the sugar , but it was still called fairy floss until the 1920's when it was changed to cotton candy. There have bene breakthroughs during the 1940s' in the machinery. By the 1970's cotton candy machines were automated. This meant mass packaging and people could enjoy it year round in vacuum sealed bags.Nutritionally the stuff has zero fat and only 120 calories per serving. It's the perfect snack for the diet conscious, basically fun without the guit.

In recent years upscale restuarants have redisocvered cotton candy as a side dish or as a dessert. There is a saffron infused version that has accompanied fish as well as a basil and tomato version served over pasta.(strange but true and both are big hits). For dessert a few Manhattan eateries take a cloud of marshamallow flavored cotton candy and put it over hot cocoa or chocolate pudding. It also has topped creme brluee. Some restaurants make fruit flavored (think raspberry mango or cherry lime)mini sticks and serve them for dessert.

Whatever type of cotton candy you have wherever you have it , it's sure to make you smile. It's just the perfect summer fun food whether you're strolling on the Boardwalk or sitting down in a fancy restaurant.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cake Time

Everyone loves cake. It celebrates joyous times like weddings and birthdays. It 's there eif you need a good friend. It's a part of everyday life, probably the highlight of our lives. After all what's not to like about it?

Cake has been around since the Vikings who invented it The name comes from kaka meaning a flour baked confection laden with eggs and some kind of sweetener such as honey or sugar. The Romans introduced the world to fruit cakes around the time of the Renaissance and these were imported to Britain. Iced cakes made their appearance at the court of the Louis. The 19th Century brought in new technologies such as baking powder and more temperature controlled ovens.

There are so many different kinds of cake today from carrot to butter. It's just a highlight in anyone's life.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Farmer's Markets

There's nothing like fresh everything during htis time of year. There are some of us who live near farm areas where it's only a short drive to buy fresh produce and baked goods. For those less fortunate there are farmers markets. These are wonderful blessings that bring the bounty of the country to both urbanites and suburbanites.

Typically farmer's markets will sell all sorts of things. One of the biggest that I have seen is the one in Union Square in lower Manhattan. This is literally a cordoned off area around Union Square Park. You can get everything from upstate New York apples to Jersey fresh tomatoes. There are also stands that sell fresh nuts and freshly made peanut butter. There are also smaller stands that will sell organic potatoes , kale and spinach. Union Square offers a variety of homemade baked goods from cookies to pies to breads. These are much better than from what even the best city bakeries have to offer. Union Square also offers honey sold from Duchess and Orange County apiaries as well as freshly made granola and cereals.

Even suburban New Jersey (and I'm sure towns across the US ) will have farmer's markets. Here in the Garden State Mennonite farmers from Pennsylvania set up stands in our towns , selling everything from long golden ears of corn to freshly churned butter. These are amazing places and perfect for bringing farm fresh goodness to the table. If you want your family to eat healthy go to one. Some of the pricing can be a bit higher than the local supermarket though. I have discovered that the best buys are on the cakes , breads, jams and cookies.Take advantage of these prices.

Farmer's markets are wonderous places. Luckily for us the stay open until late fall and reopen iht early spring. They are worth visiting because you can have just off the stand produce right on your town's main street.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Education Of A Foodie

For all of you young foodies out there you may be wondering if there's a career out there for you. There is. It's amazing that there are so many possibilities with food. You can choose from culinary arts to home ec to nutrition. The field is varied.

Culinary school is the most obvious step for any foodie wishing to broaden their horizons. Also being a top chef or baker these days is akin to being a celebrity. What does it take to be a pro in the industry? First you do need your high school degree or GED. You can get an AA or Associates Degree which is two year or a full four year degree. There are also seminars and cooking courses you can take as well. Some programs also offer an apprenticeship program where basically you're thrown into the fire right away. The most famous cooking school in the US is the CIA , the Culinary Institute of America located in both New Hyde Park, New York, and Napa, California. There are also several universities in North America that offer a similar degree and training. Of course the best schools are in Italy and France. Florence, Italy's cultural capital and birthplace of the Renaissance, has s few good ones while Paris (and also Reims) offers the famed Le Cordon Bleu.

Foodies can also receive a degree in Home Economics with an emphasis on nutrition. Although they will have courses in other home ec related studies such as child rearing, textiles and family dynamics, nutrition will be their major area of concentration. Young foodies (or even those considering a career change) may want to think about a degree in the science of nutrition.This could even lead to a job as a dietitian in any hospital or facility such as a nursing home. This degree can be expanded to include a master's in the field.

There are different options for those young foodies out there. If they're dedicated enough to want to work with food, whether from a creative or a scientific standpoint. The best thing is that they will doing what they like - which involves food.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Down Home Cooking

Sometimes the best food comes from regional areas. This is known as down home cooking and it has many different forms. It could be recipes that sprang from backwoods cooking or 300 year old recipes that haven't changed. These are the foods that have been on the American palate from the country's earliest days. Sometimes it mixes indigenous foods with early English cooking techniques. Yet no matter what the era or the century , it' still tasty and filling.

