Friday, January 27, 2006 

10 tips to being a better wine buyer

By Bill Daley
Chicago Tribune

(abridged version)

1. Comparison shop, but don't let price be your only guide.

2. Consider second labels. Great wines can cost a fortune; less-great wines from the same house can offer plenty of taste for a lot less.

3. Knowledge is power, but did you realize it could be tasty, too? Take advantage of wine tastings conducted by wine shops.

4. Check if your wine shop offers a customer discount card.

5. If you really, really like a wine, consider buying a case or two.

6. Don't pour that half-empty bottle down the drain. Recork it and stow it in the refrigerator. The wine should be fine the next day.

7. Shop the bargain shelves and discount bins very carefully.

8. So-called big box or warehouse stores boast that their hefty buying power allows them to get goods at deeply discounted prices. And so they do, even with wines.

9. Experiment.

10. Buy stuff you like.

Thursday, January 26, 2006 

Just what do Bay Leaves DO anyway?

Bay leaves add an important something, but what?By Peggy Grodinsky
Houston Chronicle

Ask people to describe the taste of bay -- even a group of renowned herbalists -- and they may come up short.

"It's hard to describe," said a momentarily stumped Bill Varney of Fredericksburg Herb Farm. "Gosh."

"It's just another layer of flavor," said Champions resident Mary Versfelt, longtime member of the Herb Society of America and a cooking teacher who specializes in herbs. "I can't quite put my finger on it."

The question elicited answers as wide-ranging as spicy, herbal, fennellike, pungent, subtle, balsamic, bittersweet and butterscotchy.

It's also important to make sure you note the difference between the two major leaves. California bay is often sold as Bay laurel, but they are not actually the same.

Among the reasons the taste of bay can be hard to pinpoint is that it often works as a "blending herb," according to Lois Sutton, Houston resident and education chair of the Herb Society of America. Blending herbs, she continued, "seem to bring together the flavor of other things. Parsley is a great blending herb. Dill can be a blending herb. Instead of all these discordant tastes, it seems to bring them together into a smooth flavor."

Picture your spice cabinet as an orchestra. Bay is the viola. Unlike the showier violin (think cinnamon), it's an instrument few listeners can distinguish, and it rarely gets to play the melody. But without it, the orchestra's sound would be less complex.

Bay is also categorized as a "simmering herb," meaning that it's typically added to a dish early in the cooking process and simmers or infuses in liquid so that its flavor emerges. Remember to remove the whole leaves before you eat the dish. Their sharp edges can perforate your insides.


Related Article:

Using Fresh Bay Leaves

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 

Six simple rules for better, more satisfying wine drinking

By Stephen Meuse, Boston Globe

Rule No. 1: Find a good local wine shop and be loyal to it.

Rule No. 2: Taste comparatively and often.

Rule No. 3: Learn to write a tasting note.

A note should be short, to the point, and useful. Name the wine completely, identify the vintage, then comment briefly on what you notice (color, aroma, flavors, texture, concentration, etc.).

Rule No. 4: Move up to case buying.

Rule No. 5: Read a good book.

For updates on what's happening in various regions from vintage to vintage, there's nothing like Dorling Kindersley's small format Wine Report series, edited by Tom Stevenson. The latest is Wine Report 2006 (about $15). For something more comprehensive if less nimble, try the ''New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia" (about $50) from the same publisher and editor. We find the ''Oxford Concise Wine Companion" (Oxford University Press, about $20), edited by Jancis Robinson, an indispensable ready reference. ''Essential Winetasting," by Michael Schuster, is simply the best on the subject (Mitchell Beazley, about $30).

Rule No. 6: You never get anywhere drinking mineral water.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 

Mexican - Finger-licking good

A Mexican feast of tacos and delicious fillings is a joy to share.

Thomasina Miers - Times of London.

I've been addicted to Mexican food for about a year now...not many good places here on the East coast, but as Miers tells us, you can do it just well at home:

Tacos in Mexico are small, soft, pliable discs that you either roll into a cigar to use in place of a fork or spoon, or which you stuff with myriad combinations of fillings and spicy salsas. Taco stands are at every street corner in Mexico City with scores of different fillings and are the archetypal fast food.

