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Archive for May, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Have Fun With The History Of Food

If you love food, you may love learning more about it. Museums mount enlightening exhibits that put the history of our mainstay foods in perspective.

Take beer. The New York Historical Society has just opened an exhibit called Beer Here, Brewing New York’s History. Chock full of artifacts, the exhibit runs through September 2, 2012.

At the conclusion of the exhibit, you step into a “tavern” to taste some outstanding craft beers from New York brewers. The selection varies daily. We happened to catch the new Small Batch IPA from Heartland Brewery, a brewpub with seven Manhattan locations. The IPA’s complex layering of herbal and floral flavors and aromas is simply thrilling.

But you don’t have to be in Manhattan to find an exhibit on beer, hot dogs, tacos and other favorite foods. Check with your local museums, historical societies and academic institutions to see what they may be cooking up.

 

Engraving of a 16th century brewery. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEER IN CITIES

As cities grew and local water supplies became polluted, microbes in the water caused disease in the population. People could not safely consume water that had not been boiled.

But beer making boils the water and kills the pathogens. Plus, in the 19th centuries it was discovered that the hops used to flavor beer had antipathogenic and preservative properties (and were even made into medicines).

Beer was one of the most common beverages in the Middle Ages, consumed daily by all social classes in the northern and eastern parts of Europe. Beer also provided a considerable amount of the daily calorie intake. Until clean municipal water supplies were developed in the 19th century, even young children drank beer.

In addition to serving as a vital source of nourishment, beer was a steady source of tax revenue.

 

The Lightning closure, was invented in the
1870s and is still in use today, upgraded with
a ceramic cap and a rubber gasket, and is called a swing top.
Check out more historic bottle closures. Photo courtesy SHA.org.

 

Beer Trivia

  • Party time, 10,000 C.E. People were brewing beer 12,000 years ago, about the time when mankind began to transition from a nomadic lifestyle to agricultural communities. Women became the primary brewers, among their many household duties.
  • Four simple ingredients. Beer is made from water, a fermentable starch source, brewer’s yeast to produce the fermentation (conversion into alcohol) and a flavoring such as hops (the cone-shaped flower clusters from the hops plant, Humulus lupulus.
  • Grain of choice: malted barley. In the U.S. and Europe, malted barley is fermented into beer. But the first beer brewed in the Colonies, in colonial Virginia in 1587, was made from local corn. In other parts of the world, agave, cassava root, millet, potato and sorghum are used (among other sources).
  • Fast forward to the year 1587 in colonial Virginia; Europeans produced the first homebrew made from corn in what would become the United States.
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  • You have the right to homebrew. On October 14, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which exempted beer brewed at home for personal use from taxation. This exemption encouraged many people to homebrew, some of whom went on to establish the roughly 2,000 craft breweries in America today…and an estimated 1,000,000 homebrewers.
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    Thanks to the American Homebrewers Association for the beer trivia.

    As you enjoy a cold one, consider brewing your own. We really enjoyed making beer with a Mr. Beer kit.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Grilled Portabella Mushrooms

    If you’ve never made delicious grilled portabella mushrooms, firing up the grill on Memorial Day weekend is an opportunity to cook these fab fungi.

    Small, brown cremini mushrooms, the size of white button mushrooms, grow up into more complex-flavored portabellas. Meaty in both taste and appearance, they grow from three inches to an enormous 10 inches in diameter, with firm flesh. Like meat, they even release juices when cooked.

    Scrumptious on their own, portabellas are also a food of choice for dieters, vegans, vegetarians and those watching their cholesterol. They can be grilled in lieu of beef, and they make wonderful grilled vegetable sandwiches.

    Served them whole or sliced, stuffed or as “burgers.” For a simple yet elegant starter, serve sliced grilled portobellas drizzled with a balsamic reduction (recipe below), with some greens on the side (we love a feisty arugula-fennel-watercress combination with a few grape tomatoes).

     

    Portabella mushroom caps on the grill. Photo courtesy BongCookbook.com.

     

    Originally available wild from December to March, portabellas are now cultivated year round.

    Get the recipe for a portabella Philly Cheese “Steak” (photo below) and this beautiful portabella recipe, stuffed with a salad of microgreens and sprinkled with goat cheese.

