Thursday, April 27, 2006 

Buying Coconuts? Here are some tips.

I don't think I've ever actually purchased coconuts in a store. Out East here, I haven't come across much use for them, but when the time comes that I branch out and try using them as part of a recipe or something, I'm not sure how I would know which one was a good one.

Thankfully this article from Donna Pierce gives us some tips on what we want to be looking for. Here are a few of them:

• Buying tips

Coconuts are available year-round. Although coconuts in their brown, hairy shells are the most familiar to shoppers, young coconuts without shells are becoming more frequently available in supermarket produce sections and specialty markets. To find the freshest fruit, hold and shake coconuts; choose those that are heavy and sloshing with juice.

• Storing suggestions

Store unshelled coconuts at room temperature for up to six months. Refrigerate grated fresh coconut meat up to four days, or freeze up to six months.

• Cooking suggestions

To open shelled coconuts, pierce the soft "eye" spots with an ice pick to drain the juice. Then "tap all around the hard shell with a hammer until it cracks and falls away," Onstad suggests. She also recommends heating the coconut in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, "at which point the shell will easily break away."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 

Super Foods Return

If you've been coming to this site for any period of time, you're aware that we have a thing for "Super Foods". The Seattle Times indulges us again today with a listing of the top 12, as well as some "New superstars" (at the end of the article). It's all so terribly exciting to see so many superheroes gathered together in one place.

1. Beans

Why? High in folate, fiber and antioxidants, beans can help lower cholesterol and LDL levels, scavenge free radicals, moderate insulin levels and reduce cancer risk.

How much? Eat two ½-cup servings a day of cooked or canned beans.

2. Blueberries

Why? A true nutritional powerhouse, blueberries provide more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. Phytonutrients include anthocyanins, chlorogenic acid, ellagic acid, catechins and resveratrol, substances that fight cancer, heart disease and age-related memory loss.

How much? If possible, eat 1/2 cup fresh or frozen or 1/4 cup dried blueberries every day. Eat any type of berry at least three times a week.

3. Broccoli

Why? Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. Broccoli contains cancer-fighting sulforaphane, indoles and carotenoids plus beta-carotene, lutein and zeathanin that promote eye health and ward off macular degeneration.

How much? Eat 1/2 cup raw or 1 cup cooked broccoli every day.

4. Oats

Why? Oatmeal's mighty nutrition profile.

How much? Eat at least three servings of whole grains a day. A serving equals one cup cooked oatmeal, 1/2 cup uncooked rolled oats or 1/4 cup steel-cut oats.

5. Soy

Why? An important source of vegetable protein, soy also contains isoflavones, estrogenlike substances that protect and maintain bone strength. Soy also contains important omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health.

How much? Eat one serving of soy foods a day. The size depends on the form of the food. Try edamame for snacking out of hand.

6. Spinach

Why? Spinach contains more than a Popeye-sized dose of iron. When it comes to antioxidants, it's packed with carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein for eye health.

How much? Eat at least 1 cup cooked spinach or other dark leafy green vegetable a day.

7. Sweet potatoes

Why? Loaded with beta-carotene, sweet potatoes boost the immune system. They also reduce cholesterol buildup in the arteries and help fight age-related macular degeneration and a variety of cancers.

How much? Eat at least one 1/2-cup serving of sweet potatoes or other beta-carotene-rich produce (carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin and orange bell peppers) a day.

8. Tomatoes

Why? Tomatoes contain lycopene, plus a range of beneficial phytochemicals that protect against heart attack, cancers and age-related macular degeneration. Cooked tomatoes contain more lycopene than raw tomatoes.

How much? Eat one serving a day with a little bit of healthy fat, such as olive oil, to help absorb the lycopene. Serving sizes are one medium raw tomato, about 1 cup cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup sauce, 1/4 cup puree, 2 tablespoons paste or 6 ounces juice.

9. Walnuts

Why? If you're looking for an excellent source of "good" polyunsaturated fats, walnuts are one of the few plant sources high in omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are the only nuts that contain ellagic acid, a cancer-fighting antioxidant. The amino acid arginine can reduce the risk of heart attack.
How much? Eat 1 ½ ounces of nuts per day. One ounce equals 14 walnut halves.

