Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

Tips for Cold Suppers

When the weather is steamy and muggy the last thing you might want to come home to is a hot dinner. Or maybe you want to have a picnic on the weekend, but don't want the usual sandwiches.

The New York Times has an article today looking at how to best prepare meats so that they can then be served cold. There are some good tips and principles to keep in mind when doing this:

...if the primary goal is to serve it chilled, the trick is to swab the meat with flavor — lots of chili powder, oregano, garlic, mustard and olive oil — before sliding it into the oven (roast it rare so it stays tender and juicy).

This works with vegetables as well:

The same applies to sturdy vegetables like green beans, carrots, broccoli, snow peas and celery. Simply cook them lightly, dress them intensely (with, for example, soy sauce, garlic, good olive oil, plenty of salt, pepper and lemon juice), and, given enough time for everything to meld, the salad will sparkle. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that the acid in the dressing will dim any bright green colors. Keep some fresh chopped herbs around to serve as a last-minute garnish.

Monday, June 26, 2006 

Restrictions on Fluff?

In another example of the East Coast - West Coast food gap, I was shocked to find that many on the left coast are unfamiliar with Fluff.

Growing up, a fluffernutter sandwhich (Peanut Butter & Fluff) was a special treat - usually to be enjoyed only at my grandmother's house, as my mom didn't want me having sugar.

To this day, I still enjoy one occasionally, and when my wife and I were combining our households prior to our wedding, she wondered what the container to the left was, and why I had it.

I couldn't, and still haven't convinced her to try a fluffernutter, but I'm confident she'll give in someday.

More disturbing is a motion recently proposed by a Senator in Massachusetts (the home of Fluff) to limit the availability of fluffernutters in school lunchrooms to once a week. Now it might be similar to the thinking that my mother had, that too much sugar is a bad thing...but I was also hyperactive as a child. (No one who knows me now can believe that...)

Another legislator promptly introduced a bill proposing to make the fluffernutter the official state sandwich.

Friday, June 23, 2006 

Developing Your Wine Palate

It can be embarrassing, frustrating and annoying to be tasting wine with others, and while they go on about black cherry, or currant or gooseberry or honeysuckle tones in the wine, while you struggle to find any comparisions that you can use to describe what you're tasting.

Len Napolitano tells us that developing your palate is a process that can take years.

He offers some suggestions about what you can do to develop your tasting skills.

Learning to appreciate fine wines starts with identifying the prominent flavors and components in a wine, whether they are individual fruit flavors, or degrees of sweetness, acidity or tannin. Evaluating how they all balance out overall on your palate is part of this step. Over time, you begin to know what to expect from a cabernet sauvignon versus a pinot noir, for example.

He adds:

The process of identifying fruit flavors and components can be enhanced by also thinking about the wine's personality and style. Consider the wine's power from alcohol, its texture on your palate, how quickly, or not, the flavors present themselves and how long they linger afterward.

Store these impressions into your wine memory bank. The next time you taste a cabernet sauvignon, think back to your impressions of previous tastings of cabernets. Ask yourself if your general impression of the wine is better, worse or the same as most other cabernets that you've tasted.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 

Homemade Pot Stickers

I'm ashamed to admit...I've only recently come to really appreciate the delicious packets that are pot stickers. Of course, here on the East coast, all the restaurants seem to refer to them as "Peking Ravioli" - a rediculous name if I ever heard one, and likely the reason I never really gave them a chance.

However, having connections and family on the West coast has set me straight. I love these things. Getting good ones out East remains a challenge. The frozen ones from Trader Joes (called Gyoza - which is Japanese) are pretty good, but you know they're frozen.

In the Seattle Post Intelligencer this week, Food editor Hsiao-Ching Chou shares her receipe and techniques for making pot stickers at home. Completely from scratch.

