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Archive for June, 2013

FOOD FUN: Heirloom Potatoes

Exotic looking, but they’re just potatoes!
Photo courtesy Costanera Cocina Peruana.


Potatoes originated in the Andes Mountains of Peru, where more than 2,000 varieties still grow wild (there are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes worldwide). They were first domesticated more than 6,000 years ago.

Don’t you wish you could buy some of these beauties, instead of the plain potatoes grown for the mass market?

If you look closely, you’ll see versions that look similar to what we can buy today. What we can buy is based on which varieties:

  • Produce the highest yields
  • Are the hardiest
  • Appeal most to consumers (much as we’d love them, many people don’t want to buy those curled or knobby potatoes)

    Wild potatoes are indigenous to the Andes Mountains in Peru, and were cultivated by the Incas.

    The name is said to originate from the Spanish patata, a combination of batata, the sweet potato, and papa, a word for potato from the Inca language, Quechua.

    The Spanish conquered Peru around 1530 and brought potatoes back to Spain. News traveled fast (or what passed as “fast” in the centuries prior to the telegraph), and potatoes reached the rest of Western Europe relatively quickly.

    However, not everyone was enamored of the potato (or the tomato). They were feared at first, accused of causing leprosy and being poisonous. They were classified as a relative of deadly nightshade, because both contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, though the levels in domestic potatoes and tomatoes fall far short of being harmful to people.

    Slowly, more countries realized the power of the potato. It could grow in any climate. It thrived in Ireland, so much so that when hit by a potato blight, Phytophthora infestans, three years in a row, more than a million people died of starvation and disease.

    Potatoes were introduced to America in the 18th century. They were first planted in Idaho in 1836; the state now grows 25% of the nation’s potatoes.

    Idahoan Luther Burbank developed the Russet Burbank potato in 1872, a more disease-resistant version of the Irish russet potato (there have been additional russet developments since).

    And the rest is history—even if modern history is not as colorful as the original created by nature.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Tequila On The Rocks

    Sure, you enjoy tequila in a Margarita, Tequila Sunrise or hundreds of other drinks that use the popular Mexican spirit.

    But have you tried tequila on the rocks? That’s how the aged tequila expressions, Añejo and Extra Añejo, should be enjoyed (here are the different types of tequila).

    Even if all you have is a bottle of Blanco/Silver tequila, you can pour it over rocks. Here‘s a refreshing tip for summer sipping from the folks at Milagro Tequila:

    Serve Silver tequila on the rocks with a sprig of spanked mint.

    Least you think that “spanked” mint is something kinky: Just crush the mint lightly in your hand to release some of the essential oil inside. It’s a tip to use with all fresh herbs, whether you’re adding rosemary to a marinade or basil to a sauce.


    Tequila on the rocks: no mixing required. Photo courtesy Milagro Tequila.


    Spanking is different from muddling, where the ingredients—fruits, herbs, and/or spices—are mashed in the bottom of a mixing glass to release their flavor.

    A long, stick-like gadget (the muddler), similar to a mortar-and-pestle effect, is used for crushing.


    Red, white and blue tequila shots. Photo
    courtesy Navan Liqueur.



    You can exchange the mint for fruit and turn tequila on the rocks to red, white and blue tequila shooters.

    Just add a spoonful of purée or fruit juice to the shot glass:

  • Red purée: raspberry or strawberry
  • White purée: lychee or white peach
  • Blue purée: blackberry or blueberry

    While explorers of the New World brought much exciting food back to Europe (cacao/chocolate, potatoes, tomatoes and turkey, for starters), they contributed two pretty essential foods to the New World: distilled spirits (they taught the Aztecs how to turned the original fermented mezcal into tequila) and honey.

    Check out the history of Tequila.




    TIP OF THE DAY: More Red, White & Blue Food

    A healthful dessert or snack for Independence Day Weekend: You can’t go wrong with Red, White & Blue Fruit Salad. This fanciful fruit dessert was created by the National Watermelon Promotion Board.


    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 4 cups watermelon balls
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 4 dollops prepared whipped topping or substitute*
  • Optional garnish: red, white and blue star sprinkles

    *Whipped Topping Substitutes

    Prepared whipped toppings typically have high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, which we avoid. Instead, use crème fraîche, mascarpone, sweetened sour cream, vanilla frozen yogurt, whipped cream or miniature white meringue cookies.