One of the best known recipes is burgoo. This is a stew that had everything in it from squirrel (a major component in this type of cuisine) to mutton. Mostly it is now made with the last meat along with pork and chicken. Red pepper is added to it for seasoning and it is slow cooked like chili and served in a bowl much like it. Burgoo's name could come from two sources - a shortening of the phrase "bird stew" or barbecue. No one is really sure. It is mostly eaten in northern Kentucky and southern Indiana and is a staple of some restaurants.To be honest it's easy to make and you can make it in the morning for dinner that night.

Another down home dish is barbecue. No, not the meats and veggies you toss on the grill but actual spicy sweet barbecue. It's sometimes called pulled pork. This is an amazing dish , usually served best on hamburger roll ( this is known as a "soak")Barbecue starts off with a slow cooked pork butt or shoulder, usually mixed with onions. It is cooked to the point where the meat is so tender you can easily shred it with your fingers. The barbecue is then liberally doused with vinegar its' own juices and any favorite commercial barbecue sauce. It is then put on a hamburger roll or any soft bread. Usually it can be served with fresh, crunchy cole slaw.A better side is extra salty potato chips because they bring out the sweetness of the barbecue and the meat.

What's a perfect ending to this? Why, cobbler , of course. You could also make brown Betty, grunt or buckle. These are all fruit desserts from the Colonial era that came with the colonists. They had to substitute English pears and apples with native American fruits and came up with these yummy desserts (although cobbler was eaten throughout the day). They are easy to make with the fruits of the season such as blackberry or blueberry. A cobbler always tastes best when it has fresh cream or vanilla ice cream on the side.

This is the food that fed America from the 1600's to today/ . Nothing fancy but filling and flavorful. They have survived through the Colonial era getting enjoyed by modern Americans.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Caribbean Cooking

Island cooking is perfect for this hot weather. There's nothing like the spices of the Caribbean to get you through a heat wave. They can stir you up, rousing you from a boring summer of mayonnaise sandwiches and iced tea.

The Caribbean encompasses the area from the Atlantic to the coast of Sounth America. The heritage is wildly varied.It was one of the first fusion cuisines, blending flavors and techniques from Europe , Africa. mid Asia and the islands themselves. The most notable contributors are the e Dutch , French and Spanish with the Brits and East Indians also lending a recipe or two. Jerk is one of the most popular island dishes. This is a fiery kind of spiced meat (mostly goat) that is redolent of chili peepers oregano and ginger. There is also callaloo , the island stew which has both crab and salt pork in it. Conch is another big meat on the lands. You can get tit in a fritter, or a chowder (similar to Manhattan clam chowder) everywhere.

Our barbecue comes from the islands where the native Arawak Indians used to grilled meat on sticks over open fires. The settlers, explorers and even pirates loved this an quickly incorporated it into their diets. It became a staple at dinners large and small.

Caribbean cooking is a great way to cope with the summer heat. Try some interesting recipes to liven up a dull meal or barbecue.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Foodie Shower Gift List

What to get about to be married foodies? To be honest the list is endless. You can go anywhere from high end to low, from a food processor to a simple whisk. You can buy them kitchen sponges or fine china. The options are many.

Luckily there are a range of stores that you can visit. Most couples will already be registered at stores such as Macy's, Target, Williams and and Sonoma and if you're on the East Coast, Fortunoff's. Remember that the mothers or bridal party wail give the big stuff like the china and possibly pots and pans. This leaves buying food processors, linens, gadgets and utensils up to the guests. You can vary it though. If the couple loves Oriental cuisine or Indian then a wok or rice steamer is a must buy. Finish this with some exotic spices and a cookbook and you're set. Some foodie brides to be love baking . Then it's easy to pick up some new silicon pans and spatulas along with a cake icing kit. Also include some sprinkles and candy decorations.

Remember that every couple needs a well stocked kitchen. A frying pan or a bain marie may not be the most glamorous gift but it is the most useful. When shopping think back to when you were starting out. What would you have liked to have or what did you use the most. Even if you buy the couple knives and forks, remember that these things are utilized every day. If they get two set s of utensils, each set will be used eventually.

If you're strapped for cash remember there are a few ways to deal with this problem. One, shop during sales. You can get a number of different items for a lot less. Sometimes there's even vast reductions on name brand goods. Secondly consider the local dollar store. This is a great place to pick up utensils and glasses , gadgets and even towels . You can create a nice basket of different , but useful items that the couple can use.

It's can be easy shopping for a foodie's shower. Just use some basic strategies to get the gift that will be memorable and cherished.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Month OF Sundaes

This is the weather for ice cream and in particular sundaes. There's nothing as neat as one. Where else can you combine all the good stuff into one gooey treat?

Sundaes are as American as apple pie and was create din th elast tw o decade sof the 19th Century in Illinois or Wisconsin (there are two stories here). because ice cream sodas were prohibited fromb being sold on Sundays,soad jerks took out the soda which just left ice cream and syrup. Voila the sundae was born and named for the day it was invented.