I need to make sure to save this one, because I'm going to try it for sure. She warns though, that the recipe is more of a rough guide rather than a standard:
When making the dough, for example, the ratio of flour to water may not be 2 to 1 as suggested. Since the weather can affect how a dough comes together, you will have to determine whether the mixture is too wet or dry and add flour or water to adjust. The stated cooking time for the dumplings is 7 to 9 minutes. But, it may be more depending on how evenly your stove and pan distribute heat.
Even so, she reminds us that pot stickers are essentially peasant food, something just about anyone should be able to make these. Some other tips I gathered from the article:
  • Use fresh pork. It can't be the least bit rancid, or else cooking will intensify the off smell and flavor.
  • Use Napa or Chinese cabbage, not regular green cabbage. Hand chopped, not processed.
  • Use a vegetable-based oil. Don't use olive oil, as the olive flavor doesn't meld well with the pot stickers.
In addition to the pot sticker recipe, she also provides a recipe for a soy dipping sauce...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 

Another Perfect Steak Recipe - This Time Without the Grill

Philip A. Stephenson in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers still more suggestions on cooking the perfect steak. He gives you tips on selecting a great cut of meat, and then gives some tips for preparing a great steak, without a grill. Here's a few:

  • Take the meat out of the fridge in advance. Don't cook a cold steak. It will cook unpredictably.
  • Oil the meat and not the pan. Put other seasoning on the steak, but don't salt it. He says salt leaches moisture from the cut. The time to put salt on, according to Stephenson, is just prior to serving.
  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  • Take a cast-iron skillet and put it on medium-high heat. He says:
Let it get hot enough that a drop of water doesn't sizzle, but instead skates and bounces over the surface of the pan. Then take your oiled, room-temperature and seasoned (just pepper is fine, actually, but spice rubs are good) steak, and place it in the pan. You might want to put it over to one side of the pan, so that when you turn it (45 seconds or so later) you have a fresh surface, which will not have been cooled by the cooking of the first side.
It is strongly recommended that you use tongs or a spatula to flip the meat. Don't pierce it with a fork. After flipping it the first time, let it sizzle for 20 seconds, then turn the heat to medium and let it sit another half-minute or so.

Then take the pan and place in your preheated oven on the center rack.
Leave it for 2 minutes, flip once more and cook for 3 minutes. Given a 11/2-inch thick cut, it should be medium.
A great sounding technique, just watch for smoke and be sure not to set off any alarms...

Monday, June 19, 2006 

Grilled Steak Tuscan style

The Culinary Institute of America offers some tips for grilling your steak Tuscan style.

I'll keep this advice in mind, as we're planning a two week trip to Tuscany in the fall of 2007.

The basics for a T-bone steak bistecca alla fiorentina:

Sprinkle it with salt and pepper, rub it with garlic and rosemary, and drizzle it with olive oil and fresh lemon juice as it comes off the grill.

They recommend grilling over indirect heat, and explain why here:

"Since the heat is less intense there, foods like thick steaks that take longer to cook or items like vegetables that might scorch before they finish cooking can finish grilling without turning black.

"To gauge the heat level, count how long you can hold your hand 1 inch above the grill before it becomes too hot. One to 2 seconds means high heat, 3 to 5 seconds means medium, and 6 or more means low."

A formal receipe for the Tuscan style grilled T-bone follows the article.

Friday, June 16, 2006 

100 Simple Tips to Healthier Eating

Chris Rosenbloom has compiled a list of what he calls "100 of the simplest and most practical tips around for healthful eating".

The tips are broken down into the following categories:
  • Tips to sneak in more fruits and vegetables
  • Tips for increasing fiber
  • Tips to fuel an active lifestyle
  • Tips for smart snacking
  • Tips to keep your food and family safe
  • Tips for eating out
  • Tips to manage your weight
  • Tips to reduce your risk of chronic disease
  • Tips for serious athletes
  • Tips to feed the teen machine
  • Tips on raising healthy babies

Monday, June 12, 2006 

Use Spices to Add Flavor and not Fat

An article from Family Circle has some tips on using spices, and gets specific on what spices are going to really improve the taste of your food.