    Another beautiful dish of red, white and blue. Photo courtesy National Watermelon Promotion Board.



    1. MIX together the watermelon and blueberries. Divide among 4 sundae bowls.

    2. TOP each with a dollop of topping and sprinkle with red, white and blue sprinkles. Serve immediately.



    Another way to enjoy the red, white and
    blue. Photo courtesy


    Here‘s a delicious idea from Knicole of, where you can find many wonderful cookie recipes.

    It’s essentially a chocolate chip cookie with added dried raspberries and blueberries. You can incorporate the red, white and blue into other cookies, including oatmeal. If you don’t like white chocolate, use macadamia nuts.


    Ingredients For 24 Cookies

  • 1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dried blueberries
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips or 3 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks


    1. PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Have ready two ungreased cookie sheets.

    2. MIX together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium size bowl.

    3. CREAM butter and both sugars together in a second bowl. Add egg and vanilla and beat for 30 seconds.

    4. ADD flour mixture and stir with a mixing spoon until well mixed. Stir in all dried berries and white chocolate.

    5. DROP by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 12-13 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.




    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Panasonic Electric Kettle

    Summer is iced tea time. If you’re a fan, here’s a question:

    Why take the time and effort to brew iced tea? You can buy it in individual bottles and large formats just about everywhere.

    The main reasons to brew your own are sustainability, cost and, if you have a good palate, better quality tea.

  • Save The Environment. Just as with water bottles, all of that extra plastic goes into landfill. Some people recycle, but that, too, requires energy and expense.
  • Save Money. How much does a 16-ounce bottle of iced tea cost? About $1.79 where we live. Even if you buy them at club stores, you’re still paying a dollar—as opposed to pennies to brew your own.
  • Please Your Palate. Brew iced tea from loose tea or quality tea bags and enjoy superior tea flavor. We use great tea that’s so complex and flavorful, it never needs sugar.
  • Decaffeinated Tea. People who limit their caffeine can enjoy decaffeinated iced tea to their hearts’ content.

    Panasonic’s sleek new electric kettle. Photo courtesy Panasonic.



    Electric kettles have been around for generations, but they keep getting better and better.

    Introduced last month as part of Panasonic’s new Breakfast Collection, the The Panasonic C-ZK1 is a sleek 1.4 liter tea kettle with 1500 watts of power. It’s $179.95 on You can find an electric kettle for $25.00, but it doesn’t have these features:

  • Quick to heat. Heats up water faster than a traditional tea kettle. The 1.4 liter capacity equates to 47 ounces. Our pitcher holds 64 ounces. The water for the the extra 16 ounces heats in two minutes.
  • Cool to touch. It has a cool-touch exterior.
  • Automatic shutoff. A welcome safety feature, here’s automatic shutoff when the water has boiled.
  • There are more benefits. Read the full review.

    Or head on over to to buy one.




    TIP OF THE DAY & FOOD HOLIDAY: National Ceviche Day

    Ceviche with a fried plaintain garnish. Photo
    courtesy Chef Todd English | MXDC.


    The third annual National Ceviche Day is June 28th. The holiday started in Peru, where ceviche is the national dish.

    Ceviche, seafood served chilled, is delicious any time of the year, but is especially refreshing in summer. It’s a great dish: high in protein, low in calories, with as many recipe variations as there are cooks to create them.

    Ceviche (pronounced say-VEE-chay) starts with raw fish and/or shellfish that is marinated and cured in citrus juice. The highly acidic citrus juice creates a chemical reaction in the proteins, the result of which is similar to what happens when the fish is cooked with heat. As the fish marinates, you can see it change from translucent to opaque. For people who avoid raw fish: Consider ceviche to be cooked.

    We don’t know how long ceviche has existed, only that it has been around for more than 500 years. In the early 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors wrote of an Inca dish of raw fish marinated in chicha, a fermented maize beer.


    The Spanish contributed lime and onion, ingredients that are integral to modern ceviche. In fact, the term “ceviche” is thought to come from the Spanish escabeche, meaning marinade.

    Ceviche has spread over Latin America, with both Ecuador and Peru claiming to have originated the dish. Both were part of the Incan Empire. But why quibble: Today, ceviche—or seviche or sebiche, depending on the country—is so popular that there are cevicherias, restaurants that specialize in ceviche.