     

    Grilled Philly Cheese “Steak” with portabella
    mushrooms. Photo courtesy Mushroom
    Council.

     

    TO GRILL PORTABELLA MUSHROOMS

    1. Remove stems and save for another purpose (omelet, salad, etc.). Wipe the portabella caps with a damp paper towel.

    2. Brush the tops with olive oil or canola oil. Cook portabellas gills down for the first 10 minutes to allow moisture to escape. Flip and grill tops.

    3. Season as desired before serving.

    PORTABELLA, PORTOBELLO or PORTOBELLO?

    How can one mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, be known by so many names?

    When young, the mushroom is variously called a baby portobello, baby bella, brown mushroom, crimini, Italian mushroom, mini bella, portabellini, Roman mushroom, Italian mushroom, or brown mushroom.

    When mature, the mushroom portabella, portobella or portobello. We prefer portabella because it flows easiest off the tongue.

     

    BALSAMIC REDUCTION RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup balamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
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    Preparation

    1. Combine balsamic vinegar and garlic in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

    2. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until the vinegar has reduced to 1/4 cup. Cool to room temperature.

    3. Drizzle over grilled portabellas.

    DO YOU KNOW YOUR MUSHROOMS?

    Check out the different types in our Mushroom Glossary.

      

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    RECIPE: Smores On The Grill

    When we think of the good old scouting days, making S’mores in the woods by toasting marshmallows on a peeled branch over a crackling campfire, we think:

    Why didn’t Mom let us make S’mores in the backyard on the grill, sparing us the poison ivy and mosquito bites? The answer, most likely, is that she didn’t want us stripping the forsythia and pussy willow bushes. (Those were the days before the advent of metal marshmallow skewers.)

    But no plant is denuded to make these delicious S’mores-on-the-grill.

    This recipe suggestion comes from the folks at Tastefully Simple, who used their creamy caramel sauce to make S’mores even more festive.

    S’MORES WITH CREAMY CARAMEL SAUCE

    Makes 4 cookie sandwiches.

     

    Turn this Girl Scout standard into a cookout favorite. Image courtesy Tastefully Simple, Inc. Used with permission.

     

    Ingredients

  • 4 large marshmallows
  • 8 graham cracker squares
  • 4 squares of chocolate (about the size of a graham cracker square)
  • Caramel sauce or chocolate sauce
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    Preparation

    1. Roast marshmallows on a skewer over a grill or low flame, until browned and puffed.

    2. Place a graham cracker square on a small plate; top with a square of chocolate and the hot marshmallow.

    3. Top with second graham cracker square; drizzle with warmed caramel sauce.

    MORE FUN WITH S’MORES

  • Recipes for a S’mores party.
  • Cutting edge recipe: tortilla chip S’mores with a cappuccino cocktail.
  • Banana S’mores on the barbie recipe.
  • The original S’mores recipe.
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Guerilla Cooking With ”The Flavor Bible”


    Our chef’s favorite new book, a great gift for sophisticate cooks (or those who want to be). Photo courtesy the authors.

     

    THE NIBBLE’s chef Johnny Gnall is very enthusiastic about a cooking book published in 2008. He refers regularly to The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. His review follows. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

    Whenever my profession comes up in conversation, there is one question I get asked more than any other: “What is your favorite cuisine to cook at home?”

    The closest approximation I can offer is that I’m a champion of “guerilla cooking.”

    By this, I mean that I open the refrigerator and figure out my menu on the spot. Scanning the fridge for proteins and produce, thumbing through spices and jars in the pantry, I put together a meal that rarely fits neatly inside the label of any one cuisine.

     

    I suppose I love this kind of cooking so much because of my mom, the earliest and most ubiquitous influence on my identity as a cook. She was a working mother who often found herself at the end of the week with odds and ends in the fridge, limited time on her hands and five people to feed. Each and every time, she made the kind of dinners that had the neighborhood kids lining up for their turn to eat over.

    So it only makes sense that when I cook, I feel perfectly comfortable going in blind. One of the keys to success in such circumstances is knowing which products and flavors complement one another.