10. Wild salmon

Why? Wild salmon contains large amounts of omega-3, a fatty acid that reduces the risk of heart disease and heart attack by lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation that triggers arthritis and autoimmune diseases.
How much? A serving is just 3 ounces, roughly the size of a deck of cards, or 1/4 cup canned. Eat 12 ounces a week.

11. Extra-virgin olive oil

Why? The monounsaturated fats of olive oil are considered "good" fat that reduces cardiovascular disease, lowers blood pressure and prevents some types of cancer.

How much? Eat 1 tablespoon most days.

12. Dark chocolate

Why? Dark chocolate has the highest antioxidant content of any food. The darker the chocolate, the higher the count.

How much? Eat a 1-ounce serving daily. Also, try grapes, red wine and green tea, which are high in polyphenols, which boost good cholesterol. In addition to dark chocolate candy, try raw cocoa nibs. Although somewhat bitter, they have an intense, tannic flavor, like wine.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 

The power of potatoes

"Potatoes can be mashed, smashed, hashed, baked, double baked, boiled, roasted, scalloped, fried, and french fried.

But wait, there's more! They can be an ingredient in salads, snacks, soups, pancakes, gnocchi, pierogi, pie and even vodka."

This is how Sandy Thorn Clark opens her article on Potatoes in the Chicago Sun-Times of last week.

In the article are a number of recipes for potatoes, as well a lot of tips and tricks for handling, storing and cooking spuds.

One recipe is for Morton's Lyonnaise Potatoes, which are described thusly:

With the baked potato slices coated in bacon grease, Rook adds a pile of sliced Spanish onions, producing an intoxicating aroma. Rook performs his magic, flipping over the golden brown potatoes and transparent onions while remarking, "The real trick is getting the potatoes and onions done at the same time. You don't want the onions to burn before the potatoes. You have to pay attention for the 12 minutes or so you are preparing lyonnaise."

Here are also three tips for great mashed potatoes:

Q. How can you avoid gluey mashed potatoes?

A. America's Test Kitchen suggests it's in the preparation. If the milk or half-and-half is stirred into the potatoes before the butter, the water in the milk or half-and-half works with the starch in the potatoes to make them gluey and heavy. When butter is added first, the fat coats the starch molecules and prevents them from reacting with the water in the dairy product. The result is smoother, more velvety mashed potatoes.

Q. What are other recommendations for successful mashed potatoes?

A. When preparing mashed potatoes, the Idaho Potato Commission suggests placing a quarter of a lemon in the cooking water to prevent the potatoes from breaking up, and cooking them in their skins to prevent water logging. After cooking, pull the skins from the end of the potatoes to remove easily. While mashing, gradually add butter and warm milk to the potatoes to gauge consistency. Then season.

Q. What is the best way to boil potatoes?

A. Potatoes should be scrubbed (rather than soaked) and boiled in their skins to retain nutrients. Potatoes should be placed in the cooking water before it is heated. To prevent potatoes from discoloration, add a touch of lemon juice to the water. To enrich the flavor of potatoes, boil in a favorite stock or for a mild, sweet taste, boil in milk. Remove skins as soon as the potatoes are cool enough to hold.

Thursday, April 20, 2006 

Eight Spring Seasonal Beers to Check Out

Kerry R. Callahan in the Hartford Courant reviews eight seasonal beers, He notes that at this time of year, there are traditionally three beers that really fit in with the spring season, Bock, Doppelbock and Kolsch. Of these he says:

Bock, German for "goat," is a medium- to full-bodied lager, cold-conditioned at length and known for its smooth texture and even, subtly changing flavor profile. Doppelbock, first brewed as Lenten sustenance by German monks, is a sort of bock concentrate, rich, hearty and quite potent. Kolsch represents Cologne ale brewers' answer to the pilsner brewers who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were gobbling up market share. Like pilsner, Kolsch is light in body and color and hopped to be fresh and clean, although not terribly bitter.

He then reviews eight seasonal beers.