    Each country adds its own spin based on local seafood and preference for ingredients like avocado. The classic marinade is called leche de tigre, tiger’s milk: lime juice, sliced onion, chiles, salt, pepper and often a bit of juice runoff from the fish. Some preparations add a dressing of ketchup or a combination of ketchup and mayonnaise. Don’t be afraid to customize a recipe with your favorite ingredients.


    You can use our ceviche recipe template to create your own signature ceviche. Here’s what to drink with ceviche.

    The classic ceviche is fluke marinated with aji rocoto (a very hot Peruvian chile) and cilantro. A mixto (fluke, octopus, shrimp, squid) with avocado, onion and tomato is also popular, as are hundreds of variations, including contemporary versions with ingredients from apple to zucchini. Here are some of variations from restaurants in our area:

  • Ceviche, marinated in leche de tigre and aji chilies and served with red onion, cilantro, yams and choclo (Peruvian corn with jumbo kernels); Crab, arctic char, shrimp; Arctic char with aji amarillo, avocado and soy-lime dressing; fish that is cut sashimi style (at Costanera Cocina Peruana)
  • Mahi-mahi in citrus juice with fermented pepper, napa cabbage, cucumber, cilantro, red onion, nori garnish; shrimp ceviche in leche de tigre with red onion, pomegranate, chives, avocado and dashi; bay scallop ceviche with lime, Thai sweet chile, avocado, peanut, mint, crispy shallot garnish; fluke ceviche with guanabana (soursop, a South American fruit), grapefruit, lychee, cucumber, serrano chile and avocado sorbet (at Richard Sandoval Restaurants)
  • Mahi-mahi with guanabana, grapefruit, red onion, serrano chile, avocado, tomatillo and pico de gallo; shrimp ceviche with aji panca, hearts of palm, roasted corn, fresh orange, serrano chile and a bonito garnish; sea bass with aji amarillo, red onion, cucumber, apple, tomato and a shiso garnish (at Richard Sandoval Restaurants)


    Peru has a large Japanese population, which has resulted in “fusion ceviche” by adding traditional Japanese ingredients—daikon radish, kaiware sprouts, ponzu sauce, scallions, sesame, shiso, ume, yuzu, soy sauce, wasabi.

    In addition to conventional dishware—plates and bowls—consider:

  • Martini Glasses. Served in martini glasses like they do at top restaurants, and this simple fish preparation becomes a luxury experience.
  • Shot glasses. Serve ceviche in shot glasses, with small seafood forks, as an accompaniment to cocktails.

    A tasting trio. Photo © Pampano Botaneria | NYC.



  • Master Ceviche Template: choose your favorite ingredients
  • Lobster Ceviche
  • Shrimp Ceviche
  • Trout Ceviche (or other fish of choice)
  • Wasabi Ceviche with mixed seafood


    RECIPE: July 4th Layer Cake

    A patriotic layer cake. Photo courtesy
    Harry & David.


    You can buy this delicious Red, White and Blueberry Cake from Harry & David ($49.95 plus shipping). Or you can make your own.

    First, Harry & David’s cake:

    Made in the company’s bakery, three layers of fluffy vanilla cake are separated by strawberry and blueberry fillings and covered in rich cream cheese frosting.

    The fun continues with the decoration: What look like blueberries atop the cake are actually Harry & David’s chocolate-covered dried blueberries.

    We can’t imagine who wouldn’t want to receive one of these as a gift.



    It‘s easy to bake your own red, white and blue layer cake.


    All you need are:

  • A box of white cake mix, or your own from-scratch recipe
  • Raspberry, strawberry or other red jam or preserves
  • Blueberry or other blue jam or preserves
  • Frosting (we like our cream cheese frosting recipe)
  • Garnish: fresh blueberries and raspberries or chocolate-covered dried berries, sparklers

    1. PREPARE batter and bake cake in 3 layers, according to package or recipe directions. Check directions to see if you need to prepare extra batter for the third layer. Cool.

    2. MAKE frosting. Assemble cake, frost and garnish.
    You can add red, white and blue candles and sing “Happy Birthday” to America.



    TIP OF THE DAY: The Dirty Dozen & The Clean Fifteen

    The bounty of summer produce encourages us to eat more fruits and vegetables. It seems like the healthy thing to do, and it is.

