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All posts for the month November, 2007

Fellow Food Bloggers, I have decided to take a stand for truth, justice, and food science!  I was watching a program on the Food Network of all places and was dismayed to find that in this, the year 2007, there is still confusion on one basic food principle.  The host of the show, who shall remain nameless, once again repeated the age old myth that the heat in chili peppers comes from the seeds.

Nay and Fie On It I say!!!  As we all know, the heat from chilis comes from membranes that secure the seeds to the chili’s walls.  Which is probably how seeds got such a bad rap in the first place.  But that is no excuse.

I am putting a stop to spice miseducation once and for all.  I am announcing CAPSAICIN: the Campaign for the Awareness of Peppers, Seeds and Intense Cooking In the Net.  There is no time for delay.  Go to the CAPSAICIN page and copy the code so that you add your very own CAPSAICIN badge to your website or blog.  Tell your friends so that they can be part of this important movement.

Now is the time for action.  Now is the time to stand up and say I will not tolerate confusion as to where the heat in spicy food comes from any more.  My fellow Bloggers, now is the time to proudly proclaim I am a member of the Campaign for the Awareness of Peppers, Seeds and Intense Cooking In the Net.

Thank you and good night.

So I kind of flaked on spice week.  I blame the extreme sickness that came and visited me for too long.

Because I only posted three recipes, I wanted to follow up with a fourth post on unique spices.  For this post, I shall talk about file powder.  Pronounced FEE-lay, it is a term for ground sassafrass leaves and is one of two ingredients that work with roux to thicken gumbo (the other being okra) and is a flavoring spice in other cajun food.

File makes the gumbo broth dark and gives the whole dish an earthy, savory taste that is not present in okra-based gumbo.  In addition, file powder seasons the entire broth whereas the only thing that tastes like okra is the okra.  As an added benefit, file powder does not get slimy and chewy like okra that has been cooked to long.  Which is not to say that I do not like okra gumbo.  I make it a lot, I just prefer file-based gumbo.

So here is my challenge to you.  In the United States where I am at, the weather is starting to get cold and winter will soon be upon us.  Cold weather is the perfect excuse to try out a new soup or stew recipe, so if you have not had a file-based gumbo, give one of these recipes a try!

http://www.cooks.com/rec/search/0,1-0,gumbo_file_powder_ingredients,FF.html

Okay, the following recipe is not mine…at least not completely.  I came across this recipe one day as I was flipping channels and happend to pass by the Food Network.  There, in primetime no less, was the lovely Paul Deen staring back at me over a mixing bowl.

With her Southern belle smile, she announced she was going to make a pumpkin cheesecake.  While she had me at “Hey y’all,” I sat in rapt attention as she made this recipe.

I had never made a cheesecake before.  I made that cheesecake.

I can bake.  Who knew?

If you decide to try it, follow the baking instructions exactly.  That’s my best advice.  My second best advice would that next time I make the recipe, I am going to add a half cup more sugar and double the spice.  I like my pumpkin pies bold with big flavors.  Paula’s pumpkin cheesecake was good, but it did not explode with sweetness, nutmeg, and clove like I prefer.  That is not Paula’s fault.  Everyone else who has tried the recipe loved it and wanted more. 

And besides, it’s a Paula Deen dessert.  You know it has to be good!

Hi everyone.  I am alive and well and only slightly frazzled with everything going on.  This is the week of Thanksgiving in America so for the next few days we’re going to be talking about how to make Thanksgiving feasts.  And then we’ll follow that up with how to turn Thanksgiving feasts into awesome Thanksgiving leftovers.

I wanted to start with the old standby: Green Bean Casserole.  Why?  1) Because I love the stuff and 2) Because it’s ridiculously unhealthy as is.  Think about it, it is canned green beans (mmm…sodium) and fried onions stewed in cream of mushroom soup.  Wait a minute…no wonder it’s so good.

Anyway, my recipe for making Green Bean Casserole is pretty straightforward, but is a whole lot healthier.

You will need:

  • 1 bag of frozen green beans
  • Juice from 1/2 of a lemon
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons of Old Bay
  • 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup of reduced fat chedder cheese (optional)
  • 1 cup of oyster crackers or roughly crushed saltines

To make it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Boil the green beens in salted water for 5-7 minutes or until al dente.
  3. Drain and add lemon juice.  Set aside.
  4. In a preheated skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, the onions, and the seasonings.  Cook until the onions are soft.
  5. Combine the green beans, the onions, and the cans of soup in a oven safe dish and bake until the soup is bubbly.
  6. If cheese is desired, add about five minutes into the baking prcoess.
  7. Add the crackers right before serving so that they stay crispy.

The key to this recipe for me is the Old Bay seasoning on the onions.  It gives them a flavor I prefer to fried onions.  To make up for the texture of green bean casserole, I added saltines to the top of the casserole.

 Enjoy!