What makes a good sundae? Any base of ice cream wail do. Plain vanilla is fine but chocolate chip mint will also do. Some foodies like to put two flavors as their sundae base. it doesn't matter, Sometimes just sticking with plain old vanilla or chocolate work. You could vary and have an all fruit base combining peach and strawberry or homemade blackberry with cherry.

As for toppings, anything is possible. I usually just like chocolate syrup on top, but som e like it with thick fudge or caramel sauce. Fruits such as pineapple cherry, and strawberry are also good toppings. These taste better fresh so have it on hand when you intend to make your treat. You can add nuts or cookie crumbs to give it some texture and crunch.Finish with whipped cream, sprinkles or even the e proverbial cherry on top.

This is the weather to indulge in a cold, creamy treat like the sundae. Create one that is perfect for your tastes

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dinner For One

It's not easy being a single foodie. You don't have anyone to share that magnificent risotto with or split a hazelnut brownie. Some nights all you want to do is open a can of tuna and sit down by yourself. Don't despair. Dining for one can be fun. Just treat a meal alone as time to wind down and savor everything, including life.

Sometimes it's the surroundings that may make you fully aware of being by yourself. If that's the case then go out to a fancy restaurant , hide behind some glamorous shades and pretend you're an A-Lister. Another idea is pack all your favorite foods in to a hamper or cooler and have yourself a picnic in your favorite spot. It can be the beach or under a tree. Bring something really indulgent , whether it's gourmet potato chips or a designer root beer. Savor the time by yourself. Bring a book or magazine and just unwind.Take a brief snooze of you feel sleepy afterwards. It's time just meant for you and you alone.

If you're cooking for your lone self, then splurge every now and then. you don't have to eat just a bowl of cereal and milk or throw a Lean Cuisine special into the microwave. Grilling steak or chicken is easier than ever these days. You can also steam veggies and serve with a premade orange ginger sauce for a neat Chinese dinner.
Salads are easy and fun to make . There's all sorts of neat ingredients you can add and enjoy by yourself. French toast is easy to make any time and you can just had Cool Whip and sliced berries. A lot of groceries sell premade Belgian waffles that all you have to do is heat in the toaster and you can serve with anything - egg on top along with ham or just syrup and butter.

Just because you;re eating alone doesn't mean you can't have fun. Be creative with where you eat and what you eat. Sometimes you can be the best company in the world.

Orange Ginger sauce.

1 tablespoon freshly shaved ginger.

2-3tablespoons orange juice

1 small clove garlic minced

salt an d pepper.

Mix all ingredients together and pour on grilled chicken and steamed veggies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Picnic Time is Summertime

Nothing is quite so much fun as a summer picnic. You can have a fun one in the sand and surf or a civilized one under the stars. Food can be as simple as heroes and chips or as sophisticated as cold chicken with pesto sauce and champagne. The fun part about picnics is to be creative. Have old standards mix with new favorites.

Before you even being to buy your food, make sure you have a good cooler. There are several to choose from these days. Luckily most places like Target and K-Mart have them on sale. Pick one that you can easily haul with you to the beach or the park(something on wheels and can fit into your car's trunk is probably the most desirable).Make sure that it can carry not just food but drinks as well. There are some high tech ones that have radios and I Pod stations for music. However sometimes just sticking with the simplest is best. For more elegant picnics there are the traditional wicker hampers. These come with china and utensils as well as napkins and ground coverings. This is great if you always want to eat "out" in style however fully stocked hampers can range from $200 to $300.

Once you've bought your cooler then you can plan your picnic. Make sandwiches that day so they're fresher tasting. A lot of people make them the night before and somehow they become soggy after ten hours the fridge Heroes are always preferred. They're fun to eat plus you can put a medley of diff rent cold cuts and veggies on them. As far as as dressings, mustard and ketchup are your safest bets along with oil and vinegar. Mayo is fine if you have a good cooler that will keep the sandwich chilled (otherwise it's a quick run to the ER - a difficult maneuver if you're in the woods or at the beach).If you're thinking about bringing salads then make these the night before. Instead of mayo, think about a tangy raspberry vinaigrette for your slaw or Italian dressing with sliced peppers and onions for your macaroni sandwiches. Pack chips, popcorn or tortilla chips. Keep drinks simple with juice boxes or canned soda.As for dessert, another keep it simple course. Have fun blueberries, strawberries or even cookies that the kids can grab and munch. Leave out Popsicles and ice cream bars which can be messy.

For a more elegant picnic, think cold meats. The English have this cornered with their hampers full of sliced ham and cold roasted chicken. You can also indulge in a Tuscan outdoor meal. Pack prosciutto or mortadella along with a loaf of crusty Italian bread. What's a good side with any of these? A crisp string bean and minced onion salad in a vinaigrette dressing. Also have on hand sliced tomatoes.This is the kind of meal that calls for champagne. If you want bring it along with a cooler and plenty of ice. Keep dessert simple with melon slices and shortbread cookies.

