Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ten Things...Number Five

Inhale. Exhale. Cocoa.
It has not only an intoxicating scent, it has a color that is difficult to mimic as well. It is chocolate, but it is chocolate in its purest form. Cocoa powder is the ground product of the cocoa bean solids- solids being the bits left after the cocoa butter has been extracted. It is in the butter where the fat resides- the powder is fat free. The powder also contains the antioxidants so good for your health. Yet another reason to rejoice! In natural form, cocoa powder is a yellow brown hue. If it has been "Dutched" it is that deeper palish brown that is so pleasing to the eye. Dutching is the process of treating the bean with an alkaline solution prior to extracting and grinding. Dutching rids the cocoa of its acids giving it a much more smooth palate. Dutched cocoa is more mild than natural cocoa and bakes up a little differently in the oven. Simply put, Dutch cocoa needs an acidic partner like baking powder if you wish your baked goods to rise.
The cocoa tree, Theobroma
cacao, is native to the Americas.
It's use seems to reach clear back to the Mayans, who made a thick
drink from roasted cocoa beans, water, and spices. Today, cocoa beans
are grown in most areas twenty degrees to the north and south of the
Equator, with about seventy percent of the crops grown in West Africa.
It is interesting to note that the Greek origin of the word "Theobroma"
is "Theo" meaning God, and "brosi" meaning food. Cocoa is literally
The Food of The Gods.
In my pantry, I prefer Green and Blacks Organic Cocoa Powder which is Dutched. It is Fairtrade which is an important factor to consider when so much of the cocoa crops come out of the Third World. I prefer the Dutched cocoa for its smooth flavor, and most of my baking with cocoa tends to be more elegant in style, and less bakery "fluff" in style- so the lack of rising is usually not a problem. Green and Blacks also makes an incredible glass of cold chocolate milk, and a hot cocoa version that is to die for. Never cook your hot cocoa over the stove top. Place it in a crock pot on low heat and let it simmer for hours. This method does not scald the milk and the richness in flavor of the cocoa is not lost. Here is my all time favorite cocoa dish straight from the kitchen diva herself...Martha Stewart. And if you ever tell a soul I passed along a Martha Stewart recipe, I will emphatically deny it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ten Things...Number Four

Number four on our list of ingredients to keep at a moment's notice is Basmati Rice.

The people of the United States consume roughly 3.9 million metric tons of rice annually compared to India's 85.25 million metric tons per year. Take a peak inside any of your friend's pantries and your likely to see Minute Rice- which is a darned shame if you ask us. Life is too short for Minute Rice. I personally think rice is highly under rated and a lot of the reason has to do with our instant society. The white goopy mess staring up at you from your plate is not what rice was meant to be- not by a long shot. Basmati is a long grained rice, approximately four times longer than its width, and mainly grown in India. Any country that can pack down 85.25 million tons of rice in twelve months must really know their rice. It can also be cultivated in Pakistan. Basmati has an unmistakable fragrance and very delicate flavor. It is feminine.
Is your Minute Rice feminine? Nope- didn't think so. Basmati literally is the translation of "the fragrant one" in that highly revered language called Sanskrit. Grown exclusively in the Punjab region, Basmati is a product of foothill paddy field farming in a basin literally created by the formation of the Himalayas.

When cooked, Basmati grains do not stick together like most rice varieties, and this outcome has a lot to do with it's charm. It yields both a fluffy and dry grain when cooked. You may purchase Basmati in both brown and white cultivars which makes it very convenient depending on your recipe.
It can be steamed, boiled, or baked enabling it to be added to a host of different dishes ranging from curries to pilafs to combination dishes such as casseroles and stir fries. Basmati rice is available grown organically, and if you make changes in your ingredients from conventional to organic foods, this is an imperative place to start. As we mentioned before, it is the second largest crop behind maize, and an organic shift here could make enormous change in the world's food production.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ten Things...Number Three