Chili powder -- Capsaicin, found in chile peppers, works as an appetite suppressant. Capsaicin has also been shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory, a potent antioxidant and a promising cancer fighter. Sprinkle chili powder on tomato soup, macaroni and cheese or corn on the cob, or add hot sauce to eggs and omelets.

Garlic -- Garlic has earned fame as a powerful health helper. It's rich in organosulfur compounds with high levels of antioxidant activity and releases the antibiotic allicin when chopped or crushed. Sprinkle chopped or crushed garlic on pizza; or roast whole cloves and spread on a loaf of bread instead of butter.

Rosemary -- This "pine-y" flavored herb boasts high levels of antioxidant activity, thanks to two powerful free-radical eliminators -- carnosol and rosmarinic acid. Research shows that rosemary may help fight cancers of the breast, lung and skin. Mix it in an aromatic marinade for grilled chicken; spruce up stuffing with a couple of teaspoons or use fresh sprigs as skewers for shish kebabs on the grill.

Curry powder -- Turmeric, an ingredient in curry powder, contains curcumin. This phytochemical helps thwart cancer by "switching off" proteins that cause cells to multiply and by inducing cancer cells to self-destruct. The spice may also reduce risk of Alzheimer's disease, psoriasis and arthritis. Add it to bean-based soups, stir into plain yogurt for an exotic dip or sprinkle on pineapple slices and grill for a tasty side dish.

The piece also looks at Oregano and Cumin.

Friday, June 09, 2006 

Gourmet Sausage Roundup

This article by Noah Rothbaum originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, but I just found it today.

It seems people are buying and grilling few Hot Dogs and turning to Sausage more and more. The author decided to test out a number of the top brands of gourmet sausages that are available for order.

I found this part interesting:
First, we learned a trick. Before the grilling started, the chef placed most of the sausages in a pan of warm (but not boiling) salted water for a couple of minutes, and then crisped them on the grill. The water bath helps kick off the cooking, reducing the time on the grill. The longer it's on the flame, the higher the risk that the casing will burst -- and if that happens, the expert said, "you lose all the juiciness."
Lobel's came in first in their testing. The brands that they tried out and how you can order and learn more about them are listed below:
  • Lobel's Four-Pound Variety Pack, $58.98,, 877-783-4512
  • Allen Brothers, Our Sausage Sampler, $49.95,, 800-957-0111
  • Dean & DeLuca, Grilling Sausages, $40,, 800-221-7714
  • Nueske's, Favorite Links Sampler, $22.95,, 800-392-2266
  • Virginia Traditions, Edwards Smoked Sausage Sampler, $19.95,, 800-222-4267

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 

Building a Better Salad

If you're like me, eating salad every day gets old quick. No matter how resolved you might be to eat better, after a week or so, eating those greens with a few tomatoes and cucumber dressed with some reduced fat or fat free product get to you. You'd like something a little more...substantial. What are your options without completely falling off the wagon?

An article this week on gives you some suggestions and tips for improving that salad of yours.

The author tells you to forget you've ever heard of iceberg lettuce. Instead go for some of the more vibrant leaves:

To make a great salad, try to create a balance of mild, piquant, bitter or astringent, and peppery or spicy flavors. Try a butterhead such as Boston or bibb or a red or green leaf lettuce for the sweet taste. Add mustard greens such as mizuna or tatsoi for a piquant taste, add radicchio, escarole or curly endive for a bitter or astringent taste, and add arugula or watercress to get that peppery or spicy flavor.

So there's your lettuce, what about the rest of the salad? Here are some more suggestions:

Garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, hard-boiled eggs and leftover chicken, steak or tuna add protein and other nutrients, and cheese adds both protein and calcium. Tomatoes contribute vitamin C and lycopene, as do green, red or yellow peppers, which also contain vitamin A and other antioxidants.

And, of course, fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, chives and dill can brighten vinaigrettes and other dressings, although herbs and garlic should be strained out after a day or so to prevent development of an acrid taste if the vinaigrette is to be kept in the refrigerator for several more days.

