Wednesday, June 29, 2005 

Fourth of July Cookouts

Summer is in full swing and grilling is on the minds of many.
John Balzar of the Los Angeles Times tells us the complete story of the Weber grill. Did you know the first one was fashioned out of a Chicago Harbor buoy? There are also some good tips at the end of the article for grilling and smoking. Among them:

  • Use tongs. A fork does the same to your food as it would to a can of beer ahead of serving.

  • Oil the food, not the cooking grate. But understand, you're taking sides in one of the most enduring debates in the game.

  • Try lump charcoal. Just as there are choices in what to cook, there are options for what to cook upon. Of the 1 million tons of charcoal sold in the U.S. last year, barely 10% was specialty lump charcoal, but that percentage has grown fivefold in a decade. Aficionados claim advantages in flavor, and they note that lump charcoal still in the recognizable shape of wood is free of what one major briquette manufacturer acknowledges are "ingredients other than charcoal" in its charcoal.

  • To maintain temperatures for long-cooking food, such as a whole turkey, follow this formula: For a standard 22 1/2 -inch grill, use 25 briquettes (or the equivalent amount of lump charcoal) on each side for the first hour, adding eight per side each hour thereafter. If you want your father-in-law to believe that you have a magical touch, don't let him see you counting.

  • If you are using wood chips to add smoke flavor, soak them in water and then wrap them in aluminum foil. Use a fork to open several quarter-size holes in the foil. Throw the foil packet on the coals just before grilling. This gives you a steady flow of smoke rather than a short blast.

  • Add soaked rosemary branches to the coals when cooking meat. It will perfume your patio and flavor the food.
Joe Yonan in the Boston Globe analyzes five grills that purport to allow both high-heat grilling and low-heat barbecuing (smoking). No surprise that a Weber product comes out on top of this list as well. Julia Moskin in the New York Times says that plain burgers on the grill just get old after a while. She looks at alternative ground meat grilled dishes, many of which have a Middle Eastern origin and spice up the grill a bit. Russ Parsons looks at how to make great Santa Maria barbecue. If you're not familiar with how Santa Maria differs from regular barbecue, here's a little taste:
Although most barbecue relies on an extensive wardrobe of dry rubs, mops and sauces for its flavor, Santa Maria tri-tip comes to the table pretty much au naturel. The traditional seasoning mixture is garlic salt and black pepper. This works fine, but put together a quick garlic paste in the blender and it's even better. It lets you better control the saltiness of the meat, and the oil in the marinade helps create a crunchier crust.

This paste doesn't need much time to do its thing: Slather it on an hour before cooking and you're ready to go. Though it might seem pretty strong (six cloves of garlic!), the flavor is subtle: an initial burst of pepper followed by little more than a lingering sweetness from the garlic.

peaches, plums and apricots. Marian Burros tells us that there are plenty of condiments out there besides ketchup and mustard.

Marlena Spieler says that if you're going to have a party involving food, be sure to invite some Greeks. Sandy Thorn Clark looks at the boom in Organic Farming. Peggy Grodinsky looks at the end of an era...a Houston-area watermelon stand that had been open for 46 years is finally out of business.

Andrea Pyenson looks at the maturation of the Ice Cream Sandwich.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 

Flipping out

The New York Times food section today has an article on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival , which for the first time this year will feature an entire program to food culture. The article looks at how many immigrants have had to adapt to American food since coming over, and how some of them have taken measures to get the food they grew up on, be it from growing it, or seeking communities of people of their same background. It's an interesting piece.

unsung star of the sea", Mackerel. He looks at what you can do with it, (Great for grilling) how to select it, and where to find the best.

Eric Asimov has examines the "texture" or "feelings" of various wine, noting that those labels are the newest in definitions to various wines. Cabernets.

The top cooking tip this week comes from James P. DeWan in the Chicago Tribune, who gives advice on how to flip food in a pan while cooking to brown it evenly. He advises practicing with a 9-inch saute pan with about a quarter cup of uncooked rice. The steps outline like so:

1. Hold the pan nearly horizontal with just a slight downward slope toward the front edge.

2. Move it firmly about six inches straight ahead and stop suddenly WITHOUT PULLING BACK ON THE PAN. After the pan stops moving, notice how the momentum of the rice continues to carry it forward and part way up the sloped front side of the pan.

3. Lift the pan so that you're tilting the front edge very slightly upward. Pull it back quickly to where you started and stop, again without reversing direction. Notice once more how the momentum of the rice carries it back across the flat surface after the pan has stopped.

4. Practice the forward and backward moves several times until the pan begins to feel a bit more natural in your hand. Until you've achieved some consistency, come to a full stop between the forward and backward motions.