is our number Three selection of Demi- Glace, which has me literally salivating from just uploading the photo of the jar. Demi- Glace is available in Beef, Chicken, and Veal flavorings from well stocked food shops, and we find them indispensable in the kitchen. The Williams Sonoma brand is excellent. The price on a good variety will cause you to choke right there in the store but because they are of such high concentration, a little goes a long way. They last quite a while, up to about six months if kept in the refrigerator once opened. Demi- Glace can be frozen indefinitely, which is good because investing in a high quality set of all three will probably set you back a cool hundred bucks. The Demi- Glace is a little known secret of some of the best chefs because they allow you to add very deep complex flavors to a dish without the time required to make your own reductions on the stove top. If all this is sounding a little Julia Child, whose name again is gracing everything related to cooking thanks to the hilariously funny Julie Powell, that's because the Demi- Glace is part of many classical French recipes. It is literally the foundation of the French sauce, and we all know how the French love their sauce! But seriously, back to the salivating portion of our story...the aroma of Demi- Glace is amazing. It has such a deep variation of flavor because making it involves using natural beef or poultry stock, along with seasoned aromatics, pieces of meat, browned bones, few vegetables, and a bit of red wine or sherry and simmering the pot for nearly a full day. It really is an art, and if done with a careful eye, gives you a very rich and dense glaze that just brings your dish to life. This "glaze" is exactly what the French mean by Glace. The Demi- Glace has its roots in Escoffier's Sauce Espagnole, which is really a separate essay in itself- and one we will definitely cover in the future. Traditionally, the glaze is made by combining one part Sauce Espagnole to one part veal stock- or beef or chicken stock as the case may be, and then preparing the careful reduction. What is so great about keeping a jar of prepared Demi- Glace in your pantry is that your plain and basic rice or risotto dishes, as well as vegetable and meat dishes can go from average to very memorable in the blink of an eye. I love a good brunch on a lazy weekend but I get a little weary of the traditional brunch fare. On special brunch occasions I like to present a dish of risotto in a Beef Demi- Glace sauce with fresh mushrooms and a hint of garlic. I still serve up heaping mounds of fresh scrambled farm eggs in parsley and mild cheese alongside but somehow this pairing is uniquely elegant. My goal this year is make make more of my own Demi- Glaces because, quite frankly, I have found an incredible recipe and want to perfect this skill. Perhaps no other addition to your kitchen will make such a wide sweeping change as that of adding Demi- Glace to your regular cooking routine. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ten Things...Number Two

Herbs de Provence.
While herbs have been grown in the beautiful southeastern landscape of Provence in France for thousands of years, Herbs de Provence is a modern day concoction... dreamed up in the 1970's no less. Like curries, which we have applauded before, there is no magic recipe for Herbs de Provence. The main herbs which make up the blend are basil, fennel, lavender, rosemary, savory, and thyme. Other herbs can be included depending on the recipe, but thyme is usually the most recognizable by taste, and the main reason that Herbs de Provence is most often used as a rub. What is interesting to note is that if you purchase this blend in one of France's famous outdoor markets, something will be noticeably absent, and that is the lavender. Lavender is part of the Americanized Herbs de Provence, and we have to say, it was a very smart inclusion. People have been cooking with all of these individual herbs for many many years but what makes Herbs de Provence so remarkable is the manner in which we use it- from an already mixed recipe that has been allowed time to marry its flavors and aromas. Most often used as a rub for fish, meats, and vegetables, the herbs need time and heat to infuse themselves into the food, or the flavor can be a bit overpowering. The lavender addition adds so much color to this blend and it is difficult to imagine why all of France has not also embraced its presence in their secret blends.

