Tuesday, February 28, 2006 

Storing Bread - Squeeze Air or Not?

I've been storing my bread in the refrigerator for a while, I guess that stems from the summer time when it is really warm and it seems mold grows a lot faster. I've bought sprouted breads and so forth which instruct the consumer to store the product in the fridge.

In the Charlotte Observer, Kathleen Purvis answers a question from a reader regarding the storage of bread. Her main question is about air in the bag. The reader insists that air be left in the bread bag, while her husband always squeezes it all out. Purvis answers that you indeed want to get as much air out of the bag as possible when storing bread. (which I've always done)

The part that I learned from though, was the bread kept in the fridge generally goes stale faster than bread at room temperature. So here all along I was thinking that I was prolonging the life of my bread by keeping it cool, I was actually making it stale quicker. Hmmm.

Here's another quick page from a bread company about bread storage I found while looking at this topic.

Monday, February 27, 2006 

Trendy Food of 2006 - Grits?

Elizabeth Downer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lists out grits as one of the hot food trends of this year. While grits have been a staple in the South for more than 200 years, they haven't been all that popular to the North.

She says that they are now being used by chefs all over the country to create comfort foods.

My best friend's father grew up in Georgia, and he used to make us cheese grits on a weekend morning. That was some seriously good stuff, I'm tellin' ya.

Here are a couple of receipes from the article which are likely close to that great breakfast item that I haven't had in over 10 years now.


I sometimes vary the original recipe by using shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno chilies. This is especially good as an entree side dish. Recipe can be doubled.

  • 2 cups cooked grits (I use instant)
  • 1 pound grated cheddar cheese
  • 5 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 can evaporated milk (I use fat-free) or light cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook grits according to directions on box. Stir in cheese, eggs and milk. Pour into buttered 2-quart baking dish. Bake one hour or until set.

Serves 8.


Sunday morning breakfast at my grandmother's house frequently featured fried grits.

  • Cooked and chilled grits
  • 1 cup seasoned flour (flour seasoned with salt and pepper)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • Saltine cracker crumbs
  • Butter for frying

Prepare the grits according to directions on the box using 1/2 cup of dry grits and the prescribed amount of water. Pour the cooked grits into a loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Slice the cold grits at 1/2-inch intervals and dip into seasoned flour, egg and then cracker crumbs. Fry in butter and serve with fried, poached or scrambled eggs.

Friday, February 24, 2006 

No Waffling Here

What is old is new these days, and nowhere is that as true as in the kitchen. Greg Atkinson in the Seattle Times looks at old waffle irons, which are suddenly trendy and in demand.

As he says:
Perhaps a waffle iron in the kitchen — like a pair of Adirondack chairs on the lawn — creates the illusion of leisure that we don't really have. The idea of making waffles evokes images of luxuriating over breakfasts in sunny rooms with clean curtains and crisp Sunday papers. And this new generation of waffle irons is Bauhaus-cool, with lines and finishes as slick and evocative as streamlined trains from the 1920s.
He recently pulled out a waffle iron from his cupboard which is old. Really old. Judging from the lack of a registered trademark on it, he estimates that it was made before 1909. And it is still perfectly functional.

They just don't make 'em like they used to.

Easy waffle recipe.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 

Black Truffles - Heaven From Earth

Though I'm not likely to be dropping $140 for an ounce of black truffle, I read S. Irene Virbila's column in the Los Angeles Times this week with interest.

There is almost a mystical allure to the black truffle these days, and it seems any product with even a trace of it is priced through the roof. Close examination usually reveals no more than a speck of the truffle in the actual product.

Virbila talks about purchasing whole truffles (also in bulk) and putting them into omelets, chicken, even a baked potato.

At the farmers market that Sunday, I bought some free-range eggs and the minute the truffles arrived, I put them in a jar with the eggs. That way the eggs take in some of the truffle aromas and flavor. When you make scrambled eggs with those truffle-infused eggs, the taste is explosive; intensified, of course, when you add in more truffle, julienned.