5. Now, put the two moves together, and do the forward and backward motion back to back ONE TIME without stopping in between. Move the pan forward, then pull back immediately while the rice is still traveling forward under its own momentum. Because of the wonderful world of physics, the rice will now come off the sloped front of the pan with a little more force, some of it actually "jumping" into the air a little bit before falling back.

6. Practice this many, many times, stopping between each attempt, until the forward and backward movements, not only of your hand, but also of the pan and, more importantly, the rice within the pan, are the same every time.

7. Finally, make your forward and backward motions continuous. Find the rhythm and watch as the rice cascades in beautiful arcs over the surface of the pan as you flip it
I've tried this way too many times and just have not been able to get it right. Sue Ontiveros tells us how you can eat healthy at the Taste of Chicago festival. Does breakfast start with Salsa? Kim Severson says it can. Peter Meehan looks at a Maine Lobster New York City.

Dessert? Jonathan Levitt has a look at The Pie Guy, a NH guy who, after losing his job went into the pie business, with award winning results.

Saturday, June 18, 2005 

Tomato, Basil and Couscous Salad

This is a summertime favorite of mine. It goes fantastic with grilled foods, the Balsamic vinegar really adds a zest to the Couscous. It's best made a few hours in advance and put into the Fridge to let it cool. That allows the flavors to meld together a bit more. It's even better the next day.

Tomato, Basil and Couscous Salad

2 ¼ Cups Canned Chicken Broth
1 - 10oz box Couscous

1 Cup Chopped Green Onions
1 Cup (generous) Diced, Seeded Plum Tomatoes
1/3 cup Thinly Sliced Fresh Basil
½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
¼ Teaspoon Dried Crushed Red Pepper
Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add Couscous. Remove from Heat. Cover; let stand 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Fluff with fork, cool.

Mix all ingredients except cherry tomatoes into Couscous. Season with salt & pepper. (Can be made a day ahead, chill)

Garnish with cherry tomatoes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 

Summer Eats

Dana Bowen looks ahead to Summer Restaurant Week in NYC. The article looks at the sacrifices...or workarounds that Restaurants have to scramble to do to compensate for the increased demand, but lower profits. One section I did find amusing.
"When I called my fish guy last year and told him I wanted to do halibut for Restaurant Week, he told me to put down my crack pipe," said Alexandra Guarnaschelli, chef at Butter on Lafayette Street. But her grilled halibut with squash emulsion flew out of the kitchen and became a house favorite.
Got Goat? Joan Nathan looks at the increasing popularity of goat meat. I guess if it looks like this photo to the right (Taken by Peter Taylor for The New York Times) I might be tempted to at least try it. Then again, I can't say for sure. Just something about goat that doesn't seem appetizing to me. Also in the The Times, the interesting story of Alain Senderens, who is closing his Michelin three-star restaurant to open something "more fun". He will feature lower prices, a more casual environment and younger feel.

With hot weather finally here, (for some of us at least) a cold beer is enhanced and even more refreshing going down. George Erdosh examines the Maillard technique for browning meat and bringing out the flavor.

Finally, Gina Piccalo in the Los Angeles Times looks at a somewhat absurd web site devoted to videos of people crying while eating. In fact, that's the name of the site - Crying While Eating.

Monday, June 13, 2005 

I Want Fried Clams!

Living in New England as I do, a summertime staple is the fried clam. Not just any fried clam, of course, but those ones that you find at only certain locations, near the coast, likely a bit away from the hustle and bustle of a major highway.

If you want your fried clams this summer however, be prepared to look harder, or to pay dearly for your craving. The reason? Red Tide.

Julia Moskin has the story in the New York Times today looking at the situation, and the effect it is having all up and down the East coast. It also reveals why Canadian and Maryland Clams just aren't cutting it among New Englanders. Beth Daley in the Boston Globe has more on the Red Tide outbreak, which is the worst ever, and the likes of which have not been seen since 1972.

What is Red Tide? The Globe article tells us:

The red tide, which has yet to take on its signature red-brown color, is made up of vast numbers of single-celled organisms that began an exponential growth explosion offshore last month. While swimming is safe, the algae's toxins, which concentrate over time in shellfish meat, can cause illness or even death if consumed in enough quantity. It does not affect lobsters, crabs, shrimp, or finned fish. The part of the scallop people eat in New England -- the adductor muscle -- does not retain the toxin and is safe to eat.

This USA Today article tells us more about what has caused this unprecedented outbreak.

Friday, June 10, 2005 

How to drink a Guiness and pick the right herbs

Via Lifehacker:

A Guide For The Un-Initated To Buying Guinness In An Irish Pub

There are six bulleted points to the process, make sure you don't skip any...