Most of the allure of cooking with this little jar is the first moment upon releasing the aromas. It literally does conjure up an image in your minds eye of colorful lavender fields under a blue sky. Because it is used as a rub, these aromas only intensify as you break the leaves apart. Once the fish or meat has been rubbed in Herbs de Provence it is best if the dish is cooked over a grill or roasted slowly in an oven. The same goes for vegetables if this is your base.
Thick pork chops are a wonderful way to use Herbs de Provence for the first time, as is a good white fish like Halibut. Halibut should be Pacifically sourced and hook and line caught, and even then eaten on rare occasion as it is a fish that has been heavily depleted. If you really wish to knock the socks of your guests at your next weekend gathering try this menu:
Smoked Ribs rubbed in Herbs de Provence
Tiny assorted purple potatoes roasted lightly in salt and olive oil
Light mixed salad of arugula, endive, and radicchio in vinaigrette
served up with a Fragrant Chardonnay
Ribs rubbed in Herbs de Provence is something no one ever expects, and this meal will instantly transport everyone at your table to the Mediterranean. Many soup recipes also include Herbs de Provence, but may we suggest another alternative. Instead of placing the herbs in the soup, add two generous tablespoons to your favorite recipe of crusty bread. The colors and aromas wafting from the warm bread and dipped in hot potato or leek soup is a sensory indulgence. Morton and Basset make a great blend of these French herbs and you will want to keep your eyes open for the beautiful clay pots of the herbs as well sold in many gourmet markets. If you are really adventurous, try growing and blending your own formula of Herbs de Provence this coming summer.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ten Things...Number One

This month begins a series of ten ingredients that we feel are indispensable in the pantry... keeping in mind that they are in no particular order.
Starting off is Molasses, Blackstrap to be specific... it is the other Black Gold and not nearly as expensive as the black truffle, and Oh so much more versatile. Molasses comes from the processing of sugar, and it is a by product, which is kind of surprising given that most by products usually get an unpopular reputation. In Latin, the word Mel means honey. Molasses has the same viscosity as honey, and the same sweet stickiness... not even Winnie-the-Pooh would turn up his nose at a jar full of molasses. Blackstrap, which is found in our pantry, is the third grade of molasses, the first two being mild and dark. This third grade has the most sugar extracted from it and thus has the most depth of flavor. It is also, therefore, the darkest in color. There is something almost sensual about how Blackstrap molasses glides down a wooden spoon and its aroma is truly intoxicating. All this and it also has the added bonus of being loaded with vitamins and minerals on account of the sugars being extracted so thoroughly. Nearly one fifth of your daily intake of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron comes from a mere tablespoon of Blackstrap. When used in baked goods like gingerbread or spiced cookies, molasses adds a depth of flavor which is difficult to get from many other ingredients. It has the same effect as a rich cocoa in that it seems to have different levels of flavor, varying from a pleasant bitterness to a sultry sweetness all at the same pass over the tongue. Perhaps one of the best ways to introduce this Black Gold into your kitchen regime is by simply preparing a morning coffee Cajun style. One or two tablespoons of Blackstrap molasses added to a steaming mug of coffee is a match that could only have been made in heaven. A shaken few tablespoons of milk to a frothy consistency is a good topper for this morning- or evening- treat. Another way to try out molasses is by making Black Irish Ginger Cake. The aroma of this cake in the oven is like drawing moths to a flame, and you may find yourself baking one every few weeks. It is that good. My favorite recipe for this little wonder comes from a tiny cookbook called From Celtic Hearths: Baked Goods from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales by Deborah Krasner. I usually change up most every recipe I try. I did not alter this one in any fashion- it is truly a masterpiece. Sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar this cake is on our breakfast table quite often. As a matter of fact, it's on the menu tomorrow morning which is sure to give me great dreams this evening!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Have an Hour...Have Dessert