These truffles were beautiful, knobbly and coal black, a little smaller than golf balls, with all of their perfume intact. Every day that passes, though, they lose weight, flavor and aroma. Use them soon, or lose them.

I had no trouble at all with that. One truffle went into the scrambled eggs, which we served, à la Chez Panisse, with rafts of country white from La Brea Bakery, cut inch-thick and lightly toasted, then rubbed with garlic and drizzled with a little olive oil. Alongside the saffron-colored eggs we served a pretty little salad of frisée dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil.

I took a bite of the eggs. I started to hum. And every subsequent bite elicited the same contented purring. In a restaurant, it would have cost four of us a fortune to indulge in anything laced with this amount of truffle. But we'd used just one of our truffles, which weighed in at a little more than an ounce. Divide the cost by four, and this sublime truffle hit seems almost reasonable.
And some more:
So what to do with a second truffle? Roast a chicken with some truffle slices tucked under the skin. We shaved six fine slices and slid them in under the breast. And as the chicken turned a dark gold in the oven, you could see the slices through the transparent skin, promising something delicious.

In fact, the truffles lose much of their taste in the cooking. Most of the flavor comes from truffle butter whisked into the juices just before serving.

Truffle butter? If I had just one truffle, I might be tempted to turn it all into truffle butter. Just mince up the truffle trimmings and fold them into softened unsalted to lightly salted butter, the best you can find. We used Double Devon Cream butter from Trader Joe's. Roll it up into a log and wrap in plastic film. It can then be frozen without losing any of the flavor. The proportion is about one part truffles to two parts butter.

I used some a couple of days later to fold into a baked potato — fantastic! You can toss fresh egg noodles or tagliarini in some of the truffle butter too. The simpler the better.

There's much more in the article. Plus these recipes:

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 

Vertical or prone? What's best position for (wine) storage?

I thought this was an easy one. You always store wine on its side, right? You don't want the cork to dry out. Well, Paul Gregutt in the Seattle Times answers the question in a little more detail, letting us know that it is ok to store wine vertically...if you're going to use it within a year. He was also asked about how long you can keep Champagne.

My personal rule of thumb is that if I'm going to drink the bottle within a year, it's OK to stand it up, and I have shelves in my cellar for such "short-term" bottles. For wines that are truly going to be cellared over a period of years, horizontal is the best choice. Without seeing your wines, I cannot make an educated guess as to their condition after standing up for so long.

However, even the advice about storing wines horizontally has some exceptions, and Champagne is one. I have read that some authorities flatly state that Champagne should be stored upright. In my experience, storing it on its side does no harm, but that is a purely subjective, nonscientific opinion.

As for question No. 2, nonvintage Champagne should be consumed with two or three years of disgorging. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to find out when a particular bottle was disgorged.

Friday, February 17, 2006 

Vintner's Lakeside Grill - Yountville CA

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Should You or Shouldn't You When it Comes to Fish?

Marian Burros in the New York Times today has a very interesting article on a topic that has a lot of people confused these days.

We're constantly being told of the health benefits of eating fish. At the same time, we're warned about unsafe contaminants that some fish contain.
One contaminant, methylmercury, which can damage the nervous system and the brain in fetuses, infants and young children, is found in tuna, particularly albacore, or white meat. PCB's and dioxin, probable human carcinogens, are found in farmed salmon. But omega-3's, important nutrients in both types of fish, can prevent sudden heart attacks.
Tuna and Salmon are the two kinds of fish we're most commonly warned about. Coincidentally, those are also two of the most consumed varieties of fish out there as well.

Studies for both sides of the issue are discussed, and the article closes with the following statement:
But the public is really not faced with a Hobson's choice. It can always get plenty of omega-3's from canned wild salmon, cheap and available year-round and low in contaminants.
If case you're wondering, here is the definition of a "Hobson's choice" as given by Answers.com.