This is the season for a picnic. You can make it as all American as a hero with chips or as elegant with cold chicken breast and chilled drinks. Just make sure it's fun time out in the fresh air.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lemon Zesty

Lemons are a part of the summer. We use them in ades, ices, dressings and marinades. We even use it as a summer beauty products to lighten hair and to soften rough skin. They are the perfect fruit for just about everything. Use them for everything and anything.

Lemons were first introduced into European cuisine via Arab traders during the start of the Middle Ages. The plant was originally a hybrid of the lime and citron.It was used for centuries by sailors to protect them from scurvy. Columbus brought it to the New World with him while French explorers carried sacks of lemons with them to to Canada. At the court of Louis XI lemons were given out as favors along with oranges at balls.The Spanish on the other hand thought they were evil and even had them excommunicated (because they thought they were misshaped oranges). They are now commercially grown in California although many SoCal homes have them in their gardens

Lemons are excellent for a daily dose of Vitamin C. Remember to take a mix of honey and lemon juice if you have a cold or sore throat. Lemons are also good for stomach aches . My grandmother always had one with her to suck on to relieve digestive problems. I still prefer having lemons or lemon juice when I have a virus. Even fresh made lemonade can help with stomach problems. The fruit also possesses a large quantity of potassium as well as smaller amounts of calcium and magnesium.

Anything lemon is good. You can make a nice fruity lemonade by adding sliced lemons and strawberries to it. Freeze it for some lemon pops. This is the season to take advantage of lemon ice, whether you make it at home or buy it at any gelateria. Remember that lemon juice adds zing to marinade so add a few tablespoons to make your steaks and chickens pop. Also spritz on kabobs before grilling for a zestier taste. They add a zing to the veggies, making them more flavorful.

Lemons are the perfect summer fruit. They're versatile to go from dinner to dessert and liven up any taste. Not only that they'll protect you from those dreaded summer colds.Amp up your Vitamin C intake this season by adding a few lemon to your summer dishes and desserts.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Viva le Patisserie Francaise

In honor of French Independence Day (or the day the Capet monarchy was destroyed in France, depending upon how you look at it) I'm dedicating today's entry to French pastries. These sinfully delicious treats have always been a part of French life. Luckily , they're a part of American life as well. The problem is what to buy when you go to to your local patisserie.

There's really so much to choose from upon entering this kind of bakery. It will be mostly sweets and very little breads. These are sold in what's known as a boulangerie , a store that sells nothing but bread and rolls. A pastry shop will have a variety of tarts and cakes. You'll can get every kind of flavor from chocolate Savoyard (which are a rich cream and chocolate ganache filled loaves) to fraise bavaroise ,(a filling strawberry cake)There will be baba au rhums, wine cork shaped yeast cakes soaked in rum. A typcal patisserie will also serve plum and apricot tarts. These are cream filled buttery shells topped off with the fruits and glazed with an apricot jam. You can also buy similar ones in apple and strawberry depending upon the season.The French love raspberries so don't be surprised to find a few tartes and cakes filled with them. There is also a plain cake known as a galette which is usually served on Twelfth Nigh t or Three Kings Day , January 6th.

Most patisseries here sell variations of eclairs and Napoleons. The first usually has a chocolate covering as opposed to the traditional caramel. It's usually filled with a vanilla cream but also can be filled with just whipped cream. Napoleon, that classic French treat is another dessert It is also called mille feulle meaning a thousand layers. This was a spin on Greek pastries with the name coming from the Greek word for neck. Patisseries will also sell variations on that sweet roll, the brioche, as well as almond and chocolate croissants.

The French love cookies but not the thick hearty kind. You'll be able to buy tuiles (French for tiles) which are thin crunchy butter cookies. Gaufrettes or wafers are also sold. These are rolled cookies sometimes dipped in chocolate.

Celebrate Bastille Day with a visit t your own patisserie. have a love tart au fraise or some tuiles with your afternoon coffee.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Things Go Better With Coke

Cocoa Cola has been a summer standard for more than one hundred years. Who hasn't enjoyed a summer sitting by the beach or the pool with a can of it? Or made Coke ice pops or a Coke float?

This iconic drink started in 1885 , possibly as a competitor to an Italian coca wine, Vin Mariani. It was first made in Columbus, prohibition was launched through some of Georgia's counties and that's when Coke became carbonated. Its' early use was more for medicinal , claiming to cure everything from headaches impotence to addiction. It was also sold as a syrup to squelch nausea and calm upset stomachs. (in fact Coke is still used for that purpose today. I you feel a little queasy, COLA Coke over crushed ice really helps). It's iconic lettering was there from the very beginning thanks to Pemberton's bookkeeper, Frank Mason Robinson who designed it. it was a copy of the flowery cursive handwriting known as Spencerian script , popular of the times. The bottle as we know it was designed by Earl R. Dean in 1915.

