Monday, January 31, 2011

Just The Simple Things

Sometimes all it takes is a simple sandwich to satisfy a foodie. I found that out yesterday when all I wanted for dinner was just a peanut butter sandwich . Nothing fancy , nothing elaborate . Just something comforting , tasty and easy to make. I'm not alone . A lot of foodies just prefer something easy yet delicious.

Let's face it how many of us have come home and only ate a bowl of cereal and milk. It may not be the best dinner but it's still satisfying. Or how many have just had a baloney and mustard sandwich after a hard day's work. I can't even recount the number of times friends have just eaten nothing but a yogurt and coffee or fried up a couple of burgers to be put on white bread. Even a dish like mashed bananas and chocolate syrup makes a simple treat. Skip the iced cream, skip the whip cream and sprinkles. Just the fruit and sweetener will do it.

It's always good to have easy stuff in the pantry.Now is the time to stock up on Spaghetti-os along with Ramen soups . Have a large jar of peanut butter on the ready along with crackers. You can make mini sandwiches with these two if you need a quick dinner or snack.Even cans of deviled chicken and ham can be made into pates with just a dash of spice and some mayonnaise. Spread this over roils or croissants. for lunch. Keep extra eggs because you can make egg salad for sandwiches.

There;s nothing like eating something uncomplicated that doesn't require a lot of prep time. it could be a sandwich or even just a bowl of oatmeal. Whatever it takes to satisfy, then go for it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Sweet Side Of Vinegar

Vinegar is the much maligned condiment. It's also second a s in oil and vinegar. People talk about sour type s that have a vinegar personality or face. yet, this kitchen necessity is very much needed for all sorts of dishes. Its gives everything from dressings to marinades their wonderful flavor.
Vinegar has been around for about 10,000 years. The ancient Babylonians used it to preserve foods while Hannibal used it to crumble rocks during his passage through the Alps. even Cleopatra drank pearls dissolved in vinegar to win a bet. Vinegar is an all natural by product of aerobic bacteria mixing with wine or cider. You can even use it for cleaning because it gets rid of germs and bacteria easily. There are several different kinds from red wine to balsamic along with malt and apple cider. My favorites are the red wine and cider. I'm a big fan of the last because you can make a wonderful light Waldorf salad with it. Balsamic vinegar, that delight of foodies the world over has been around since the medieval period . It originated in Emilia Romano and is made through an aging process of twelve years It also involves pouring older vinegar in with freshly made ones.

Vinegar is not just for salads You can also use it in pickling which was it;s original use. Chutneys and relishes call fo r it as do slaws. The famed German dish sauerbraten starts off with a vinegar marinade. A lot of barbecue recipes call for marinating the meat in red wine vinegar. This produces a much more tender texture and it's perfect them for mixing with the actual sauce Vinegar is also used in making the well known Chinese hot and sour soup. A few tablespoons of rice wine vinegar gives the soup its' famous bite.

Vinegar doesn't mean sourness. It's a great addition to any dressing or dish. Try all sorts from balsamic to red wine to cider. Soon enough you'll be adding it to everything

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rice A Tility

Rice is one of the most versatile foods in the kitchen. it can be used a side , a main a dessert and a s flour. It can come in a variety of different types for simple or gourmet dishes. You can add anything to it from spice to sugar to make it unique and tasty.

Savory rice dishes are great for an evening and even a party meal. There' s nothing as sophisticated yet homey about risotto that perfect Northern Italian concoction made with arborio rice. Arborio is a little different than regular rice . The grains are shorter and fatter than regular rice and are also high in starch. This lends to the creaminess of such dishes as risotto Milanese, an easy and lovely saffron rich dish. Milanese and regular risotto (made with tomato and chicken gizzards) are good dishes during these snowy days.If you prefer a regular rice dish then stick with the spicy yet satisfying gumbo. The gumbo can be made first and then poured over white or brown rice. Another fun and excellent recipe is the party perfect paella. It's a blend of all sorts of meats from seafood to chicken to sausage along with peppers , corn and tomatoes. This is a great and again easy dish to make.

Rice can also be used for desserts too. Try leftover brown or white in rice pudding. Again you can vary this sweet, by adding raisins, chocolate chips or nuts to produce something that's either decadent, healthy or mix of both. Some risoterrias or rice restaurants (New York City has one or two of these) sell rice flour products such as cookies.Rice flour is great for kids who have gluten and wheat allergies. You can also buy rice flour at certain groceries.

Rice is certainly one of the most versatile kitchen staples. You can make it anyway savory or sweet and never be disappointed. Always have some on hand for some great dishes!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Joy of Noodles

The Chinese new year will be upon us soon and what better way t celebrate that with noodles. There;'s nothing like pulled noodles that are mixed with a variety of meats and veggies. Not only that they're versatile on their own or gracing a warm generous bowl of broth. What a perfect way to bring in the year of the Rabbit.