S'muttonator ( 4 stars, Pictured, Brewed in my hometown, so I'm partial)

Copper Hill Kolsch (3 stars)

Highland Fling Spring Ale (3 stars)

Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale (4 stars)

Harpoon Kellerbier (3 stars)

BBC Maibock Lager (3 stars)

Cerveza Cacao (2 stars)

Hofbräu Maibock (1 star)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 

Shakespearean Cuisine

The Boston Herald today offers a glimpse inside an intriguing cookbook entitled Shakespeare’s Kitchen.

They tell us :

Psychologist and food history expert Francine Segan has reawakened Elizabethan tastes with the beautifully illustrated “Shakespeare’s Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook” (Random House, 2003), which teems with savory re-creations and adaptations of meals created for Queen Elizabeth I, King James I and their contemporaries. By researching several cookbooks from the late 1500s to the early 1600s, Segan opens a fascinating window onto what people of that era ate and their thoughts on cooking and entertaining.

In recipes that range from Renaissance rice balls to salmon in pastry, we discover that Elizabethans used fresh or dried fruits as flavoring and a wide array of herbs and edible flowers for texture and flavor.

The article also offers a couple of sample recipes from the book. Seems like a pretty interesting idea for a cookbook, and with his birthday lined up for this Sunday, the timing for checking it out is pretty good too.

While hunting down a photo to use with this post, I came across this very interesting website, which also examines the food and cooking of that time period.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 

Tips for Spring Produce

From an excerpt in "Fields of Plenty," by Michael Ableman.

ASPARAGUS: Look for compact tips and smooth green stems that are uniform in color down the length of the stem. Check the cut stem end for any signs of drying and always avoid withered spears. Trim the stems and stand them in a glass with 1-2 inches of water. Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate up to three days.

BROCCOLI: Store, unwashed, in loose or perforated plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Broccoli left unrefrigerated quickly becomes fibrous and woody. Wet broccoli gets limp and moldy in the refrigerator, so wash it just before using. Store fresh broccoli in the refrigerator three to five days.

RHUBARB: The deeper the red, the more flavorful the stalks are likely to be. Medium-size stalks are generally more tender than large ones, which may be stringy. For storage, first trim and discard the leaves. Freshly harvested stalks can be kept in the refrigerator, unwashed and wrapped tightly in plastic, for up to three weeks.

STRAWBERRIES: Use strawberries as soon after purchasing as possible. Berries should not be left at room temperature for more than a few hours. Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. Do not wash berries until ready to use. Do not allow berries to sit in water -- they will lose color and flavor.

More in the article...

Monday, April 17, 2006 

Still Got Some Eggs Left?

Rachel Marshall in the San Francisco Chronicle has a number of ideas ans suggestions for what to do with any eggs you might have leftover from this weekend. She goes through a number of quick egg dishes which are traditional and some have religious connections as well.


While no American breakfast or bunch menu seems complete without a long list of omelets, the French deserve credit for refining the dish. Derivations of the word omelet can be traced back to Roman times. Ancient records describe eggs being beaten with milk and honey, then quickly cooked and folded over before serving.


One of the most appealing aspects of a quiche is the combination of textures. The crispy pre-baked crust provides nice contrast to the creamy filling, which can include anything from just diced vegetables to bacon and Swiss cheese, the traditional ingredients in a Quiche Lorraine. The Crab and Asparagus Quiche (see recipe) makes good use of sweet asparagus, and if you add crab and Gruyere, it's as though spring has arrived.


Another egg-based favorite, the traditional French souffle, has changed little over the years, except to become easier to master.

Tamago (Japanese Omelets)

The Japanese add a little sugar, dashi and soy sauce to eggs for their version of the omelet: tamago. Unlike the classic American omelet, the tamago is not filled. The thin layers of egg are cooked until just set in a rectangular pan, then neatly rolled up. sweet and salty notes complement the subtle flavor of the egg. Served at breakfast, it is also a popular addition to bento lunch boxes.

Tortillas and frittatas

Baked egg dishes find their place in the tapas bars of Spain and on the table for brunch.

The word tapas comes from tentempié, or snack, a light nutritious bite to eat that would sustain workers between meals. The Spanish tortilla uses egg to bind potatoes and herbs and spices. Tapas bars serve it at room temperature in little wedges throughout the day.