Throughout the decades there have been many recipes involving Coke. There's the famous Coca Cola cake frosted with Coca Cola icing. This is a devil's food with the drink's added sweetness. Some barbecuers like to make a Coke marinade because they say it tenderizes the meat and leaves that sugary taste. You can also use it to make a teriyaki chicken or even throw a cup into a meat loaf mix to flavor it. Coke can even be used in a dressing for a sweet slaw or a different tasting salad dressing. Mostly it's use d in desserts, whether in ice creams or in pies. cakes and breads. I wonder if there's a Coca Cola cookie out there. Now that would be neat.

Coke has gone with our troops in war and celebrated our most glorious events as a country. It's our first party drink and the drink that gets us through a rough day. It really is a part of the American way of living.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Smart Cookies

Who doesn't like cookies? They're our passion from childhood to old age. We go mad for Oreos dipped in milk. Our first baking experience involves a batch of chocolate chips. Cookies see us through a broken heart or a denied job promotion. They really are our BFFs for life.

We have the Dutch to thank for this amazing invention. First called keokje or little cakes the cookie was really a tester for larger cakes. Dutch bakers put a small rounded heap of batter in oil and fried it. It then became a staple in the city of New Amsterdam when early Dutch settlers made keokjes by the dozen. The English soon picked up on their goodness and called them tea biscuits. The Scots soon followed rechristening them tea buns. There has always been a cookie in some shape or form. The Italians make biscotti(meaning twice baked )which the French took for their biscuit. The Germans called theirkeis and took cookie baking to a high art. Early Yanks redubbed the cookie cry babies (I'm guessing for the reaction that happened when you took it away from a kid) and snickerdoodles. The last is really a mix of flour cinnamon and sugar along with butter and eggs. A form of it goes back to Roman times.

America has so many different kinds of cookies. The most famous , the chocolate chip was invented by Massachusetts inn owner. Ruth Wakefield, in the early 1930's . She was either clumsy or crafty, dumping in a chopped chocolate bar into her batch of vanilla cookie dough. It was said she had run out of nuts and was looking for a substitute. Others say her elbow bumped into a candy bar,and shattered it. It then fell into the batter and history was made. That was the birth of the first modern cookie and soon became the object of desire for many. Other cookie s such as the buttery Scottish shortbread have had a longer run. That came from a medieval Scottish biscuit bread that was baked twice. Other cookies such as gingerbread was an offshoot of the Bavarian gingerbread cake, while the oatmeal raisin was a nod to Scottish bakers.

What's your favorite cookie? Are you big on Vienna Fingers or just in love with your local bakery's monster sugar cookies?Write to me and I'll put it in a future blog. You can reach me at Foodie Pantry or I'd love to hear from all my fellow cookie monsters out there!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Water Logged What Designer Water To Choose

Summer brings about thirst. In th e old days we used to slurp our water out of the garden hose and thought it was satisfying. Not anymore. Now we have to carry the latest trend in designer H20s. What to drink? There are as many varieties out there as there are oceans, seas and lakes. The conundrum is what's the best one for you.

Many people are curious as to what's the difference between bottled and tap water. After all water is just simply water, isn't it? Not exactly. Bottled water could be from glaciers , springs or wells.It could even come straight from a tap. What makes it different from what's coming out out your kitchen and bathroom faucets is that it has to be doubly purified and meet FDA regulations.

Sometimes it's just best to stick with the simple stuff. There's Poland Springs which has been around for ages, and the standard of office water coolers.This is the best for those with families The company has their water smaller bottles or Aquapods that you can give to small kids. Another good water is Dasani. This has a light clean taste and is refreshing chilled. You can also try Fiji. Of course for true snob appeal you can carry around a bottle of Evian (which when spelled backwards is the word naive - think about it).

There are some spins on water as well. The latest comes in the form of Fyxx Hybrid Energy Drink . This is Ohio spring water infused with caffeine to give drinkers a boost during afternoon crashes. There is also Propel which has vitamins in it for those who forget to take their daily requirement. This also comes flavored so you can have a touch of lemon or strawberry . Propel is a low calorie substitute for soda or iced tea.You can have a glass with your meals.

An important rule of Summer is keeping yourself hydrated during the hot days. This is easy to do nowadays thanks to the varieties of waters out there. Pick one that fits your lifestyle and enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Allergies Itching To Know What's What

In every foodie's life rain must fall and they have to restrict their diets. This sometimes come in the forms of allergies. It could be a mild case with a slight rash or the serious, heavy duty kind that could land you in the ER. Some foods can be serious culprits like tomatoes, tuna fish or peanuts. Some can be mild offenders like oranges and chocolate.

What exactly are allergies? They're basically disorders of the immune system that react to allergens in the environment. It could come from plant, food or even insect venom (i.e. bee or wasp bites). Food allergies occur because the body thinks the food ingested is harmful. How do you know when you're having an allergic reaction? Sometimes it could be as simple as an itchy mouth or as complicated as breathing problems. Reactions could also mimic food poisoning or a virus with vomiting and diarrhea. These can sometimes be the beginning of a more fatal kind of allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This is where blood vessels are affected by the allergens and lead to a severe drop in blood pressure. If that happens to you or someone nearby , immediately rush them to the nearest ER for prompt treatment.