Yesterday's New York Times Dining section had an excellent article plus recipe about noodles. The piece was written by Times regular Julia Moskin and explored all different types of this Asian specialty. We American s are used to just the lo mein which means tossed preferably in a wok . However la mien noodles are gaining in popularity. The phrase translates into pulled and the noodle making process is not unlike making pizza dough. There is a lot of stretching and pulling to create a fine kind of Asian pasta not unlike tagliarini. . The noodles should have crunch and texture ad a sort of chewiness, Imagine a very tough spaghetti that snaps in your mouth . Noodle shops have been around for 1,000 years in China and haven't really changed over the centuries.

The noodles are not just plain tasting, like pasta. Some are seasoned with fresh chilies , cumin and Szechuan peppercorns for fire and bite. There are also blander egg noodles and ones that are made with an ash called peng. these produce a more tender noodle thanks to the alkali that interferes with the gluten. The noodle dishes have all sorts of meats and veggies along with spices in them. Popular ones include chicken ginger and cabbage. other have ingredients like winter squash and along with radishes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and mushrooms. Red pepper and fresh ginger are always used as is cardamon and star anise.

Next week is the year of the Rabbit It's time to celebrate the new year and welcome in prosperity. it's also time to enjoy the best of Chinese noodles. They're a great way of welcoming in the holiday!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

End Of The Minimalist Era

The New York Times has gone through more shakeups in the last few years than any other paper. There's talk of it going completely online, eliminating its'151 year old print format. Sections have been revamped and reduced. Now these changes have hit the Wednesday Dining section Mark Bittman's has written today's last The Minimalist column,

The Minimalist was a relatively new addition to The Times Dining section. there was always a food section every Wednesday. That was a norm for almost every US paper. At that time it was called Dining In/Dining Put and the section was not started by Bittman but by Rick Flaste. Mr. Bittman took it over a few years later. His goal was , in his own words to make home cooking more accessible. He did. His global audience learned a thing or two about cooking and how to throw together simple ingredients to form gourmet dishes.

Some of his favorites are memorable. I remember his chicken under a brick recipe. This was based on pollo al mattone recipe from Etruscan Italy . After deboning,spicing and buttering a chicken it is them spread out in a skillet and cooked under a heavy tile or brick. The end result is wonderfully flavored and tender meat. Another interesting recipe was his watermelon and tomato salad, combining both of summer's best flavors in one salad. Another one is a simple spaghetti with scrambled eggs and scrambled eggs with shrimp.

There;s no need to miss Mr. Bittman. He will be featured in the Sunday Times magazine food section taking over from the Dining section's editor Pete Wells. Mr. Bittman also wrote a cook book featuring these simple yet interesting recipes. As long as there's a Mark Bittman, there will always be a Minimalist.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bread Pudding That Comfort Dessert

Winter days demand comfort food including sweet , homestyle desserts.Nothing fits the bill better than bread pudding. It's the perfect end to hearty stews or casseroles. It's also great ending to a Sunday lunch on a snowy day. Best of all bread pudding is a yummy snack, enjoyed while cozied up with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

bread puddign is one fo the oldest desserts. Even the ancient Egyptians had a variation of it as did the Syrians and Indians. They all involved some kind of stale bread mixed with milk ,stale bread and some kind of sweetener such as honey . Custards and puddings didn't come about until the Middle Ages so that's when eggs were added to give it body. During the18th Century the dish was given mostly to sick people as a kind of nourishment It was also a good way of getting rid of stale bread. Bread puddings can be savory like the Italy's Piedmont's dish zuppa montagna where bread is cooked with chicken broth and then layered with Swiss cheese or sweet like the American and British versions. French toast or pain perdu is a cousin of bread pudding

The dish is one of the easiest to make. It requires leftover bread . This is up to taste. Most prefer a good white bread that will chewy yet absorbent of all the other flavors. Some prefer a denser type such as Italian or French. Challah is good type of bread to use too. Eggs are also added to give it a custardy taste ans texture along with vanilla extract butter and sugar. Raisins are a must however if your family doesn't like them sub in sliced almonds. or dried cranberries. Sauces are the recent addition to bread puddings. They're usually made up of buttery rich caramel you can also have a citrus sauce such as a lemon or orange. Chocolate is good too if you're working with sweeter breads. Use bourbon for extra kick or stick with vanilla for tradition's sake. Some bread pudding fans even top their servings with a good covering of whipped cream or make a dusting of powdered sugar.

There's nothing like a big bowl of bread pudding on a wintry day. It's like a security blanket for your taste buds!This treat is the ultimate comfort food and dessert. It's sweet and soothing, perfect with a good hot cup of coffee or tea!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Famed Languedoc Region

French regional food is always the best. It reflects the people and their centuries year old recipes. it also represents the land and waters that fresh veggies, organic meat and newly caught seafood come from. This is certainly true in France's Languedoc area, a beautiful section located on the Mediterranean.