**** Spoiler Alert: I will talk about who wins.  Please read with caution.

Well the Limited Series that was The Next Iron Chef Finale has come and gone in the throes of Battle: Swordfish.  This was an interesting battle between Chef John Besh and Chef Michael Symon, two chefs that took very different paths to the top.  Besh won the first challenge and established himself as the early favorite in the competition while Symon struggled mightily in the beginning only to steadily improve every week.

It came as no surprise, then, that Symon emerged victorious.  In fact, I think it was almost anti-climactic.  While I was cheering for Besh (this has to do more with my predicting him to be the final winner than any disdain of Symon’s cooking), I had this suspicion that Symon was going to win.  By the time the Iron Chefs were tasting each’s dishes, there was little doubt that Symon was going to be the winner.

And I think, based on that one meal, that Symon deserved to be the winner.  His dishes appeared to be more innovative and avant garde than Besh’s (ie more like what an Iron Chef would make), though this is easily attributable to Symon’s cooking style which is far more modern than Besh’s down home country style.

I did learn one thing from this show though.  If I ever had to make broth from swordfish bones, I need to roast them first.  This is a very important culinary tip…

Anyway, congratulations Chef Symon.  You passed the survival test that was The Next Iron Chef.  I expect big things out of you because you were born to cook.

Oh, and I hope there’s a rematch between Symon and Besh.  I would like to see the results.

I’m just mad about Saffron…Saffron’s madly expensive…

So, back for another edition of Spice Week, the cooking celebration of the reuniting of the Spice Girls.  Yesterday, we looked at a way to make a warm herbed goat cheese with herbs de’ Provence which can be enjoyed as is. 

However, by using another great spice, in this case, saffron, we can make an excellent topping for the goat cheese with a Spanish twist.

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil 
  • 1 medium white onion 
  • salt
  • 2 teaspoons of pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 pinch of red pepper flake
  • 1 tablspoon of Spanish paprika
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of green olives
  • 1 healthy pinch of saffron cooked in 2 tablespoons of hot tap water
  • 1/2 pound of 21 to 25 count shrimp (cooked), tails removed
  1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.
  2. When the skillet is hot, add the onions, garlic, a good pinch of salt, paprika, black pepper and red pepper flake.  Cook until the onions are very soft.
  3. When the onions are soft, add the can of diced tomatoes.  Bring the liquid to a boil and cook to reduce the sauce by 1/3.
  4. Wash the green olives and give them a rough chop.  When the sauce has reduced to the desired thickness, add the olives and let them get warm.
  5. Add the saffron and let the color of the spice spread throughout the sauce.
  6. Add the shrimp at the last minute and keep the skillet on the heat just long enough for the shrimp to get warm.  If you prefer, you can add uncooked shrimp at the same time as the green olives and cook them until they turn pink.

Take a healthy spoonful of the saffron-tomato-shrimp mixture and use it to top the goat cheese.   Tell me how you like it.

Interesting saffron facts: Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world because it can only be harvested by hand and is deadly in large amounts.  Enjoy!!

Welcome back to another (slightly later than I would have liked) edition of Spice Week.  In celebration of the Spice Girls reuniting, this week is all about how to use spices in your cooking.

And yes, I realize that herbs de’Provence are herbs and not spices, but bear with me here.  They’re a handy little thing to have for cooking.

Firstly, what are herbs de’ Provence?  Well, they’re herbs…from…Provence, France…

Actually, herbs de’ Provence are a mixture of dried herbs all of which are typically found in abundance in the Provence region of southeastern France and typically contain rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay and thyme.  Sometimes sage or lavendar are added as well.  They are an earthy mix of herbs that are used to add a natural, woodsy flavor to cooked foods.

Use herbs de’ Provence with either very robust flavors like beef or lamb or when you want the herbs to be the star of the show like in herbed chicken or in brown butter sauce poured over cheese ravoli.  Why then?  Well, the herbs in question, especially thyme and rosemary, are very strong and can easily drown out mild flavors like most vegetables or seafood.

Here’s something I am considering doing with some of my herbs de’ Provence.

You will need:

  • One tube of soft goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup of flower
  • 1/4 cup herbs de’ Provence
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • cooking spray (yes cooking spray…)
  1. Make sure the goat cheese is fresh out of the refrigerator when you prepare this recipe.
  2. Cut the goat cheese into medallions about 1/3 inch thick.  If the cheese is very soft, spin the cheese and press the outer edge of the circle inwards to firm it up almost like folding the edge of a pizza crust.
  3. Mix the flour, herbs, black pepper, and salt together in a plate or wide bowl.
  4. Place the goat cheese medallions on the flour/herb/spice mixture and coat both sides liberally.  As you coat the medallion, press down gently to really get the herbs and flour to stick.
  5. Let the medallions rest in the refrigerator for 5 minutes while the skillet preheats over medium heat.
  6. Coat the skillet and saute two to four medallions over medium heat until the cheese/flour is golden.  This should take about 2-3 minutes per side.