If you are using fragile ingredients, such as hard-boiled eggs, bean sprouts or avocado, add them after tossing the salad and just before serving, or you will mix them into a mush.

A week's worth of more durable ingredients - such as meat, cheese, radishes, peppers and carrots - can be sliced or grated ahead of time and kept refrigerated to make packing a salad for lunch a faster and easier job. I also use only cherry or grape tomatoes in packed-lunch salads, to prevent the accidental creation of a batch of gazpacho in my salad container.

The article ends up with some more seasoning tips, and also has a couple salad recipes.

Monday, June 05, 2006 

Supper swapping: Tips help save time and money

The South Mississippi Sun Herald has some tips on Supper Swapping.

What is supper swapping, you ask?

It is a concept based on the book to the left, which outlines a plan where friends can take turns cooking dinners and then swapping leftovers. Here are some tips from the book which the article in the paper reprinted:

Plan smartly - Use recipes that won't overburden you on your day to cook. And if one meal is time-consuming, make the other a quick-fix meal.

Save smartly - Similarly, if you want to make an expensive meal, pair it with an inexpensive dish.

Make substitutions to economize - For example, if crab is costly, try using imitation crab. A chef would frown on it, but it could mean the difference between $3 a pound and $20 a pound.

Substitute less expensive fish - Tilapia, for example, is quite inexpensive when compared to bass or other similar fish.

Don't compare what you spend with what your partner spends - Trying to split costs can be messy. It penalizes you for being thrifty.

Shop specials - It pays to watch for ads. For instance never pay full price for salmon or pork loin if they go on sale regularly. Freeze extra for future uses.

Buy basics in bulk - Costco or Sam's can make sense when the groceries needed are basic.

Buy the best you can afford in kitchen accessories - For example, a quality spatula that can withstand 500 degrees can be used without melting or warping in hot sauces or in the dishwasher. A large food processor can cut food prep time in half.

Friday, June 02, 2006 

Kitchen Gadgets as Gifts

As someone who recently got married, I received a number of kitchen gadgets as wedding gifts. Some we had registered for, some came as a surprise. I was pleased with all of them.

Stuck for ideas beyond the basics? Amy Culbertson in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has an article on how to select some nifty gifts which will please the cook on your shopping list.

She writes:

To develop this gift list, I consulted with kitchen-store owners, picked the brains of fellow cooks and made a steely-eyed survey of my own kitchen-gadget habits.

A few trends: Color is big, eclipsing the serious, no-nonsense stainless-steel/black look that was the height of kitchen cool a couple of years ago. And silicone -- also in hip new colors -- is showing up everywhere from rolling pins to rainbow-hued spatulas.

My gift list -- all under $40, many way under -- starts with basics for budding cooks who are just beginning to build a battery of equipment, and moves on to goodies to enhance the kitchen arsenal of those closer to the Martha Stewart end of the spectrum.

There are also different levels, from the basic and indispensible to the gadgets for the kitchen of the serious cook. Some great tips and ideas in here!

Thursday, June 01, 2006 

From Amuse-bouche to Wagyu beef

How many of you knew what the items in the title were?

If you didn't, don't be embarassed. The Seattle Times has published an article that defines all sorts of unfamiliar food items you might come across on a menu these days.

The author, Nancy Leson tells of a experience she had:

Taking me at my word, I soon had her paying homage to a gorgeous filet of Columbia River sturgeon à la plancha with braised oxtail lentils du puy and leek fondue. Yes, she loved it, though pointing to the tiny black orbs garnishing her sturgeon, she wondered, "What's this?" Taking my fork to her fish, I rendered a verdict: "Tapioca pearls dyed with squid ink."

Other items that the article defines for you:
  • Beluga lentils
  • Burrata
  • Confit
  • Day-boat scallops/Diver's scallops
  • Guanciale
  • Hanger steak
  • Kurobuta pork
  • Mâche (aka lamb's lettuce, field salad, corn salad)
  • Marcona almonds
  • Paddlefish caviar
  • Panna cotta
  • Saba
  • Squid ink
  • Togarashi