Languedoc has always stood in the shadow of its' more famous neighbor, Provence. Foodies go mad for Provencale cooking,from its' bouillabaisse to its' saffron infused sauces. However Languedoc, the region to Provence's east also has some amazing dishes as well. The most famous is cassoulet, that delicious melange of duck and pork, beans and tomatoes. Wild boar is another popular dish being served in the more mountainous and sometimes chillier areas of the region. Confit du canard is another well loved recipe using duck legs poached in their own fat. Truffles also abound so lives. The Langdociennes make a tapanade using olives form their
hillsides. Seafood is also popular and a fish stew . bourride,is made with aioli , the garlicky mayonnaise.

The region also has some amazing orchards. Cherries, apricots and peaches are in abundance, here thanks to the temperate climate. Clafoutis is a thick buttery flan covering dark sweet cherries. 9thanks to the Spanish influence on the regions' most western border) . Almonds figure big here too,. although most Langdociennes would end their dinners with some fruit and possible blue cheese . Blue cheese originate here and they region is proud of it. France's famed lavender honey is also made in this region and is used in creating sweet, floral infused pastries.

Languedoc is every foodie and gourmet;s destination. it is a quieter version of Provence, Yet it's cuisine packs a punch. It has given France andthe world some of th e best known dishes from cassoulet to clafoutis.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Smarties Rock!

Nothing beats a fun roll of Smarties candies. In the States and Canada they're they fruity tasting little tablets that come in long tubelike packs. They're a fun candy as a snack and also a great way of getting a quick sugar rush. The worst or the best part is you can't just eat one roll. You usually have to go through three or four - or until you're sick of them.

Smarties originated in 1949 in Bloomfield , New Jersey when an English immigrant Eddie Dee created these fruity little wafers. They company moved to Ontario Canada where they're known as Rockets and Union , New Jersey. There are about about six smarties colors, The white is orange/cream, the white pineapple, the pink cherry, the green strawberry, the purple grape and the orange is well - orange. What I love to do with them is open the pack and eat them by color grouping. - I think almost everyone does this. There are also bigger sized Smarties and even sour Smarties along with Smarties lollipops. The candy is not connected to the British Smarties which are kind of a large M&M.

Recently there has been some controversy. Middle schoolers have taken to "smoking " the rolls. They crust the the candies into a fine powder, put the tube in their mouth and suck in the dust exhaling quickly . as if smoking . This has caused a lot of problems for this innocent little candy. Kids should just enjoy them as they were originally meant to be. They're just a fun snack to be enjoyed on the playground or while doing homework.

Smarties are one of the best candies out there. It's always a treat to buy a bag of them and then gleefully unwrap the rolls.You never know what flavors you'll get. Every rolled combo is a surprise!Smarties are just fun!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Raising Organic Foodies

Parents always want the best for their kids. They give them Baby Einstein and toddler lessons in soccer and math. They want them to go to the best schools and get excellent grades. They cater to their whims, whether it's the princess or skateboarding phase. Parents should also care about what's going into their kids too. It's best to get them hooked on all natural and organic from an early age. Surprisingly enough little Missy or Junior will be thankful and grateful later on.

You can start out at the earliest phase. Making baby food is the best way. of controlling what they eat. After all the homemade stuff has no preservatives or added chemicals. You can make very simple mixes using organic fruits and veggies along with free range meats. Some common veggies to use are peas, which are high in calcium and protein. potatoes, turnips, winter squash and beets. As kids get older you can combine these into fun and colorful succotashes along with great sides. Steam them with garlic or ginger for tasty main meals. You can also use dried or baked veggies as healthy snacks. For example, dry out peas sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt in a low temp oven.These addictive munchies are even tastier than potato or corn chips

What happens when those little foodies grow up to be rebellious teen foodies? Indulge them every so often. Yes, it's neat to have that Slurpee and heaven only knows what's in it hot dog. Yet if you want them to eat healthy then put them in charge of menu planning and cooking. They can come up with fun stuff like homemade whole wheat pizzas with fresh tomato and mozzarella .Other cool and healthy dishes include stir fries that have fresh veggies and chicken in them or wild salads that have arugula and wheat grass. Try putting a few organic apples and pears with their lunches or just have the fruit out as quick to grab snacks. Also nix the sodas. Buy a juicer and have teen foodies come up with fruit combo drinks that they can mix with seltzer.

Everyone wants the best for their kids. That should include giving them organic , homemade food, full of not only love but plenty of vitamins and nutrients. Pass on the legacy of wholesome, healthy food. Eating this way will be beneficial throughout their entire lives.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pancake Upgrade

Pancakes are one of the most loved and most cherished foods to make. Everyone loves them whether they be in short stacks or long, covered with syrup and dripping with butter. They're our security blanket on cold winter mornings. They're our go to vacation breakfast food, easy to make in stamp sized motel kitchen.s However they re boring. It's time for an upgrade.