Food allergies can vary from person to person. They're usually inherited from a parent or grandparent who also suffered from them. There are several different types with the most common being shellfish and nuts. Other allergies could be to wheat, soy, eggs and milk. These are most common in children and they usually outgrow them by their early teen years. Sadly enough any allergies you acquire as an adult stay with you forever. The surest way to an easier reaction free life is know your allergies and stridently remove the foods causing them from your diet.This can be hard if it's some tasty like lobster or fruit. Yet you can substitute other foods for whatever bothers you.

Allergies , like , everything in life, happen. The trick is to know what stuff will cause that rash or stomach discomfort and avoid it. Doing this will save you a lot of grief (and possible avoid a visit to your local ER).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Peanuts - Crunchy Earthy Goodness

There's nothing like a handful of fresh roasted peanuts. The taste is amazing with a combination of roasted , nutty and sweet. The peanut is also a good summer snack. It's perfect for the ball park or the beach. Even better - you can just sit out in your back yard on a summer night eating a whole bag.

Peanuts are American but originated in South America not North. Most likely they came from Brazil and Peru. We have the Spanish explorers to thank for bringing the seeds back to Europe. Traders then exported them to Asia and Africa. It was then brought over from Africa, sadly enough during the slave trade era. Its' nickname in the South 'goober comes straight from the African nguba. We have George Washington Carver to thank for the spread of peanuts during the late 1800s. He was promoted them while at the revered Tuskegee Institute. Peanut crops replaced cotton after a boll weevil epidemic decimated the crop. Carver developed recipes to serve peanuts in a variety of ways , from soups to desserts. Roasted peanuts came around at this time, thanks to Italian immigrants, Amedo Obici and Mario Peruzzi. They also put the nuts in air tight bags and sold them under the name Planters (and created that iconic figure "Mr Peanut"). Around this time peanut butter was invented by a St. Louis Missouri physician . It was given as a protein for people with poor teeth who could not chew the crunchy nuts. Modern peanut butter machines were built in 1922 and that when it was mass marketed.

Peanuts are good for you. Although they are high in calories they 're loaded with good stuff such as zinc, magnesium and potassium. They are high in unsaturated fats and have no cholesterol. Eating them may protect you against any heart disease. They are also high in much needed fiber. If you feel like they're too fattening , then limit your intake. Sometimes just a handful of nuts will be satisfying. Besides they're fun to shell anyway (and you can use the shells as mulch). You can also have a peanut butter sandwich every now and then. This is a quick lunch, uber nutritious with a glass of milk. This is perfect for busy days when a regular meal is impossible.

Peanuts are the perfect snack for any time. Spend a summer evening shelling them and enjoying their rich earthy taste.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Salad Days Are Here

Let's face it now that summer' s here , there's no need to slave away in a hot kitchen. This is supposed to be the time of easy living and easy cooking. Yet what to make for a hungry family? Salad - and not the dinky dieter's kind. Anyone can create a filling meal with greens , dressing and a few fun extras.

How does a great salad begin? With a good base of greens. Years ago iceberg lettuce was the base of choice. As our tastes improved, we found that everything from spinach to field greens could prove a worthy salad. Field greens are sometimes the best choice for a base because they're a meld of tastes and textures, The slightly nutty aftertaste will appeal to kids who sometimes don't like that "green" taste. For more adventurous kids have a base of spinach. This is packed with iron plus also tastes good. if you're making Caesar then go with romanine. This is a sturdy leaf and it holds up well with the heavy Caesar dressing and croutons.

NOW comes the fun part - the extras. If you want a dinner type salad then think about adding some freshly grilled chicken or salmon. This is an easy way of adding protein to your meal. If even this is too hot a chore for you then head to your supermarket's deli counter and pick up some freshly sliced London Broil. Another good choice is sliced ham which you can then shred and add to any salad. Chef salad is a wonderful variety of cheeses, meats and veggies. Add Italian cold cuts such as prosciutto and capacolla along with Provolone and mozzarella to a mixed salad. Toss in some broccoli , cauliflower and grape tomatoes and presto you've got a really filling dinner.Another hearty one is the famed salad nicoise. This beauty, eaten all through the Riviera during the ete is a tasty melange of salad, vegetables hard boiled eggs and tuna fish. You can serve this with crusty French bread or thin Piedmontese grissni bread sticks.

What kind of dressing should you use? Just a simple vinaigrette will work wonders. Remember it's one tablespoon vinegar to every three tablespoons of oil. If you want a fancier vinaigrette , add crushed raspberries, cherries, black berries or blueberries to a red or whine wine vinegar , let steep over night and mix the next day. This imparts a fruity taste to your salad. If you want a richer one , just mix one tablespoon of ketchup to three or four tablespoons mayo for an instant French dressing. You can also be creative and invent your own. Garnish your salad with either Chinese noodles or any chopped or slivered nuts.