Jane Dunne has an informative column on summer food and herb pairings, including Basil, Dill, Oregano, Italian flat-leaf parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, Spearmint and Thyme. Summer food of course means a lot of grilling and there is information about how each of these herbs work best with various foods.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 

Museum Food, Salmon and a new plate...

Does Wolfgang Puck belong in a Museum? Jane Dornbusch in the Boston Herald looks at Puck's catering firm taking over the food service for Boston's Museum of Science, which is already featuring Puck's pizzas, pastas and Chinois chicken salad.

Out in California, we're getting into Salmon season...except there is a problem. Regulations forbid the commercial landing of wild California Pacific salmon from the usual fishing grounds off the Northern California coast for the month of June. So what is the solution? Alaska Salmon. This extensive article looks at the varieties of Alaska Salmon, what questions to ask when buying it, a glossary of the varieties available on the market and tips for preparing it, including the following:

Fat content affects flavor because fat is the major flavor carrier. Fat, like marbling in beef, turns out a tender or tough piece of meat depending on how long you cook it.

Most frozen fish lose quite a bit of moisture when thawed because of cellular breakdown.

Other factors -- how the fish was handled after it was caught, whether it's left on the bone and with the skin on before cooking, for example -- also affect taste and cooking method.
So if you've sworn off the Atlantic farmed Salmon, it appears that the Alaska variety can work quite nicely...if you know how and what to get.

Peter Meehan chronicles The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, which opens this weekend. Barbecue in the big city? You betcha, and there are many advantages that the city has, which you wouldn't get in a country place...

With an eye on better personal health, the University of California Press has published "The New American Plate". Sue Ontiveros has a review in the Chicago Sun Times.

The team knew it had its work cut out. For one, they knew that this cookbook had to shatter the myth that health food is dull and strange, lacking in taste. Forget the "health" food at those old hippie havens of the late '60s and early '70s. The recipes in this book aren't that.

The book looks interesting,and the review is quite thorough.

Cathy Sagon has a look at how supermarkets are conducting studies which will help consumers get what they need quicker and check out as fast as possible.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005 

How long can you keep dairy?

Sharon Maasdam has a piece in the Oregonian today telling us how long to keep dairy products after their date.

Buttermilk tastes best if used by the sell-by date on the carton, although it usually keeps two weeks past that if refrigerated properly. Beyond that, it can become too bitter to drink. Actual spoilage can appear as off-odors or as a grayish liquid on top. It can be frozen; use within a month or two for best quality.

Sour cream maintains good eating quality for two to three weeks after the sell-by date. As long as it looks and tastes all right, it's safe to eat. Sour cream should be discarded if you see mold spots, pink or green scum, or cloudy liquid on top. Freezing is not recommended because it causes separation.

Yogurt maintains good quality for one to two weeks after the sell-by date. It should be discarded if there are any signs of blue, green or pink mold. It can also develop a yeasty flavor. Yogurt can be frozen for one to two months.

Cream stays fresh for about one week after the sell-by date. Whipped cream can be frozen in dollops on wax paper and then packed in a container. Unwhipped cream also can be frozen, but the volume will be less when whipped.

Cottage cheese keeps about five days after the sell-by date. Taste is an indicator of freshness. Do not use if mold appears. Cottage cheese becomes grainy if frozen, but it's not noticeable if mixed in a dish such as lasagna.

Butter that has been opened will have the best flavor if it's stored in a covered dish and refrigerated in the butter compartment. Both opened and unopened butter may be kept on the refrigerator shelf for a month after the sell-by date. Flavor is an indication when it no longer is usable: It will develop a strong, rancid taste.

To freeze, wrap in foil or place in freezer bags. Butter keeps well four to six months at 0 degrees or lower.

Brick cream cheese should be eaten by the "best when used by" date on the package for best flavor. Once opened, don't use it if mold appears or it has a sour flavor. It can be frozen up to two months, but plan to use it for cooking, instead of as a spread, because the texture becomes crumbly. Whipped cream cheese can be frozen up to six months. Soft cream cheese does not freeze well.

Milk apparently keeps about a week after the sell by date.

The key to all of these is storage. You need to store them properly and keep them in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

Friday, June 03, 2005 

The History of Thai Food

The History of Thai Food

by: Andrew Hall

Thai food is famous all over the world. Whether chilli-hot or comparatively bland, harmony and contrast are the guiding principles behind each dish. Thai cuisine is essentially a marriage of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai. Characteristics of Thai food depend on who cooks it, for whom it is cooked, for what occasion, and where it is cooked. Dishes can be refined and adjusted to suit all tastes.