Mark Bittman, , urged this in his The Minimalist column in yesterday's New York Times Dining section.Basic pancakes are easy, to make , he writes, however after a while they kind of lose their zing with just the basic ingredients. He suggests tweaking them even by simply changing the flour. Buckwheat pancakes are wonderful, as are whole wheat. Anything brown is good for you and you can add to their wholesomeness with some nuts and rolled oats. Another suggestion is even adding some corn meal for a different taste and texture.

Pancakes make great blank canvasses. Mr. Bittman also give out ideas for making them fruitier by adding sliced bananas or trying different spices and nuts.Peanut butter or chocolate chip pancakes are recommended too . These are even a fun dessert, just served with whipped cream and maybe a drizzle of chocolate syrup. You can also vary the pancake batter too. Add more flour for a denser texture, less i f you want a more crepe like skillet cake. Also add more baking powder for a cakier type of pancake or more sugar for sweeter ones. make them with separated eggs, beating the white into almost a meringue like fluff. Then add to the batter for light puffy, souffle type pancakes.

Pancakes are a great comfort food. There's no denying that. However they can be a bit boring. Spice them up with different variations for breakfast, dessert or even snack. Experiment with them every now and then. There are a dozen ways how!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking For Kitty And Fido Too

Americans love their pets. It's evident in what we spend on them per year and the lengths we go t to keep them healthy and happy. Some pet parents are now even creating their own pet foods. This is a sweeping trend - not unlike regular parents making their own organic baby food. Making your own pet food does have pluses. However it does have one or two drawbacks too.

The entire concept was explored in today's New York Times Dining section. Samantha Storey wrote an interesting piece that included pet parent interviews and vets regarding this new trend. Cats and dogs receive a mix of organic veggies and grains mixed in with free range meats such as chicken, beef and lamb. It is costly in some cases with just one meal costing anywhere from $12 to $15 to make. Cat food sells for about a quarter a can (depending on where you shop)pet parents do have to be schooled in creating their companions food. Animals require calcium and cats taurine for their bones and eyesight. Some kind of calcium supplement such as Tums have to be added.

Is it worth it?The pluses are you know where the food is coming from. Unlike pet food companies that use leftover slaughter house "mystery meats" pet parents turn to their local butchers for the meat. it;s fresh and freshly ground, especially for them. The extras such as veggies and grains come from the kitchen pantry and grocery store. Home made food also clears up some health problems and in one case turned a cat's personality from cranky to sweet. However cats and dogs do need a sufficient dose of vitamins and minerals for well being and for good bone health. There's also a pet salad (a side piece written by Jeff Gordinier) . This is nothing more than wheat grass that cats love to eat it does nothing for their health, however it keeps them away from toxic plants (and also gets them to throw up easier)

If you can create your own pet food, do it. I would recommend a better blend of store bought and homemade foods. The little four legged ones will get the best of both worlds. - home cooking and specially formulated. They'll enjoy both.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Diners Not Just Short Order Anymore

Live in New Jersey and you eat at a lot of diners. My state has the most of these eateries than any other state. Almost every town has at least one. Some even have three or four in the bigger cities and towns. What makes them so much fun is that they're diverse. Diners here serve everything from breakfast to cordon blu, from hearty stacks of pancakes to just cottage cheese filled melon halves.. That's what makes for varied eating here in t he Garden State.

One of my favorites is the Coach House in North Bergen The Coach House has been there seventy years and always has a busy crowd. I love spending my Sundays and even a few holidays here. (it's perfect for Christmas Mass service brunch).What I love about it is its' diversity of different dishes. One week I'll just have a filling appetizer , the next week , one of their tasty homemade soups and salad bar. Like other diners, it has a wide range of steaks, roasts and pastas. It's also known for its' Greek specialties too. Another plus about diners is that they can serve these dishes at any time. Order a dinner at 3 AM and or a brekfast at noon. A diner is there to cater to you!

Another great thing about Jersey diners is that most of their pastries are homemade. The Coach House is known for it's cupcakes, large muffins like creations topped with a dollop of butter cream frosting. Other diners throughout the state are well known for their melt in your mouth fruit topped cheesecakes as well as their seven layer cakes. Many of them even bake their own cookies and they're just as good as any bakery's . A little known fact - some diners can even make birthday and special occasion cakes for you if you ask. After all, a diner's bakery is located in the basement and it's responsible for all the rolls , buns and other baked items that are served.

New Jersey diners are not just onion rings and burgers along with an egg cream or a Coke. They can provide you with delicious homemade soups, top of the line sirloins and roasts and fresh baked sweets. They can cater to your every whim every day all day through rain and snow; any season, or holiday. That's what makes them great to visit.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happiness Is A Hot Instant Meal

There;s nothing like coming home to a hot, steaming pot pie or lasagna. Unfortunately these take a lot of time and effort to make, not to mention having all the ingredients at hand. Luckily this is the modern age where we can cook wholesome meals in just minutes. They're still the same as what our moms and grannies made - but quicker. Much quicker.