Enjoy as is or tune in tomorrow for my advice on how to top the goat cheese.

Due to my illness, I took the week off to recover and try to eat something other than dry pasta.  I’ve been partially successful.

I did want to get back on track with my calendar so I’m using this week to talk about spices.  And why I am so excited about spices?

That’s right you guessed it…because in exactly one month the Spice Girls kick off the world reunion tour!!!  No, really. 

On a personal bummer note: the closest they’re coming to me is Chicago… 🙁

Anyway, for this installment of Spice Week, I thought I’d start with Indian spices.  Indian food is a style of cuisine that relies on a large variety of different spices to create its unique flavor profile.  In making even the most basic Indian dish, you are going to need turmeric, ground coriander, cumin seeds (or ground cumin), garam masala, salt, and pepper.  Plus garlic, ginger, and onions which do a heck of a lot for the flavor a dish.

However, if you can get that mix down, you’ve got the leg up on just about any Indian dish.  Except butter chicken.  Do not even get me started on butter chicken.

I came upon this mixture as the cornerstone of Indian cooking during a recent Indian cooking class I took with my wife for her birthday.  That combination of spices (turmeric, coriander, cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and onions) formed the basis for every dish we made.

To test the mixture out in a dish of your own, try making my potato cholay:

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 8 small red potatoes cut into 1/4 inch “coins”
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup of water or broth
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon (two inches) grated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 tomato, diced (or 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes drained)
  1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the potatoes and a pinch of salt.  Toss the potatoes to coat them in the oil.
  2. Cook the potatoes covered until soft.  Add a tablespoon or two of the water or broth if the pan gets dry.  This will take 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the onions, another pinch of salt, ginger, and garlic and saute until the onions soften, 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the spices and the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes become warm and give off a little liquid.

Viola!  Potato Cholay.  For me, learning this basic spice mixture was receiving the keys to the kingdom.  I now fear no Indian food because I have an idea of the basic spices that give this cuisine its unique flavor.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***  In this post I say who gets kicked off the show.

This week’s episode of the Next Iron Chef was decent episode.  The task was to make a three course meal for 20 people using roughly $2,500 in ingredients (they got 2,000 Euros.)  They were then paired up with a sous chef whom they had never met before to help them with their cooking.

As has often been the case with the show, the complications in the task fall flat.  Whether this was just a case of poor editing or having a strange sous chef really made no difference, I cannot say.  They did spend the majority of time on the chefs shopping which was, I will admit, rather interesting.

One thing that would have been more interesting to me would have been to give them a Dinner: Impossible-style challenge where they would have had to prepare food for a large number people using a team of sous chefs they had never met.

That’s good television.

In the end, the rough around the edges, never able to string together three good dishes (the judges’ words, not mine) Chef Chris Costentino was informed that he was not going to be heading on to the finale.  This judgement came as no surprise as he did not fit the Food Network image and appeared unable to cook with cameras in his face (something that never happens in Iron Chef America…)

The last episode is going to be interesting.  When the show started, I assumed Chef Michael Simon would be gone by the episode 3 and Chef John Besh an easy champion.  I underestimated Simon, there’s fight him.  Probably because he is born to cook.

Anyway, the dishes on this episode were to be remakes of American classics.  They were an interesting mix with Chef Costentino presenting a lobster roll, philly cheese steak, and grappa infused fruit.  Chef Simon did a lobster hot dog, veal meat loaf with truffled potateoes, and a root beer float.  Chef Besh did fried seafood, chicken and dumplings and strawberry shortcake.

If you have $2,500 and need to feed 20 people to win your shot at culinary fame, what American classics would you redo?

For my money, I am going with kobe beef/bleu cheese sliders and home made potato chips, chicken fried steak breaded in panko with a marsala wine/herb cream reduction, and individualized apple pies with vanilla bean ice cream.

That’s right, it’s back again for another crazy year.  It’s World Vegan Day.

I know many of you, my readers, are not vegans, which is just fine.  Neither am I.  However, there is nothing wrong with trying vegan recipes every now and then (like my soyrizo taquitos for instance…)

I was vegan once for about three days, but I was just not ready for it.  The diet felt restrictive, but that was before I started to learn how much is out there fore the vegan to eat.  Make no mistakes about it: there is no such thing as a bad vegan cook because eating out vegan is so hard, they must prepare their own meals.

I will admit, some of it takes some getting used to.  Some of the meat replacements appear to only fool those who have not eaten meat in a long while (I’m looking at you tofu dogs), but vegan cuisine made from good local ingredients and well prepared tofu is every bit as gourmet as a $500/plate meal.

So, if you’re stuck in a rut or looking to challenge yourself, try vegan for a meal.  Your tastebuds and your body will thank you.