At home, you can take it more slowly and get as inventive as you like with the fillings. Try chargrilled prawns, pan-fried fish or chicken or thicker, more substantial, spicy stews, always ensuring that you have at least two salsas to spice up the dishes or cool them down, and a plate of ripe, sliced avocado.

A good taco feast is delicious served with small glasses of any good-quality, aged tequila and matching small glasses of sangrita. Sangrita is like our classic Virgin Mary mix with a dash of orange juice and grenadine, plus plenty of extra Tabasco. It is highly spiced and slightly sweet, which complements the tequila beautifully. The aim is to sip the tequila and sangrita as you while away time feasting, enjoying the flavours of the food and the lively conversation.

A number of recipes for those fillings follow, including:

Steak tacos
Chorizo-potato taco filling
Avocado salsa
Roast tomato salsa

Friday, January 20, 2006 

Don't let boredom win against the grain

A new grain, or new recipes with grains you're tired of, will have you eating healthy again.
We'll stick with our theme this week which has been Whole Grains/Superfoods.
When the USDA updated its Dietary Guidelines in 2005, it urged Americans to consume at least three 1-ounce servings of whole grains each day. So healthy eaters stocked up on oatmeal and whole-wheat bread.

To liven up those virtuous but boring oats at breakfast, they sprinkled on cinnamon and added bits of dried fruit. For lunch they stuck lean cold cuts between two slices of good-for-you bread.

But it's been 12 months, and some of us can't stomach another spoonful. We crave variety in our whole grains, and some fresh, easy recipes.

So good tips throughout the article about preparing these whole grains. Here are a few:

If you're buying a manufactured product, such as bread, check the ingredients. The first should be "whole wheat" or another whole grain. Look for bread with at least 2 grams of fiber per slice, Juarez says. Fiber also keeps you feeling full longer.


Eating grains whole can take some getting used to, so start slowly (your taste buds and digestive system will thank you). If you usually eat white rice, mix in a bit of brown to get acquainted with the flavor. Do the same with white and whole-wheat couscous and other pastas. Over time, you can increase the whole-to-refined ratio.

Grains typically should be rinsed, then added to boiling water, covered and simmered. Substituting chicken stock or vegetable broth for the water and toasting the kernels in a pan with butter or oil, as you would a pilaf, also kick up the flavor.

and finally:

If you're preparing grains for a recipe, double the batch and save the remainder to add to salads and soups, to stuff tomatoes and bell peppers or to layer in a casserole. Not sure what to do with plain grains? Any of the following will wake them up: vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, fresh herbs, a squirt of citrus.

For the cook comfortable with the basics of whole-grain cooking, Pope suggests experimentation. How about a risotto with farro, or a cake incorporating quinoa?

Baking with whole grains can be challenging, though. Substitute gradually.

"Start with replacing about a third to half of the flour in your favorite recipe with whole-wheat flour," Speck says. "This will usually allow you to leave the rest of the recipe unchanged."

The results will not be as fluffy, she adds, "but they have a rich, nutty flavor that you will not find in white-flour goods."

Thursday, January 19, 2006 

The Spreadsheet Diet

How a Personal Chef Got His High-Powered Client to Embrace The Whole Grains We All Need.

By Ed Bruske
Special to The Washington Post

Picture a spreadsheet, a kitchen Excel, with grains on one axis and a variety of companion ingredients -- vegetables, herbs, nuts, marinated foods, vinegars, olive oil -- on the other. By moving across the spreadsheet, picking ingredients as you go, you can create pilafs and salads that put once-scorned nutritious foods within easy reach.
Spreadsheet Categories

Recipes that top the charts

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 

Still more on Superfoods

13 Superfoods from Michael van Straten on

1 Apples

2 Avocado Pears

3 Bananas

4 Cabbage

5 Carrots

6 Chicken Soup

7 Flax Seeds

8 Garlic

9 Oats

10 Oily Fish

11 Onions

12 Potatoes

13 Soya

Explanations on each are of course included in the article.