A good dinner (or even lunch) here in the States is pot pies. This American classic was one of the first TV dinners back in the Fifties and it's still going strong. Pot pies are wonderful because they has everything, They're basically meat, veggies and even bread all rolled into one crusty, yummy, juicy pie. Serve them with a salad and it's a full meal. Some fast food chains such as Boston Market offer a delicious, homestyle version that's the size of a small pizza.Another instant favorite is pizza itself. A lot of brands such as Red Baron and California Kitchen offer individual ones that you can buy in your freezer section. Nowadays they have so many different toppings, from the exotic artichoke to the much loved pepperoni, Again add some salad to instant pizza and even a glass of red wine and you've got a great meal to come home to.

Comfort food can be made in a sec these days too. There are plenty of instant baked macs out there. One of my favorites is Stop and Shop's house brand.It's a perfect blend of tiny elbow macaroni with a creamy cheddar sauce. The cheese is thick and it evenly coats every piece of pasta perfectly. I just love it and for me it's the best dinner after a tough day. Potato pancakes, another soothing comfort food are easy to make now thanks to so many brands offering instant versions. Gone are the days of grating potatoes and onions and then mixing them with eggs to form the perfect round. These are just pop into the frying pan or microwave and then serve with sour cream or applesauce.

Happiness is coming home to a hot meal. More happiness is making it in just minutes. Nowadays it's easy thanks to all the great instant dinners out there. It's nice to have homemade things if you have the time. However the frozen stuff can offer the same sort of comfort without all the fuss and bother.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Foodie Blues

Even foodies get the blues. it;s that doldrums time when holiday goodies are now just a memory and the Super Bowl feasts are just a dream. Winter stews aren't just hearty anymore. They're boring. All those soups and grilled cheese sandwiches are becoming flat. What to do?

Liven up your diet. Better yet liven up the whole culinary experience

i;ts January , time to try new things. Eat stuff you've never dared eat. If you've always had reservations about cuisines you've never tried, now is the time to do so. Make them yourself or visit restaurants. Eat foods that aren't normally associated with winter. A lot of people just crave a big green salad in the middle of all this ice and snow. Go for it. There's something refreshing about a lunch of Cobb or Caesar salad with a glass of iced tea. or do the fun breakfast for dinner route. have pancakes a long with bacon and eggs for supper . Or just serve appetizers like wings or pigs in blanket for a lunch or dinner.

Another fun foodie idea is take cooking and baking courses.Many community schools offer some great four to six week ones that you can learn everything from cake decorating to Italian cooking.They're fun to take plus you get to eat your projects.Of course if you ave the money you can fly to Italy or France and enroll in a winter cooking course there. Overseas culinary studies are a great way to hone your skills plus soak up a culture too. Some will certify you or give you a degree, perfect if you're thinking about entering the restaurant business afterwards.

Don't let the foodie blues get you down. Experiment with different cuisines. Try something new. Take that baking or cooking class you always wanted to take. Get out of your dull culinary existence and go for the unexplored! It'll be quite an adventure!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Good Jersey Pizza

Anyone living in New Jersey can tell you we have good Italian food here.days I have had more . Our diners, already laden with a million different foods now have a large pizza and pasta list. I've bneen dining on all sorts here from pizza bagels to the thin crust oven baked kind. Our neighboring state, New York may claim they have the best however I think there is some competition from the Garden State here.

I recently ate at botht he HEritage Diner and Brooklyn Pizzeria in Hackensack , NJ. Hackensack is one of the state's oldest, having been a trading post between the Dutch and th e Indians during th e 1600's. Who knew that over 360 years later it would known more for its' food than anything else (beisdes a mention in a Billy Joel song). I have had the pizza bagels at the famed Heritage Diner on River Road, This is one of the towns' oldest diners (over forty years in existence) It;s known for a large variety of different types of cuisines from the standard burger and fries to Greek. However it has an extensive Italian menu . I tried their fun pizza bagels which is a jumbo size bagel laden with a ton of sauce and mozzarella. it was too huge to eat and has t be shared. I'm looking forward to their pizzas in the future along wit some of the regular diner fare.

Down the road from the Heritage is Brooklyn Pizzeria. This is a small cozy kind of place that's perfect for date night. Their pizza is phenomenal, being equal to that of th e famous John's down in New York City's Bleeker Street. The crust is super thin and crisp while the sauce is rich with spices and garlic. I love th e fact that they are so may topping.s I chose olive and my individual pie was covered with them. I plan on going back to Brooklyn Pizzeria to try their antipasto . This is done in the traditional style with cold cuts , veggies and cheeses as well as their penne in butter sauce.