    The most effective way to gain such knowledge is experience. However, for those with less experience, The Flavor Bible is an invaluable book to help fill in the blanks. I bought my copy during culinary school on a classmate’s emphatic recommendation, and I will probably use it for the rest of my life.

    The Flavor Bible starts off with 30-plus pages on the nitty-gritty details of what exactly constitutes “flavor.” It begins by defining it in the equation, TASTE + MOUTHFEEL + AROMA + X-FACTOR = FLAVOR.

    The “X-factor” is anything perceived by our senses of sight, smell and taste, as well as emotional or mental reactions to the food. Each component of the equation is discussed in depth, even addressed philosophically at times; and is explored in as many contexts and from as many perspectives as you’re likely to come across.

     

    But all of this—the pontifications on flavor and the scientific breakdown of taste and aroma—is merely the introduction. The most valuable content of the cook lies in its other 350 or so pages: the flavor matchmaking charts.

    These charts contain a virtually all-inclusive list of ingredients, from meat to dairy to seafood to produce, from herbs and spices to oils and vinegars—even liquors and wines. Listed below each ingredient are any and all complementary ingredients, flavors, seasonings, and cooking methods.

    Even with a blinding headache, you can figure out exactly what goes best with whatever you happen to have on hand. You’ll also find recipes from notable chefs peppered throughout the charts, and simple dishes and meal ideas in the margins. Warm Frisée and Bacon Salad with Beet Carpaccio and Toasted Walnuts? Yes, please!

     

    Look in the fridge for ingredients: The Flavor Bible tells you what pairs best with what. Photo courtesy California Asparagus Commission.

     

    For those who want to start off in a general direction but keep things fast and loose, world cuisines are listed with their traditional and most popular ingredients and flavors for easy reference. Throwing a party for a Cuban friend whose family is in town? With The Flavor Bible, you know to fill your house with allspice, avocado, beans, beef, bell peppers, chicken, chocolate, citrus, cumin, garlic, lime, oregano, pineapple, plantains… you get the idea.

    So pick up a copy of The Flavor Bible. Then stride fearlessly to the refrigerator and swing the door open with confidence. No matter what you find starting back at you, rest assured you have the knowledge (and then some) to transform it into something delicious.

    And that’s a bible to swear on!

      

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    PRODUCT: Sushi Donuts, Cricket Donuts

    Sushi donuts? Sounds delish. Photo courtesy
    Psycho Donuts.

     

    Psycho Donuts, in San Jose, California, is, well, a bit psycho.

    It’s not the sushi-shaped donuts, a bento box with Pocky chopsticks called Psycho Psushi. We love the idea.

    But the cricket donuts (yep, with whole dried crickets) are a bit psycho for us. We come from the generation right before Fear Factor made it cool to eat bugs.

    We don’t know how many people buy the cricket donuts, but the company does say that when it launched Psycho Psushi a year ago, a line of 1,000 people wrapped around the block(s) to get them.

    This year, the company made twice as much to meet demand for the Psycho Psushi.

    Alas, Psycho Donuts does not deliver outside of Santa Clara County. But there’s still time for you to find your way to San Jose by National Donut Day.

     

    Would You Like Bugs With That?

    In honor of National Donut Day—the first Friday in June, this year, June 1st—Psycho Donuts has launched a new series of donuts, dubbed PsychoBugz. It employs edible crickets and larvae as donut toppings.

    Ron Levi, Doctor of Donut Derangement at Psycho Donuts, notes that while bugs may have a bad rap in the U.S., they are enjoyable snacks in other parts of the world, (they are very high in protein).

    We’re still creeped out by the sight of Al Roker eating a scorpion-on-a-stick at the Beijing Olympics. But if you’re game:

     

    Cherp Derp, a chocolate donut topped with crickets. Photo courtesy Psycho Donuts.

     

  • Chirp Derp is a chocolate cake donut with a hint of pumpkin and chipotle. The donut is iced in dark chocolate with a drizzle of milk chocolate, with a sprinkle of bacon bits. Three crickets are perched atop the donut.
  • Worm Hole is a jalapeño tequila-spiked cake donut with salted lime icing, keylime drizzle and a Mexican spice larvette near the donut’s center.
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    Chief Psycho Jordan Zweigoron said, “We are buzzing with excitement.”

    Check out the company website.

      

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