Friday, January 13, 2006 

Tasty ways to fit 'superfoods' into your diet

Karin Welzel, Pittsburgh Union-Tribune

More buzz on "Superfoods". It's early yet, but I think "Superfoods" might be the eating trend of 2006.

This article is looking more at Whole Grains instead of the other foods we looked at last week from the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's some tips on getting whole grains into your diet:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends these tips to help add whole grains to your daily diet.

  • Substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product, such as whole-wheat bread for white bread, or brown rice instead of white rice. It's important to replace the whole-grain products for the refined one, rather than adding the whole-grain product.

  • Try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Stuff brown rice into baked green peppers or tomatoes, and use whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.

  • Think mixed dishes: Add barley to vegetable soup or stews, bulgur wheat in casseroles and stir-fries.

  • Create a whole-grain pilaf with a mixture of barley, wild rice, brown rice, broth and spices. You can stir in toasted nuts or chopped dried fruit.

  • Use whole-wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. You might need to add a bit more leavening.

  • Use whole-grain bread or cracker crumbs in meatloaf.

  • Try rolled oats or a crushed unsweetened whole-grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets or eggplant parmesan.

    In stead of croutons in salad, use unsweetened whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal, or substitute it for crackers with soup.

  • Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish.

  • Try a whole-grain snack chip, such as baked tortilla chips

  • Snack on popped popcorn, limiting salt and butter.
  • Some good ideas there...

    Thursday, January 12, 2006 

    For a good scramble, just be gentle

    Eggs pampered with low heat and patience make a whole new dish

    If you slow things down a bit, you can turn scrambled eggs into something spectacular: Cooked very slowly, and stirred constantly, scrambled eggs can be a dish that's creamy, rich and luxurious enough to serve as a first course at an elegant dinner.

    This article reminded me that James Bond creator Ian Fleming was a huge fan of scrambled eggs. He even had agent 007 eating them on several occasions throughout the series, at all times of day and night.

    He even told us how he liked them prepared:

    From the short story 007 in New York in the book Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming.

    Scrambled Eggs James Bond.

    For four individualists:

    12 fresh eggs
    Salt and pepper
    5-6 oz. of fresh butter.

    Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat thoroughly with a fork and season well. In a small copper (or heavy bottomed saucepan) melt four oz. of the butter. When melted, pour in the eggs and cook over a very low heat, whisking continuously with a small egg whisk.

    While the eggs are slightly more moist than you would wish for eating, remove the pan from heat, add rest of butter and continue whisking for half a minute, adding the while finely chopped chives or fines herbes. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittinger) and low music.
    Sounds good to me, (I've actually made them according to those directions) though that is a lot of butter...

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006 

    Draft resolution: Harpoon, Legal Sea Foods cook up beer-inspired dishes

    By Kerry J. Byrne, Boston Herald

    Al Marzi wants to change the way the Boston culinary community thinks about beer.
    Like many beer lovers, the Harpoon Brewery brewmaster is often frustrated when he goes out for dinner. The United States may have more breweries than any other country, but when Marzi sits down at a restaurant, he’s typically handed a menu and an extensive wine list. If he asks for a beer, servers often have no idea what’s available. And when they do know, the beer selection is often unimaginative and rarely complements the cuisine.

    So Harpoon and Legal Seafoods have teamed up for a beer inspired dinner. A couple of recipes are included in the article.



    Tuesday, January 10, 2006 

    Add the traditions of the Korean family table to your repertoire

    By Kathy Casey, Seattle Times

    I don't think I've ever really had Korean food, at least as a full meal. This article has the author experiencing foods selected from the Korean New Year's celebration, which takes place on Jan 29th.

    Here's the menu, with recipes linked:

    Monday, January 09, 2006 

    Her middle name is skinny

    Food editor avoids the hazards of her job by following 15 healthy tips

    Peggy Grodinsky Houston Chronicle.