Friday, April 14, 2006 

Look to Mexico for flavors to transform brunch

You might just have some extra eggs around this week. (Not sure why) Even if it's just a normal weekend, Wolfgang Puck offers up a tasty looking recipe for using some of those eggs you have on hand and giving them a bit of a mexican flair.

One of the main secrets to the success of this recipe is to take a little extra care when cooking the eggs. Most cooks just crack them right over the frying pan, which can sometimes lead to broken yolks; and then they cook them completely on top of the stove, which often produces rubbery whites and yolks that are unappetizingly hard.

Instead, I first crack each egg separately into a small bowl before slipping it into a heated pan in which I've melted butter with a little oil over medium heat. I season the oil-butter mixture with salt and pepper before the eggs go in, too, which actually transfers more of the seasonings' flavor to the eggs.

Then, once the whites have begun to set, I finish cooking the eggs in the oven until the yolks are heated through but still fluid. The result is a much more delicately textured fried egg than anything you'll find in the standard coffee shop.

I've recently become hooked on huevos rancheros. This little cafe makes a terrific version which I've tried to duplicate at home with middling success. They take a toasted tortilla and top it with Black Beans, the eggs, then a sauce topped off with guacamole and sour cream. Outstanding!

Thursday, April 13, 2006 

A primer on meat cuts

The Seattle Times has a good look at the different cuts of meat, broken down by section.

It's helpful if you're cooking lamb this weekend, but the cuts apply to any animal.

The article also provides cooking techniques to match any of the cuts that you choose to go with.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

Coffee artists grind toward national title

An article from Kathleen Purvis in the Charlotte Observer looks at the U.S. Barista Championship, held at the Specialty Coffee Association of America's national conference in Charlotte.

The championship started Friday with 50 competitors, including several from the Carolinas. No Carolinas baristas made it to Monday's finals. But they could have, says Taylor: "Carolina locals have really improved. This area is coming up."

In the contest, the stage was set up with three stands to re-create coffee bars. Each had a three-spout espresso machine, a grinder loaded with specially chosen beans, a work space and a bar. Four judges stood behind the bar, waiting for baristas to serve them 12 drinks in 15 minutes.

"It's supposed to be the five-star dining experience," said Taylor.

Four sensory judges taste the coffee, looking for flavor, aroma, consistency, presentation and temperature. Two technical judges get in closer, looking for cleanliness, technique and machine operation.

Judge Brent Fortune, owner of Crema in Portland, Ore., was finished with his duties, so he sat with us to explain the action:

Arm position is important. When baristas put ground coffee in the handled filter, they have to shape the mound just right, then flatten it.

"Water's lazy," Fortune explains. "It wants to find the shortest route." So the grounds must be even.

Then, baristas press the grounds down with a tamper. This action is vital. A barista makes this movement over and over for hours. Do it with your arm at the wrong angle, and you can eventually hurt yourself.

Plus, it takes 30 to 40 pounds of pressure to press the grounds firmly. So you have to have your arm straight, with your elbow over your wrist.

"This is the stuff we geek out about," said Fortune. "There's a lot of science."

Some other tidbits and information:

*Cappuccino is harder to make than espresso. For espresso, you just need great coffee and the proper grind. For cappuccino, you need great coffee and great milk.

• "A big part of the cappuccino is the texture of the milk." At the U.S. Barista Championships, most finalists used certified-organic whole milk.

• Steaming brings out the sugar in milk, giving cappuccino some sweetness. The balance between the milk and coffee is important. Fortune looks at how far down the milk foam extends.

• "Latte art" is when baristas top cappuccinos with a pattern in the foam. (see above right)

• A traditional pour is topping cappuccino with a circle of foam. Judges want to see a brown tinge of espresso all the way around the cup, "so no matter where you sip, you get coffee flavor."

Friday, April 07, 2006 

Debunking wine myths

In an article in the Chicago Sun-Times this week, Brian Duncan takes some time to debunk a few common wine myths.

Among the myths on the list is the commonly held one that screw-off caps are automatically a sign of a low-class wine.

The makers of Screw|Kappa|Napa (pictured to the left) will no doubt be happy that Duncan debunks that myth, noting that more and more winemakers are moving the screw caps, because among other things you avoid potentially tainted corks.