The Garden State has small culinary meccas dotted through it. Hackensack is one of them, known for it's Italian food. If your;e in the area , stop into the Heritage Diner or Brooklyn Pizzeria. You'll have the best Italian food in the state!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Return Of Good Cocoa

Foods from a century ago were supposedly were the best. They were more organic, more flavorful and created with craftsmanship and care. At least one food may be going back to its; root .Chocolate. A new discovery of the extinct cocoa beans used a century ago are coming back. This is true excitement in the chocolate world.

This was a small but captivating article in yesterday's new York Times Dining section. Dining regular , Florence Fabricant penned the piece about the Nacional cocoa beans,.The plant produces 100 per cent white beans as opposed to the usual purple. This is not where white chocolate comes from, (that's made of cocoa, sugar and milk solids). A white bean means a less acid , more mellow flavored cocoa. Unfortunately there is one slight problem. The beans are located in seeds within the pod hard to tell when they will be white or purple. Another thing that makes the beans so special is that they're grown at an altitude of 3,500 feet above sea level. This is rare because cacao grows only at 2,500 miles above sea level.

Nacional chocolate is the processed , first in Ecuador where it is , dried, fermented and processed . They are then shipped to Lima and from there - where else Switzerland . It is in the chocolate capital of the world where they are are processed into a concoction called Fortunato No 4. It's a 68 per cent high butterfat chocolate that's easy to use. The article mentions that Moonstruck Chocolatiers of Portland Oregon user Nacional chocolate. I've checked it out. The truffles and caramels made with it are expensive but they look sooo good.

Finding the Nacional cacao pod is a great treasure, indeed. It means a return to a purer, richer form of chocolate. Hopefully, through modern botany, the plant can be reproduced or at the very least bred with a lesser cacao plant to produce a good hybrid. It would definitely bring back the age of elegant chocolate and be a boon to chocolate lovers worldwide!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It All Started With A Hasp

Not many people would use woodworking tools for kitchen prep. There is the occasional hammer pressed into service when you need crushed ice but maybe that's it. Yet The Grace family discovered that their line of hasps turned into a foodie;s must have almost overnight. Their Microplane line is well coveted by bakers and cooks in the professional and amateur worlds.

The Grace family was featured in today's New York Times Dining section with an interview by regular contributor, John T. Edge. Richard Grace founder of the company started out by first producing printer parts which had extremely Sharp edges. Mr Grace and d his children , Chris and maria, felt they could create something more and the idea of woodworking tools came into being. Their hasps were an overnight sensation - not with carpenters and craftsmen as originally intended but with food enthusiasts. Foodies loved these finely wrought smoothers that created perfect, feathery lemon zests and fluffy clouds of Parmesan cheese. (There is also a hasp that is used for pedicures as well to slough off dead skin). Foodies also loved their sharp cutting tools for dicing and chopping too. These produced finely cut edges and were perfects for veggies and meats.

I have seen Microplane graters in use at many restaurants. They do produce almost filament fine shreds of Parmesan which blend in perfectly with a steaming bowl of pasta. Bartenders also use them to grate star anise and gingers for drinks as well as adding zests. There is talk of adding one that shaves ice which intrigues me -a huge fan of Hawaiian shaved ice. I would buy that save for one problem . Unfortunately Hawaiian ice does require one good foot long , half a foot thick block of ice to create a fluffy, almost snow like treats. Where would I get that and where would I store it during the hot summer weather?

If you're a food enthusiast, then definitely consider buying the Microplane graters. They 're a good addition to any kitchen and help to create perfect restaurant type dishes. Look into them today

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spice Rack 101 Part Two

Yesterday we covered a few of the spices that are in that mysterious spice rack everyone owns. Most racks contain at least ten to fifteen bottles , Some contain twenty. Most cooks only use the basic, everyday one s like rosemary or oregano. yet there;s so much more. Not only that, these will liven up any meal and create a wonderful flavors that you'll love!

Chefs love cooking with tarragon , thanks to it;s distinctly fresh from the garden flavor. It's great in delicate chicken and fish sauces but it's also good flavoring chicken or egg salad. Celery seeds are another spice rack staple.These are good flavoring any ham dish ,especially those made with devilled ham .Try them in a ham spread or a dip.Coriander is another spice that's versatile. You can use it to add zing to soups and dips but also to curry dishes. For a more soothing spice, experiment with dried dill. It's a staple for any salmon dish but also makes a wonderful dressing when mixed with sour cream.Serve it over freshly sliced cucumbers.