    1. Stop when you are full.

    2. Eat breakfast and make it count.

    3. Don't skip meals.

    4. Don't keep food in your home that you find irresistible.

    5. Exercise.

    6. Stay away from processed foods,

    7. Eat locally grown fruits and vegetables in season.

    8. Buy the best.

    9. Corollary to No. 8. For the most part, excepting milk and yogurt, I avoid reduced-fat products.

    10. Eliminate guilt.

    11. Avoid soda, even diet soda.

    12. Make dessert earn its keep.

    13. Share dessert when dining out.

    14. Remember, more is coming.

    15. I avoid soda (see No. 11), except when I don't. Nothing suits a burger or a pizza like soda -- well, possibly beer. As somebody once said: Everything in moderation, including moderation.

    As usual, these are just the main points, go to the full article to read the "fleshed out" points.

    Friday, January 06, 2006 

    Super Foods

    The San Francisco Chronicle has a two part series on "Super Foods". They are defined this way:

    These are foods with such high levels of nutrients and goodness that we would do well to include them in our diets as often as we can. Antioxidants, phenols, soluble fiber, fatty acids -- they're all there, with more superfoods being discovered nearly every day.
    This theory is also a big part of the new Sonoma Diet which is the latest craze sweeping the diet world. (As evidenced by the banner above.)

    Marlena Spieler has the first article, entitled "Super Foods to the Rescue". She gives an overview of the various foods and how they work.

    Carol Ness has the second article, "These 10 top nutritional performers can transform your diet -- and possibly your life."

    These are the top ten she lists, with more information on each within the article:

    1. Apples
    2. Avacados
    3. Beans
    4. Blueberries
    5. Dark Chocolate
    6. Kiwis
    7. Oats
    8. Spinach
    9. Walnuts
    10. Yogurt
    Those are only in alphabetical order, not in order of importance.

    The articles are worth the read.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006 

    Brown Rice and Whole Grains from the Boston Globe

    The Boston Globe has a series of articles and recipes this week revolving around healthier grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and bulgar. Whole grains were a huge food topic in 2005, and this series addresses some of the issues people are having in trying to adopt those foods into their diet. a big perception is that these grains take a long time to cook, which in our busy world, doesn't fit the "30 minute meals" lifestyle.

    The lead article in the pack is Express Grain, which tells us that these grains can be prepared quickly and in a variety of tasty ways.

    Leigh Belanger tells us a little about brown rice and some tips on buying it and how to use it.

    Recipes from the series:

    Fried (Brown) Rice

    Brown Rice the Long Way

    Bulgar salad on hearts of romaine

    Jeweled brown rice salad

    Pilaf-style coarse bulgar

    Pilaf-style quinoa

    Vegetable stir fry

    Pressure cooker brown rice

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006 

    The Winter Cook - Mac & Cheese

    Macaroni and Lots of Cheese
    By Julia Moskin

    With the cold weather firmly entrenched here in the Northeast, Moskin looks at one of the true comfort foods of the region...or any region, Macaroni and Cheese. After looking at a number of lder recipes, which are really Macaroni with cheese sauce, rather than real cheese, she sets out to find the ultimate receipe.

    Some of her thoughts:

    The macaroni must not be slippery and soft, but firm and substantial. This is not the time to bring out your whole-wheat penne and artisanal orecchiette: elbow pasta is the way to go.

    One of the most surprising recipes I tried called for uncooked pasta. Full of doubt, I mixed raw elbow noodles with a sludge of cottage cheese, milk and grated cheese. The result was stunning: the noodles obediently absorbed the liquid as they cooked, encasing themselves in fluffy cheese and a crust of deep rich brown.

    The last decision - to top or not to top - is easily dispensed with. Resist the temptation to fiddle around with bread crumbs, corn flakes, tortilla chips and other ingredients that have nothing to do with the dish. When there is enough cheese in and on top of your creation, a brown, crisp crust of toasted cheese will form naturally. There is nothing more delicious.


    Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

    Crusty Macaroni and Cheese