An apparently free choice that offers no real alternative.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 

Baking Artisan Breads at Home

This article from Gwen Schoen in the Sacramento Bee tackles what can be an intimidating prospect for the Amateur, Part Time Gourmet...baking intricate looking Artisan Breads at home.

Yeast is one of the most difficult ingredients to balance and judge correctly. She looks at how the King Arthur Flour Co. is going across the country in an effort to educate home bakers on taking the intimidation factor out of yeast.

She talks to one of the one of the Kinig Arthur instructors, who shared a few tips.

One of the basics she teaches is how to judge the amount of flour called for in a recipe. For example, a recipe might list a range of 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups of flour.

"The amount varies depending on the amount of moisture in the flour and the air," Hack said. "You always begin with the smaller amount of flour and gradually add more until the dough is the correct consistency. If you add too much, the bread will be heavy and dry. If you don't add enough, the dough will be dense and sticky inside. Experience will tell you when the dough feels right in your hands."

Another problem beginners have is judging when the bread is done. Hack recommends using an instant-read thermometer. Most breads are done when they reach 190 degrees.

Denser breads such as a hearth-style or whole-grain should be baked to 205 degrees.

There is also some information on how to best use whole grains.
"In most recipes, you can substitute whole-grain flour for about half of the amount called for in the recipes. Besides whole wheat, you can also add some interesting seeds and grains to most recipes. Try using oats, rye flakes or sunflower, poppy and sesame seeds. Usually you can use up to a cup of seeds for every 3 1/2 cups of flour in the recipe."
You know how when you buy one of those breads from the bakery and the best thing about it is the chewy crust. She tells you how this is done as well.

One important step in making rustic, artisan breads is using steam in the oven to make a chewy crust. It can be done by placing a cast-iron skillet in the oven with a small amount of hot water, or you can spray water inside the oven when you place the loaves of bread inside.

"There are many tricks to creating steam, and you do need to be very careful," Hack said, "but steam is that step that makes rustic breads so good."

Sounds good to me!

Monday, February 13, 2006 

Soup's on: The basics

Emily Seftel of the Arizona Republic has been taking some cooking classes from Kitchen Classics in Phoenix. This past week she learned a lot about the making of soup from scratch. That would include making the stock from a carcass.

Here are some of the tips she got from the instructor:

• The basic principles for stock: Start the stock in cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer it gently. Skim it frequently and strain it carefully when it has finished cooking. Cool it quickly in an ice bath to help keep it fresh longer.

• The best bones for beef and veal stock are from younger animals. Shank bones are the most easily accessible.

• The best bones for chicken stock are from the neck and back, which contain many small bones.

• The best bones for fish stock are from lean fish such as sole, flounder and whiting.

• When adding vegetables to stock, a good ratio is 50 percent onions, 30 percent carrots and 20 percent celery.

Friday, February 10, 2006 

The key to fine food

Nick Galvin in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Galvin talks to Kumar Mahadevan, the chef and owner of Aki's in Woolloomooloo and Abhi's in North Strathfield. He says that good cooking is more than just the ingredients and the recipe.

"I can tell you exactly [what is in a dish] but it's not like a formula to make a cough mixture. It depends how much love you put in it."

He also insists that you should always cook happy. "It's very important," he says. "Some people tell me that cooking relieves them of their tensions. I think this is true. When you cook you can really calm yourself but not when you have to serve 200 people; that's a different story."

The article ends with an appealing recipe for Scallops with tomato chutney.

Thursday, February 09, 2006 

Taste-Testing Store Bought Salsa

Making the best of a bland situation

Boston Globe
There are many brands to choose from at the grocery store, though Tostitos seems to have ensured itself the most prominent spot, lined up on its own special shelf all the way down the chip aisle, right at eye level. We decided to stick to the big ones this time: Pace, Ortega, Tostitos, Old El Paso, and Newman's Own, with obnoxious talk show host Don Imus's thrown in for fun. (All of them are available at Shaw's and Stop & Shop.) The winner was one we had never tried before: Old El Paso picante. (Old El Paso also makes a ''Thick 'n Chunky Salsa," which is not as good as its picante. What's the difference between picante and salsa? Nobody seems to know for sure. Our resident Texan says there's none.) The Old El Paso was far from adored but notable for being, as one taster noted, the ''least hated" of the samples.
"Least hated" - Guess they're endorsing that you make your own Salsa....