The weekend had been a busy one with no time to drop by the market. I had exactly four eggs safely tucked into the fridge and was pondering what to make for dessert at our Grandparents Sunday dinner. I had quite a bit of time to ponder as I was mopping 2000 feet of hardwood floors. I was settling on a cake as I wandered back into the kitchen to wring out the mop and was overtaken by the wonderful smell of poached eggs. Poached eggs? There goes the can't make any sort of acceptable Southern cake without eggs. Time was closing in. I pulled out more cookbooks. I was falling flat. There was no way I could arrive with something store bought- this is just not done for Sunday dinner around here. As it most always happens, the family cookbook came to the rescue. In 2007, my sister in law had painstakingly put together a published book gathering all of our family recipes. We all joke that it may very well be the last cookbook anyone could ever need. Betty Lou's Berry Cobbler was the point of inspiration. I had an hour and a couple of apples. This could work.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Peel and dice two apples (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 stick melted butter
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup milk
Combine the white and brown sugars in a small bowl and set 1 cup aside.
Mix the apples in a glass bowl with the one cup of the mixed sugars and cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. Let marinade.
Using an 8 by 8 baking dish, mix flour, the remaining 1/2 cup of mixed sugars, baking powder, salt, and milk to form a batter. Spread evenly in bottom of pan.
Pour melted butter over batter in baking dish. DO NOT STIR!
Spoon marinated apples over batter. DO NOT STIR!
Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.
Serve warm in deep dish bowls with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream.
Needless to say I walked into dinner an hour later with this amazing spiced apple scent wafting everywhere. Granny had made Southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes, a squash casserole, biscuits, fresh corn on the cob, green beans from her garden, mixed fresh fruits, and a huge pitcher of iced tea. Someone else had brought an enormous layer cake. The weather that Sunday was glorious for the beginning of August. Breezy and cool and most people took their dinners to the long porch on Granny's house. Everyone was talking about gardens. We were stuffed to the gills. And then someone mentioned dessert. The cobbler was incredible, and when I went back for seconds...well, it was gone. Definitely a new family favorite, and we promptly sat at the kitchen bar and put notes in the margin of Granny's family cookbook too!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Clean is Your Cow?

What we're talking about here is whether or not your cow that provides you with milk, cheese, yogurt, and a host of other products has been dosed with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also known as rBGH or rBST. This is a genetically engineered hormone injected into cows to increase milk production by a mere 8-17 percent. The Monsanto Corporation manufactures the product, which is sold under the trade name Posilac. While 8 to 17 percent in increased production may not seem like a lot, for dairy producers this equals big profit increases. The big question is- what is it costing you, the consumer? The FDA approved rBGH in 1993 but scientists all along had questions how a bovine hormone could affect humans consuming products made by animals injected with it. The concerns were great enough that the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia all have banned the use of the hormone in their homelands. If that's not enough to raise your eyebrows, consider this. Codex Alimentarius, the U.N. body that sets food safety standards, has refused to approve the safety of rBGH three times.

Scientists are concerned because rBGH causes certain harm to livestock injected with it. Logically, if it harms the cows, it is likely it can harm us too. Injections of rBGH increase another hormone, called IGF-1, in the cow and the cow’s milk. Studies indicate that IGF-1 survives digestion. Over production of IGF-1 in humans is linked with increased rates of colon, breast, and prostate cancer. What is not clear is if rBGH given to cows significantly increases
IGF-1 in humans.
There is great evidence that rBGH makes for not a happy cow. Use of rBGH on dairy cows increases the rate of mastitis, a bacterial udder infection, by 25%. If you have ever been a nursing mother with this condition you know the pain a mastitis can cause all too well. We'll spare you the details of the photographs showing this condition, but suffice it to say, infectious pus has no place in your milk. And dairy farmers milk right through the infection while shooting yet more drugs into the cows in the form of antibiotics.

What is important to realize is that not every dairy farmer uses rBGH. About 54% of large herds consisting of 500 animals or more, 32% of medium herds, and only 8% of small herds are known to use the hormone. Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream makers in Vermont has long been opposed to rBGH refusing to use dairy products produced in this manner. They have this to say. “We think its use is a step in the wrong direction toward a synthetic, chemically-intensive, factory-produced food supply.” So yes, you really can eat your Cherry Garcia guilt free. The people of the State of Maine had such an adverse opinion of the practice of using rBGH that the state hardly sells any dairy products produced this way.

So what's a milk lover to do?
Purchase dairy products that are labeled “rBGH-free,” “rBST-free,” or “organic.” Tell your local supermarket, favorite dairy brand, and school district that you want dairy products that were not made with rBGH. Children, infants, and pregnant women should be especially careful when eating dairy products to be sure their dairy is hormone free. Little bodies are more susceptible to hormones as they are developing. Kids and milk, ice cream, and American Cheese go together hand in hand- just make certain their cow is clean.