By the way, I have an open bottle of their 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. Good stuff.

Among the other myths debunked on the list:
  • You need to decant every wine before you drink it -- or at least open the bottle an hour before serving.

    "Not every wine. The act of pouring a wine begins the process of aerating the wine. Therefore, pouring it into a glass does the same thing that a decanter would do."

  • You should NEVER place red wine in a refrigerator or cooler, but always drink it at room temperature.

    "Red wines are at a disadvantage when served at room temperature. Alcohol is exaggerated at room temperature and makes the wine 'hot,' causing an unpleasant harshness in the throat. Lighter red wines like Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Beaujolais benefit from being served at slightly cooler temperatures."

  • If you can't finish a bottle of white wine the next day or red wine within two or three, you might as well pour it out.

    "Never just pour it out! Buy an inexpensive Vacu-Vin pump & stopper."
Good tips to keep in mind...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006 

Successful Slow Cooking

Here are some tips from an AP article on getting the most out of your slow cooker:

• No stirring is required.

• The stoneware should be two-thirds full for best cooking results.

• Any recipe can be cooked on either high or low; cooking time will vary.

• The best size for one or two people is a 3- to 4-quart slow cooker; for three or four people a 3 1/2 - to 4-quart slow cooker, and for five to seven people a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.

• Try to use fresh herbs and spices. They take longer to release their flavor than dried herbs and spices and are better equipped to withstand extended cooking times

Tuesday, April 04, 2006 

Coarse Salt...Grey Salt...Table Salt...?

Kathleen Purvis is asked what the difference is between coarse and grey salt.

If you watch cooking shows, especially Michael Chiarello, you've heard them refer to Grey Salt. If you're confused about the difference between the types of salt, these paragraphs may prove helpful.

Coarse salt usually refers to kosher salt. It has larger grains than table salt. It's often used in brining (soaking food in salt water) because it dissolves easily. Kosher salt also doesn't contain iodine. Iodine has been added to table salt since the 1920s, for thyroid health.

Today, gourmet stores also sell sea salts from around the world. Sel gris, or grey salt, is sea salt from Brittany. French fleur del sel, literally "flower of the sea," is a salt that blooms on sea water.

Whether these salts have a different taste is debatable. But one thing they offer is texture. Sea salts usually come in flakes. Chefs use them as finishing salts, sprinkling them over food just before it's served to add crisp texture and bursts of salt flavor.

You wouldn't want to cook with sea salt. It's expensive -- some cost as much as $21 for a package -- and it loses that flaky texture when it dissolves.

Monday, April 03, 2006 

More on Fairmount Bagels

Last Friday, while in Montreal, we found our hotel was close to the famous Fairmount Bagel factory. I had first heard of them while reading a recent issue of Gourmet magazine which highlighted the food of Montreal.

We went and visited the factory (right) and took out two dozen bagels. Here is some of their history, as described on their web site:

In 1919, Isadore Shlafman arrived in Canada and opened the first bagel bakery in Montreal. It was located at the back of a lane, just off of Saint-Lawrence Boulevard, which was then known as "The Main". This is where Montrealers got their first taste of bagel, rolled by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven. This was the very first bagel bakery in Montreal.

In 1949, Grandfather Isadore move from Saint-Lawrence Boulevard over to Fairmount street. He bought a charming little cottage, and proceeded to knock down the back wall of the house, and built his bagel oven right there. He and his family lived upstairs, and when Grandfather Isadore went to work, he went downstairs and baked the bagel right there in his house. His son, Jack, learned the art of baking bagels and joined the business. They continued the tradition of rolling their bagel by hand, and baking them in their wood fired oven's. Since they were now located on Fairmount street, they renamed the bakery "The Original Fairmount Bagel Bakery".

Today, the family continues to make their bagel using the same traditions and methods that Grandfather Isadore brought to us from the old country. All the bagel are still rolled by hand, and are baked in our old fashioned wood burning ovens. New bagel are introduced only once the texture and consistency would meet Grandfather Isadore's standards. His grandchildren still manage the business today.

The bagels were still warm when we got them, and were chewy and delicious with a smear of cream cheese...

Saturday, April 01, 2006 

Fairmount Bagels - Montreal