    But it’s also time to consider the issue of pesticide residues, and when you should buy organic versus conventional produce.

    Rinsing the produce does not remove all of the chemical residue. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates an annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides to reduce your exposure to chemical pesticides. For fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residues—the list below on the left side, known as the “Dirty Dozen”—it is the most important to buy organic versions.

    But the organization also underscores that:

  • The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.
  • Eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.

    Affordable in the summer months, we love eating blueberries as often as we can. They’re so high in antioxidants—but also high in pesticide residue. Photo courtesy Siggi’s.

    As far as the most chemical-free produce, look to the list on the right: the “Clean Fifteen.”

    Why is some produce “dirty” and others “clean?”

    Crops differ in their hardiness—whether they’re more or less susceptible to intense heat, cold, rainfall, drought, fungus or other disease, etc.

    In the case of bugs, some crops are more readily attacked and destroyed by the hungry little critters. So chemical pesticides are used to kill the bugs, fungus, etc. before they kill the crop.

    Though the Environmental Protection Agency has been restricting the uses of the most toxic pesticides, they are still detected on some foods. For example, green beans were on last year’s Dirty Dozen Plus list because they were often contaminated with two highly toxic organophosphates. Those pesticides are being withdrawn from agriculture. But leafy greens still show residues of organophosphates and other risky pesticides. That’s why they are on the Dirty Dozen Plus list for 2013.

    Learn more at

    Infographic courtesy



    FOOD HOLIDAY: National Chocolate Pudding Day & Best Chocolate Pudding Recipe

    From-scratch chocolate pudding. Photo by
    Bonchan | IST.


    June 26th is National Chocolate Pudding Day. If you don’t already make chocolate pudding from scratch, it’s the day to discover this intense, creamy chocolate delight.

    Sure, instant pudding is tasty. But imagine how much better it is made from scratch, with quality chocolate.

    Here‘s the recipe our Nana lovingly made for us, every week. We’d try to get there twice a week, we loved it so much. (It wasn’t just the pudding; we loved Nana, too.)

    We got to scrape the pot and eat the hot pudding remnants from a spatula: It is equally delicious hot/warm or chilled.

    Remember: The better the chocolate. the better the pudding. Look for 100% cacao (i.e., unsweetened) chocolate in stores that sell gourmet chocolate.

    You can substitute higher-cacao sweetened chocolate (75% or higher) and cut out a teaspoon or two of the sugar in the recipe.


    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Optional for a richer pudding: 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Optional garnish: crème fraîche, mascarpone, shaved chocolate curls, whipped cream,

    1. SCALD 2 cups milk with chocolate in the top of a double boiler or a glass bowl set over a saucepan of lightly simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the top pan or glass bowl). Beat until smooth.

    2. COMBINE cornstarch, sugar and salt. Stir in cold milk. Add to scalded milk and cook 15 minutes in double boiler. Stir constantly until mixture thickens; then stir occasionally.

    3. COOL slightly and add vanilla. Fold in optional heavy cream.

    4. SERVE warm or chilled.



    If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, you can still enjoy a delicious chocolate pudding—dairy free! This budino, the Italian word for pudding, was created by Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, stars of Cooking Channel’s show, Extra Virgin. They used House Foods’ premium soft (silken) tofu.


    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao or
    higher), chopped
  • 1 package (14 ounces) soft/silken tofu

    Dairy-free chocolate pudding. Photo courtesy House Foods.


    1. COMBINE sugar, water and cocoa in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and cool slightly. Stir in vanilla.

    2. MELT chocolate in a double boiler or a glass bowl set over a saucepan of lightly simmering water.

    3. ADD both mixtures plus tofu into a blender or food processor; purée until completely smooth.

    4. DIVIDE the chocolate mixture among ramekins and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to overnight.


    Conquistadors brought “chocolatl” (the Aztec spelling, pronounced cho-co-LAH-tay) from Mexico to Spain in 1528. Originally a bitter drink mixed with cornmeal and spices, it was up to Spanish chefs to find different ways to make chocolate more palatable. For starters, they sweetened it.

    About this heavily taxed import, one official of the time commented, “None but the rich and noble could afford to drink chocolatl as it was literally drinking money. Cocoa passed currency as money among all nations; thus a rabbit in Nicaragua sold for 10 cocoa nibs, and 100 of these seeds could buy a tolerably good slave.”