Monday, February 06, 2006 

Don't Toss That Teflon Pan -- Yet

(Sorry we missed the Seattle side of Super Bowl food on Friday, it turned out to be a crazy day.)

There has been some talk of late that a certain chemical in Teflon-coated pans could actually be harmful to you. The Washington Post asked "Food 101" columnist and chemistry professor Robert L. Wolke for his take on the matter.

He tells us in part:

Teflon is microscopically smooth and nonporous (one of the reasons nothing sticks to it). Even if it does harbor trace amounts of PFOA, which is all anyone has suggested, the PFOA is unlikely to seep into food or escape into the air in kitchens -- unless, of course, an empty nonstick pan were abandoned on a hot burner, because above 600 degrees or so (a temperature rarely reached in cooking), the Teflon would begin to decompose into toxic fumes.

Before we even see a nonstick pan in the store, its coating already has been heated to high temperatures during manufacturing, partly to get rid of any residual PFOA. In my opinion, PFOA in the environment probably came from factory emissions, perhaps during the high-temperature phases of manufacturing. That's certainly more plausible than blaming me for frying an egg in my nonstick pan.

He concludes that this really isn't anything that consumers need worry too much about.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 

What Steelers Fans are Eating For the Super Bowl

(Tomorrow we'll have the Seattle version)

Super Sustenance The Food Network is taking it on the chin for the Super Bowl.

Box wines fit the bill for the big game Yes, indeed, here we go—with beverage recommendations to enjoy during the big fete for Super Bowl XL

Game plan: pretzels in first half, fondue in the second ...
What's the next best thing to being at the Super Bowl? You guessed it: being at a Super Bowl party. And what type of food best fits a Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl gathering? Obviously, you'll want something Steelers fans can nibble on while their eyes are glued to the TV.

Steelers/Seahawks rivalry reaches the kitchen
The moment the Steelers clinched its Super Bowl berth last Sunday, I ripped off an e-mail to my Seattle colleague, Hsiao-Ching Chou, food editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Nibbles: Charities win when chefs cook in Detroit
Executive Chef Greg Alauzen from Eleven in the Strip District will team up with football great Andy Russell representing the Steelers at the 15th annual Taste of the NFL, Saturday at the Rock Financial Showplace near Detroit.

Food Network Super Bowl Page
(With Pittsburgh and Seattle Themed Foods)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 

MVPizza: What's your game-day fave?

Super Bowl Sunday is the big pie's time to shine, and Gruyère, artichoke hearts, even Spam are ready to play

By DAI HUYNH Houston Chronicle

Pizza in one hand, remote control in the other and eyes glued to the quarterback on television. Sound familiar?

More pizzas are sold on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day.

Some good background in this article on the history of pizza, and how it has evolved down through the decades and centuries.

Americans have been eating pizza since the first U.S. pizzeria, Lombardi's, opened in 1905 in New York. And if longevity is a testament to popularity, then know that Lombardi's is still making pizza on Spring Street in Manhattan.

But the history of pizza goes back much further, and not to the Italians but to Greek traders in Naples.

"They made a bread in the oven called the pita, which in Neapolitan dialect became pizza," Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca chef-owner Marco Wiles said.

"The first pizza was simple -- drizzle with oil and top with garlic," Wiles said.

Tomatoes didn't leap atop pizzas until the mid-1700s. Originating in South America, they first were introduced to the English, then to the Italians by Catholic priests. This member of the nightshade family catapulted the poor man's pie onto the tables of wealthy Neapolitans. The popular pizza marinara was topped with chopped fresh tomatoes, garlic, oregano, olive oil and buffalo-milk mozzarella cheese.

I love pizza, but I'm making chili for the Super Bowl...