This summer don t weigh yourself down by cooking hot meals. Make a satisfying salad that you will love to make and your family will love to eat. Enjoy the summer away from heavy , hard to make dinners. Lighten up the dinner table with a delicious, but filling salad!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Popcorn That Great American Classic

Nothing beats a bowl of popcorn as a good snack. Yes, it's healthy for you being low in fat and high in fiber but it's just fun. Nothing complements a movie like a big old bowl of the stuff. It can be sweet, salty. buttery or just plain cheesy. Name me one person who doesn't like popcorn.

Surprisingly modern Americans aren't the only culture who love popcorn. There were traces of it from 4,000 years ago found in the famous bat caves of New Mexico. The Aztecs also used it in their religious rites. They incorporated it in their headdresses, garlands and statue decorations. Young maidens even did a "popcorn dance" wearing several lei like garlands of it. The ancient Peruvians also ate popcorn, but regarded it as a confection. The first Europeans were the Spanish and the great explorer Cortez had written about it. North American Indians brought it to the first Thanksgiving where the ears were slicked with oil and held over a fire. The Indians at e it straighttoff th e cob. The Colonists must have taken to it right away because popcorn and milk were soon added to their breakfast menus.

Jump ahead a few centuries and see popcorn vendors on every street in America. It was sold as a quick snack right up to the Great Depression. Theaters added it to their cincessionstands where it quickly became number one. Sales did slough off with the arrival of television. The microwave brought it back to it's current popularity thanks to it being made in a record 1.5 minute.

How does popcorn pop? By the water inside it vaporizes into steam. This and the starchy stuff used to nourish the corn embryo bursts through at temps around 400 degrees Farenheit. Thus we have our beloved snack. Unfortunately some kernals are prone to burning hence the reason for a few blackened or unpopped ones. You can repop popcorn again if you get a bad yield the first time around. If not just feed it to the birds outside.

The best thing about popcorn is that it's so absorbent to other tastes. You can coat it with caramel one night while the next sprinkle Parmesan on it. Some popcorn gourmands even put chili powder on it or a mix of Old Bay and onion powder. I guess I'm kind of old school in my tastes , preferring just plain old butter. It's rich but it's good. Luckily Target 's own brand Archer Farms makes a wonderful, old fashioned buttery tasting microwave corn. This is my favorite that's not only tasty but gurantees a full bag every time.

Popcorn is truly the American classic food. From the ancient Aztecs and Incas to modern US foodies it really is an important part of our diets.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!!!!!

Today is Fourth of July.

Enjoy this day by celebrating with your favorite foods, whether they be ice cream or hot dogs, watermelon or grilled chicken. This is the start of the summer so make it a happy healthy and food filled one.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cool Desserts

No matter what time of year it is, you still feel like a good dessert or sweet treat to snack on. This is not, however the the best season to bake. It's too hot and your kitchen probably feels like an oven anyway. If that's the case then stick with easy to make desserts that require little or no fuss. You'll still have a sweet treat but without the sweat.

Fruit is always a good starting off point. This is the season for rich berries that can be made into an easy shortcake. Take any pound or angel food cake , slice and serve with fresh berries and a side of Cool Whip or even freshly whipped cream. You can mix fruits like strawberries and blueberries or try a new spin with fresh cut peaches. This is a light dessert and also makes a good treat for summer birthdays. A fruit parfait is excellent. Layer peaches, cut melon and berries in a tall glass. If you want a bit of fizz. add a splash of club soda or seltzer. This is a wonderful on hot evenings when you're craving something sugary but light.

Never discount instant puddings or Jello during the summer. These are a snap to make and work well with just about everything. There's nothing like a quick creamy pie where all you have to do is fill a prebaked pie shell with pudding. A really fun and quick dessert is a banana chocolate pie. Filled a chocolate pie crust with a layer of instant chocolate pudding. Add topping and right before you serve it , arrange sliced bananas on top. Another fun one is an instant zabaglione pie. This involves vanilla pudding , a splash of Marsala and Cool Whip or nay whipped topping (see recipe below).Jello, that old standby, makes another quick dessert. For a bubbly frothy variation add ginger ale or club soda. This is perfect for kids parties and isn't as messy as cupcakes or cookies in hot weather.

Another easy dessert ingredient is ice cream. This is great not only for sundaes and soda but also as a base for ice cream pies and tarts. A really fun but classy dessert is filling premade tart shells with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, adding a layer of slivered almonds and then whipped cream and strawberries. It's a spin of a baked French tart with the ice cream standing in for the custard. Don't forget that new standard, the ice cream sandwich . Get a fun flavor, such as mint chocolate chip or cherry swirl and put between two large cookies. You can then roll the sandwich in sprinkles or chopped nuts for added decoration.

It's easy to make a satisfying , sweet treat this summer without firing up the oven. Just use pre made ingredients and your imagination. You're bound to come up with a treat that's just as good as any fresh baked cake or pie.

Easy Zabaglione Pie

1 prebaked pie shell, preferably graham cracker crust.
1 package instant vanilla pudding
2 -3 tablespoons Marsala wine
Whipped topping.

Make pudding according to package instructions. Fold in Marsala wine and then pour into prebaked pie shell. Let set. Cover with whipped topping or whipped cream when ready to serve.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Italian Ices - A Mini Italian Holiday

How to cool off on a hot summer's night?