    Over time, this costly ingredient was used to flavor custards and other puddings. Solid chocolate was not “invented” until 1847, in England (here’s the history of chocolate timeline).

    “Pudding” means different things in different countries. There are two basic types:

  • The recipe is boiled then chilled, essentially a custard set with starch. This is the style commonly eaten in the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and East/Southeast Asia.
  • The recipe is steamed or baked into a texture similar to cake. This is the style in the British Commonwealth. If you order pudding of any kind in the U.K., Australia or New Zealand, expect cake instead of a creamy pudding.


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    PRODUCT: New McDonald’s Quarter Pounders

    Front and center: Bacon Habañero Ranch,
    Bacon & Cheese and Deluxe Quarter
    Pounders. Photo courtesy McDonalds.


    We don’t often head to McDonald’s to have a burger: Our neighborhood is dotted with gourmet burger emporia that command our attention.

    But one of Mickey D’s new Quarter Pounders will have us stopping in more frequently.

    Updating the Quarter Pounder menu—the QP was introduced more than 40 years ago—are three new varieties with different toppings:

  • Bacon Habañero Ranch Quarter Pounder Burger, with white cheddar, thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and a spicy habanero ranch sauce.
  • Deluxe Quarter Pounder Burger, with American cheese, tomato, lettuce, crinkle-cut pickle slices, red onion, mayonnaise and mustard.

  • Bacon & Cheese Quarter Pounder Burger, with the thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, American cheese, crinkle cut pickle slices, red onion, ketchup, and mustard (it’s the Deluxe with bacon plus ketchup instead of mayonnaise.
  • The classic Quarter Pounder Burger With Cheese—two slices of cheese, onions and pickles—is still available.

    While each will have its fans, to us the Bacon Habañero Ranch Quarter Pounder Burger is tops. We’re more than happy that “hot and spicy” is now a menu option at the world‘s second largest restaurant chain*.

    The spicy hot habanero ranch sauce is so enjoyable that we’ll be making a simple version at home: Mix mayonnaise, ranch dressing or Russian dressing sriracha† or other hot sauce.

    The new burgers are available at participating locations for a recommended price of $3.99. We’re lovin’ it.
    *Subway is the world’s largest restaurant chain.

    †Sriracha is a hot chili sauce from Thailand. It is made from sun-ripened chile peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It can be found in the Asian aisle of some supermarkets, in Asian grocery stores and online.



    PRODUCT: Awake Chocolate, Caffeinated

    Now you can roll out of bed in the morning and…have a bar of chocolate?

    Awake Chocolate, created by three friends in Toronto, contains the same caffeine kick as a 20-ounce cup of coffee or a 250ml energy drink.

    Alas, compared to calorie-free or low-cal cup of coffee (that is, unless you start piling on the sugar), it has the same calories as a bar of chocolate. Let us hastily add that the company doesn’t propose a chocolate bar for breakfast. Rather, it’s intended as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

    Depending on where you buy your coffee, it might be a cost-effective alternative: $2.49 per 44g bar.

    The bar launched last summer in Canada, and is now entering the U.S. with two flavors: Milk Chocolate and Milk Chocolate Caramel—a thin layer of caramel in the center.


    In milk chocolate and milk chocolate caramel. Photo courtesy Awake Chocolate.


    While the Milk Chocolate Caramel is much sweeter (think Hershey bar), it has more chocolate flavor than the plain Milk Chocolate. Perhaps we got a bar from an aberrant batch?


    Inside the wrapper: 4 bites of caffeinated chocolate. Photo courtesy Awake Chocolate.



    A 44g bar, 230 calories, contains 101 mg of caffeine, plus the ingredients found in a typical newsstand chocolate bar: sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, cocoa powder, skim milk, soy lecithin, artificial vanilla flavor), succinylated mono- and diglycerides.


    Awake belongs to a category called functional food: products that contain an ingredient or ingredients that provide nutrition or other benefit(s) beyond what is provided by the traditional varieties of said food. Examples include orange juice with calcium, probiotic yogurt and vitamin-enhanced water.


    Of course, when you’re in need of a jolt of caffeine, you might not care about the source.

    Learn more on the company website,



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