Spice racks also have their sweet sides too. There;s always cinnamon and nutmeg. We know cinnamon is good in making coffee cakes, muffins and buns. it;s also good spicing up cappuccino and hot cocoa. You can also use it to flavor farina and oatmeal too. Nutmeg is another sweet spice. It;s a great topping fo r homemade egg custards and vanilla puddings.It makes an interesting ingredient to sugar cookie dough . giving a normally bland recipe some fillip. Use it to sprinkle over cappuccino and hot chocolate too.

never be afraid of your spice rack. Try each and every spice to add color and flavor to your dishes.It'll elevate them from ordinary to gourmet!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spice Rack 101 Part One

We all have it in our kitchens. We use some fo the cotents in our cooking, yet do we really have a good working knowledge of the entire rack There are some like thyme and oregano that constantly have to be replaced, We know them. We know they're good in soups and sauces. Yet other spices like turmeric and cumin can languish for years without us trying them. It's time to go the spice route and discover what whats work best with them.

Mostly everyone uses up their bottles of dried oregano and rosemary. They' re great sprinkled in sauces as wellon pizza. it adds flavor and depth. However many people don't know that grilled meats can benefit from a lemon and rosemary rub or that oregano is good for bringing out pork's flavor. You can also use rosemary to flavor foccaccio. it gives the bread a strong, earthy taste. Thyme is a wonderful seasoning as is sage. Thyme is good for flavoring in soups and it's the driving flavor behind Manhattan clam chowder. Sage is another versatile herb , like oregano and rosemary.It is excellent in stuffing, really giving its' distinct flavor. However sage can also be added to a butter sauce for pumpkin ravioli and whole wheat pastas.

What about those odd colored spices like turmeric and cumin. Turmeric is used most often in Indian dishes. It add color and that great curry taste to rices and chicken. it is also good for you. It has antioxidants and also phyto-chemicals which help in easing arthritis pain. Cumin , another spice rack staple is excellent in chili and huevos rancheros. It's the perfect addition to any salsa as well and figures big in Mexican cooking. It's also great in helping to rid the body of urinary track infections and act as a natural sleep aid.

Don't be afraid of using everything in your spice rack. It's there for in your kitchen for a reason Any spice can turn ordinary food into extraordinary. See what you have and then get creative.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Versatility Of Ravioli

Ravioli is one of those pastas everyone loves.Unlike others pastas it's versatile in flavors and shapes. Not only that but i talways tastes good. You can serve it a variety of ways and it'll still be the star of the week.

Most people make the little stuffed squares the traditional way. Plain or beef filled are good with a hearty marinara or traditional Neapolitan sauce consisting of both beef and pork . However ravioli with a lighter stuffing, of say, spinach can go with a fresh made tomato sauce with just picked tomatoes and olive oil. For pumpkin or squash filled ones think a light butter and sage sauce .This brings out the taste and sweetness of the filling. Seafood filled raviolis such as those stuffed with lobster or crab are excellent with a creamy vodka or fiery arrabiata sauce.

Raviolis are also good in soup. There;s nothing as filling or satisfying as a broth filled with cheese or meat stuffed baby ravioli. It makes for a nice dinner on a cold winter;s night,. Another way is fried ravioli. This has been a restaurant trend for the past several years. Just fry them up as you would dumplings and then serve with a variety of sauces. Most eateries serve them with marinara and even ranch dressing but you can also add an Asian spin by with soy and ginger sauces.

Raviolis are so versatile and fun you can have them in so many different ways. They're good the traditional way with a hearty sauce but you can also opt for them fried or in soup. Enjoy them any way. They're always delicious!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dunkel Beers A Treat For A Winter's Night

Usually beer is reserved for the Summer. There's nothing like a cold brewski with a barbecue or a shared pizza on the deck. yet winter calls for it too. Dunkel beers or dark beers are perfect for this time o year.They are hearty and a complex blend of flavors - not unlike winter dishes. They are the perfect chill chasers

IN the New York Times Wednesday's Dining section Eric Asimov explains this brew. Dunkel is from the German word for dark. These beers have a chocolate color as opposed to a light golden one. The taste also has cocoa overtones thanks to a special caramelizing technique called decoction. Mr. Asimov tested several from Austria and Germany however there are some American brews that are also very good. He gave three stars to one out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin called Lakefront Eastside Dark and also to the Saranac Black Forest brewed in Utica , New York.

What goes with Dunkel beer? Not surprisingly rye breads and hearty meats. there is an extra recipe from another Times contributor Florence Fabricant. It is a mash of borlotti beans along with pastrami and various spices and mustards. I can also see Dunkels being served with hearty fresh off the bone ham and pork sandwiches on mustard slathered pumpernickel or rye bread.Dunkel beers are probably very good with sauerbraten too during these cold nights.

For an interesting variation try Dunkel beers. They are hearty and flavorful. Perfect for these chilly, snowy nights when the landscape resembles the Bavarian or Austrian Alps!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Foodie Down Virus Or Food Poisioning


I either have a nasty virus or some vicious food poisoning. it's taking a great effort to write this. I'll be backtomorrow with my take on Eric Asimov's NY TImes Spirit's columns,

Look at past Foodie Pantry entries, I can't even look at real food right now.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Making A Hash Of It

hash is always a cold weather favorite. It;s also a good way of getting rid of leftover meat. Besides what breakfast wouldn't be complete without a side order of it? It also makes a good lunch and quick dinner too and it's a snap to make up.