The 'Tai' people migrated from valley settlements in the mountainous region of Southwest China (now Yunnan province) between the sixth and thirteenth centuries, into what is now known as Thailand, Laos, the Shan States of upper Burma, and northwest Vietnam. Influenced by Chinese cooking techniques, Thai cuisine flourished with the rich biodiversity of the Thai peninsula. As a result, Thai dishes today have some similarities to Szechwan Chinese dishes.

Originally, Thai cooking reflected the characteristics of a waterborne lifestyle. Aquatic animals, plant and herbs were major ingredients. Subsequent influences introduced the use of sizeable chunks to Thai cooking. With their Buddhist background, Thais shunned the use of large animals in big chunks. Big cuts of meat were shredded and blended with herbs and spices. Traditional Thai cooking methods were stewing and baking, or grilling. Chinese influences saw the introduction of frying, stir-frying and deep-frying. Culinary influences from the 17th century onwards included Portuguese, Dutch, French and Japanese techniques. Chillies were introduced to Thai cooking during the late 1600s by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America. Thais were very adapt at adapting foreign cooking methods, and substituting ingredients. The ghee used in Indian cooking was replaced by coconut oil, and coconut milk substituted for other dairy products.

Overpowering pure spices were toned down and enhanced by fresh herbs such as lemon grass and galanga. Eventually, fewer and less spices were used in Thai curries, while the use of fresh herbs increased. It is generally acknowledged that Thai curries burn intensely, but briefly, whereas other curries, with strong spices, burn for longer periods. Instead of serving dishes in courses, a Thai meal is served all at once, permitting diners to enjoy complementory combinations of different tastes.

A proper Thai meal should consist of a soup, a curry dish with condiments, a dip with accompanying fish and vegetables. A spiced salad may replace the curry dish. The soup can also be spicy, but the curry should be replaced by a non-spiced item. There must be harmony of tastes and textures within individual dishes and the entire meal.

About The Author:
Andrew Hall

Wednesday, June 01, 2005 

Who is Betty Crocker?

Originally in Newsday - though I didn't see it there. Here is the history of Betty Crocker, and how she has evolved over the years.
Back in the '20s, there were few cookbooks around compared to today. Pan sizes were not standardized and oven temperatures fluctuated. Cooks craved help, and Betty came to the rescue.

Betty was born not long after the Washburn Crosby Co., millers and purveyors of Gold Medal Flour, offered a premium of a pincushion resembling a miniature flour sack for the completion of a jigsaw puzzle that was printed in a 1921 Saturday Evening Post ad; 30,000 entries were received. Along with them came hundreds of letters asking such questions as "How long should I knead dough?" and "Why does my cake fall?"
How has she changed over the years?
Throughout her long career, Betty Crocker has promoted the idea that the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach. In a magazine advertisement, circa 1930, reprinted in the book, she suggested her own mixes for making a "kiss and make up cake" to top off a "splendiferous" dinner of thick steak and French fries when the situation called for it. Could food mend a rift? "Certain sure," she crowed. Betty had a personality, a signature and a face, painted by artists the flour company commissioned. Betty's first portrait was in 1936 and her most recent was in 1996, when ethnic diversity considerations turned those blue eyes brown. (Briefly, they were green.) In 1955, Norman Rockwell came in second to Hilda Taylor's painting of a soft, grandmotherly Betty when five artists were asked to paint new portraits and the public was allowed to choose a favorite.
Quite different from Betty Crocker is the emergence of farms run by women. As someone who grew up on a dairy farm in the northeast, I found this article in the NY Times quite interesting. Women find their place in the field. Here's one example from the article:

Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, 32, whose first child is due on Friday, came of age a generation after many of her female colleagues. Ideas about sustainability, feminism and community-supported agriculture had already taken root in American agriculture, she said, and the idea of a female farmer was not new. She majored in environmental science at Harvard, has a master's degree in conservation biology and sustainable agriculture, and started a small organic farm, Garden of Eve, on Long Island, in 2001.

She farms with her husband, Chris, who grew up on a dairy farm. She says that farm work includes traditionally male and traditionally female skills, and that a farm needs both. "Like a baby," she said, "a farm needs as much nurturing as it can get. I can't imagine being a single parent to a farm."

Ever get confused by the different kinds of lettuce out there in the market? Gwen Schoen in the Sacramento Bee outlines what makes each variety unique.

What wine should you order on a first date? Jennifer Rosen goes through it with you.

Want to get the best of the classic American sandwiches? Leigh Belanger in the Boston Globe tells you what to look for in a good BLT, Club, Cuban, Monte Cristo, PB&J and Reuben sandwiches.