Enjoy an Italian ice. There is nothing as refreshing as a cup of this in any flavor. It's cooling and sophisticated without the cloying creaminess of ice cream. Ice in any form cleanses the palate of the days tastes as well as adding a pop of fresh fruity flavor. It's the perfect ending to a sticky day. Now we can see why Italians from the Alps to the Mediterranean and Adriatic beaches enjoy this cooler.

Italian ice is as old as the Republic itself. (actually much older. Italy became a unified nation in 1861). Nero first ate it when his cooks mixed ice brought from the nearby mountains and mixed it with honey and fruit syrups. Centuries later Marco Polo bought back tho e Chinese recipe for making ice which is similar to how our modern ice cream makers work. It was made in a metal tin that was surrounded by salt and ice to keep it cold and later dished out.

It was Catherine de Medici who introduced a variation of Italian ice to the French court. Upon her marriage to Henri II of France. Sorbet is an ice but the only difference is that it has a mushier consistency (think Slurpee). It's a child of the Persian sherbet or sharbat that the middle Easterners enjoyed. These were used also used as plate cleansers during the Gilded Age when courses were heavily sauced and spiced.A refreshing lemon sorbet helped to ready the taste buds for the next round of dishes.

Granita is probably the oldest form of ice and the one most popular today. It can be made with a variety of flavors from pineapple juice to coffee. It's also the easiest dessert to make for a summer party. There's really no prep time or clean up and the amount of dishes used is next to nothing.What is great about granita is that you can make it up in one or two flavors. Try a blueberry one with a lemon or a cherry with a cola one (this is a no brainer . Just freeze Coke or Pepsi). You can even serve it with a dollop of Cool Whip.

I can't let this entry go without mentioning my favorite ice place - Rita's. This chain is in almost every American town.The one near me is my summer hangout. I love their Alex's Lemonade flavor (named in honor for the brave little girl who used to sell lemonade) as well as their black cherry and chocolate. Check the website - for a location nearest you. They have a birthday club as well as a treat card (for every ten ices bought you receive a free one). They also give out free samples so you can taste the newest flavors.

This summer treat yourself to a little bit of Italy. Enjoy a cold, refreshing cup of Italian ice.It'll make you feel like your on a Roman holiday.

Espresso Granita.

4 cups espresso coffee
2-3 tablespoons sugar.

Mix hot coffee and sugar together. Stir and then put into a metal pan (you can use a ice tray without the dividers). Freeze until you're ready to serve. Using a fork, scrape the ice into crystals and put into bowls. You can drizzle some chocolate syrup on the granita and serve with a small side of Cool Whip.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Your Best Summer Barbecue Ever!!!!

Now that summer is officially here, it's time to stat planning barbecues. What makes a great outdoor party? Namely good food. Have something for every one's tastes. It doesn't have to be elaborate like a winter indoor party. Sometimes all it takes is a few easy to make dishes and voila - a memorable time.

Any outdoor party deserves a few nibbles. They don't have to be fancy cheese puffs (way too hot to make on a summer's day). Have a plate of veggies out with a cooling dip. Because of the salmonella outbreak amongst beefsteak and plum tomatoes serve grape and cherry ones. Also have broccoli, cauliflower, and some green beans for an interesting spin on crudites. As for dip think about making a quick vinaigrette and a richer ranch one. Hummus is a great appetizer. You can make it yourself or buy it from your local supermarket. Serve with pita crisps, crackers or thickly sliced French bread. Bruschetta is a another wonderful hors' oeuvre. For a new variation put a layer of sliced pepperoni or salami under the chopped tomato spread.

A barbecue's main course is always fun. You can have steaks, lamb chops and chicken breasts for a fancier take or just plain hamburgers and hot dogs for a more down to earth dining. For any kind of meat think about serving chutneys as opposed to relishes. Vegetable kabobs make an interesting side and you vary the combos. Grill some asparagus and peppers to go with your meats . These are a more sophisticated take on regular sides. If you still like the salad route , then go with potato salad seasoned with curry or a beet salad flavored with cloves. An easy side dish is macaroni salad but nix the mayo. Mix in olive oil, hot pepper flakes and some chopped broccoli. This isn't as cloying as the regular kind and goes well with grilled steak or chops.

An outdoor meal deserves a dessert worthy of the season. Keep in mind that sometimes just berries and fresh whipped cream or Cool Whip is a great meal ender. For a naughty kind of fun, you can forgo the cream and soak your strawberries ,blueberries and blackberries in wine. You'll not only get a sweet with a punch but also a fruity after dinner drink. You can also serve ice and mix it with vodka or rum for that people love frozen drinks so try to steer guests to maybe two at the very most). If you're still intent on serving some kind of cake, think of a store bought angel food one. This is light and can have a side of fruit or even ice cream.

This is the season to revel in outdoor entertaining. Have an array of tasty and unusual dishes for your and your guests. It's a perfect way to celebrate warm sunny days and starry breeze kissed nights.