Today's New York Times' Dining section celebrated this much made American classic. The article, written by Dining regular, Julia Moskin show not only recipes but also where to get the best made hash in the New York Metro area. Homemade hash is easy to make. It's usually leftover meat fried with potatoes and sweetened with caramelized onions. Technically you can use any leftover but corned beef or any kind of red meat or sausage is the best. Potatoes are usually cubed but you can add some mashed to give it body and binding. Traditional hash has two sunny side up eggs plopped down on it before it's served.

There are some variations. The corned beef is sometimes doubly spiced t give the hash zing. Instead of cooking it in the usual water some chefs cook theirs in oil ,leaving a beautifully browned hash. A Spanish version includes chorizo and some barely cooked eggs over french fries. Of course there is the famed red flannel hash cooked with beets - hence the name - and horseradish. Some use corned bread to soak up whatever juices the hash has (this seems the most tastiest). One chef serves it with a side of dandelion greens for a Southern spin on it . Another idea is just a small green side salad if it's a lunch or dinner hash.

Hash is a great dish any time of day.It's also an efficient way of getting rid of leftovers is tasty fashion. Best of all you can make it any way you prefer!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Warm And Hearty Winter Meals

Now that' it's January it's time to think of filling ourselves and our families with good warm dinners. there''s a lot to choose from , casseroles, stews cassoulets. These are hearty and stick to your ribs nourishing. They're the perfect come home to dish after blustery and snowy cold days.

Casseroles are originally French in origin and refer to a saucepan . It is usually any kind of meat with vegetables and bound together with either flour pasta or rice. There is usually liquid added such as stock or broth but you can also add wine gin or cider. All casseroles have a crunchy topping. The most famous is the tuna one. This is a perfect one on Friday or Saturday nights. and it;s simple to make.One of the easiest is baked mac and cheese.This you can have fun with because you can add bacon or ham to give it more flavor or vary the cheese by using sharp cheddar or even jalapeno for extra bite.

Stews and cassoulets are another way t go. Stews are the easiest because you can make them in the morning via crockpot. Then you can let them cook up all day. There's; nothing like a hearty beef stew to come home to . Better yet it's pretty easy to make. You can add onion soup and beef gravy for a really thick one . make some dumplings too . Cassoulet is a little harder to whip up but not that complicated. This is a variation of the casserole yet has some stew elements in it. A true French one has duck along with sausage and beans in it. You can also make it with added lamb and pork too.

There's nothing like a warm and hearty winter dishes during these cold nights. They;re not only tasty but filling. They're the perfect frosty weather comfort foods!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tough Foodie Resolutions

It's tough being a foodie and dealing with new year's resolutions. After all what's bad for us is usually the tastiest. What's good for us usually isn't. What to do? Try to be good throughout the whole year but throw in a little naughtiness along the way (which I guess can be said for life in general too).

If there's something you crave like soda (my vice) then in once in a while. Slowly wean yourself away from it. Try flavored seltzer which has the carbonation and the taste but no sugar and absolutely no calories. Surprisingly it's a refreshing kick , especially with ice added. There are some great flavors too , like lemon lime, peaches and cream and my fave black cherry. For fast food lovers think about having that burger and fries maybe once a month. That way it's something you can still eat but it;s becomes a treat rather than a habit.

The worst foodie vice - anything dessert or sweet. Candy is just the downfall of anyone making a resolution. You can change your sugar habit Try the extra dark chocolate which is much better for you than the milk. Or better yet. try chocolate covered cranberries and blueberries. Yes. they;re decadent but the dark chocolate and the berries are a little more healthier than those milk chocolate enrobed caramels. Cakes and cookies are another matter. Limit yourself to maybe a treat once in a great while. have a cup cake every so often to satisfy your cravings. That usually does to for many sugar addicted foodies.

I;ts tough making any kind of resolution and sticking to it. Luckily with food there are so man ways t get around it while still resolving . it just takes creativity and a bit of will power.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Have A Happy, Healthy, Tasty 2011

It's the New Year and I wish everyone a year filled with health, happiness and new treats and tastes. For myself I am going to be getting that juicer with my Target gift cards. I want to be healthier for this next year. I'm looking forward to making some dietary changes (goodbye white anything , hello brown and wholesome, good bye soda, helloooo fresh juice!!!!!!)

Hopefully there will be some kicks along the way. There are always new fads and trends to sample, along with new restaurants and cafes to try. I look forward to writing about all of them in "11 . (can you believe how fast this century is flying by???)

If there's anything you want to see or ask about feel free. Foodie Pantry is always open.