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TIP OF THE DAY: Try Authentic Mexican Recipes For Cinco De Mayo

Mexican Ceviche

Chicken Fajitas

TOP: Ceviche Acapulqueno, from the Pacific Coast of Mexico (photo courtesy KatanaeStudio.com. BOTTOM: Tex-Mex foods like fajitas are not authentic Mexican (photo courtesy Wild Oats).

 

Chef Johnny Gnall’s mother is from Mexico, so he grew up eating the real deal: authentic Mexican cuisine. So today’s tip is: Cook something authentic for Cinco de Mayo.

It’s easy to default to Tex-Mex favorites: most “Mexican” food North of the Rio Grande is Tex-Mex, a cuisine developed by Mexicans who moved to Texas (Tejanos). For example, beef, cheese-stuffed burritos and wheat [white] flour are not common in Mexico. You won’t find chili con carne there; or chimichangas, for that matter.

Queso dips and fajitas were born in the U.S.A. Nachos were invented in 1943 on the Mexican side of the border, as a spur-of-the-moment solution to feed a group of Army wives from Texas who stopped at a restaurant when the kitchen was closed.

Anything with beef, black beans, Cheddar or other yellow cheese, cumin, wheat flour, black beans, and canned tomatoes are Tex-Mex, a term that first appeared in print in the 1940s. Tex-Mex was developed by Tejano restaurateurs using local ingredients to appeal to gringos (there’s plenty of beef in Texas). The fusion cuisine began to expand nationwide when food writers “discovered” it in the 1970s.

While cooking Mexican cuisine is often a multi-step process, there are some simple yet authentic dishes you can make. Also note: There is no single “Mexican cuisine.” As it is everywhere, different regions of any country have different specialties, based on local ingredients.
 

AUTHENTIC MEXICAN RECIPES FOR CINCO DE MAYO

RECIPE #1: CEVICHE ACAPULQUEÑO

Ceviche can be found throughout Mexico (and the rest of Central and South America). Its origins lie along the country’s coastlines, where fresh fish was a staple. Recipes vary according to the local catch.

This recipe is a popular Pacific Coast ceviche. The distinguishing characteristic of Pacific ceviches is the use of tomato juice and, often, pickled chilies in the recipe. Eastern ceviches, from Mexico’s Gulf Coast, are less complex, using fresh chilies and foregoing the tomato juice.

You can serve ceviche as an appetizer, as a light entrée (especially at lunch), or a snack. Chef Johnny’s mother eats a big bowl for breakfast when vacationing in Acapulco.

 
Always buy the freshest fish you can find for ceviche.

Ingredients For 4 One-Cup Servings

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican* oregano
  • Optional: 1 bay leaf
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 2 fresh serrano chiles, seeded and minced
  • 20 green Manzanilla olives, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Optional garnish: sliced avocado
  • Optional: tortilla chips
  •  
    ______________
    *Mexican oregano is a different herb than Mediterranean/European oregano. It is in a different botanical family and has different flavor notes. Mediterranean oregano is sweeter, with anise notes. Mexican oregano is grassy, with citrus notes. That being said, you can substitute Mediterranean oregano; just use a little less of it. You can also substitute dried marjoram, which comes from the same botanical family as Mexican oregano and also has citrus notes. Dried lemon verbena is another option.

     
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the fish in a non-reactive mixing bowl and cover it with the lime juice. Let the fish marinate for 3 hours. (This part of the process is curing—essentially, cooking—the fish).

    2. ADD to the bowl: the onion, tomato, orange juice, half a cup of the tomato juice, 1 tablespoon of minced serranos, a few tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch or two of dried oregano, bay leaf, olives, cilantro, and a pinch of salt. Cover the bowl and let everything marinate overnight. The next day…

    3. TASTE and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Garnish with avocado and serve with tortillas chips.

     

    RECIPE #2: FISH VERACRUZ STYLE

    The Mexican state of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast is known for its fine cuisine. While recipes can be quite elaborate, this one is quick and easy.

    This dish was adapted from a Spanish dish called Frita that uses chicken, not fish. The Veracruzeños substituted fish and also added the spicy chilies, as is typical when “Mexicanizing” a dish.

    Ingredients

  • Snapper fillets (substitute tilapia or other white fish)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 limes
  • 1 white onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-3 pickled jalapeños
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup sliced green olives (pimiento-stuffed is fine)
  • Garnish: avocado or lime slices
  •  
    Serve With:

  • White rice
  •  

    Mexican Tilapia Recipe

    Tilapia Veracruz Style (photo courtesy MexicoInMyKitchen.com).

     
    Preparation

    1. SEASON the filets by rubbing salt, pepper, and lime into the flesh; let sit fit for 15 minutes. The goal here is not to fully cook the fish as in ceviche, but rather to infuse it with a bit of flavor. While the fish is sitting…

    2. CHOP half a white onion, the garlic, bell pepper, pickled jalapeños and tomatoes. Sweat the onion, garlic, and peppers in a pot until soft; then add the tomatoes with as much of their liquid as possible. Add the olives, bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.

    3. ADD the fish to a pot, covering the filets as best you can with the sauce. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the fish is done. Garnish and serve.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Corn Tortillas

    Do something different for Cinco de Mayo: Make your own corn tortillas.

    Americans eat lots of tortillas: Back in 2000, the Tortilla Industry Association estimated that Americans consumed approximately 85 billion tortillas (not including tortilla chips). They haven’t updated their website information, but we can safely assume that tortilla sales have only gone up. [Source]

    Yet the majority of us have never have seen handmade tortillas. Most Mexican restaurants and retailers have machine-made tortillas, pressed very flat with added preservatives to extend their shelf life.

    Tortillas are a flatbread (see the different types of bread). In a tortilleria (tortilla bakery) or Mexican restaurant, masa (cornmeal dough) is rolled into small balls of dough, flattened and cooked them quickly on a hot skillet. They require only one ingredient—masa harina, a special cornmeal—plus water.

    Like fresh-baked loaves of bread, fresh-baked tortillas are heavenly—and much faster to make. They have no fat or preservatives, so must be eaten the day they’re made (or stored in the fridge for 2-3 days).

    If you don’t have a local tortilleria, it’s easy to make your own.
     
    THE ORIGIN OF TORTILLAS

    Before wild yeast was harnessed by man, bread meant flatbread the world over: arepa, bánh, bannock, focaccia, injera, johnnycake, lavash, matzoh, naan, piadina, pita, pizza, puri, roti, tortilla and dozens of others.

    Tortillerias are native to Mexico and Central America, where they remain a staple food. The oldest tortillas discovered by archaeologists date back to around 10,000 B.C.E., made of maize (maize—corn—is native to Central America). The dried corn kernels were ground into cornmeal, which was mixed with water to make a dough called masa.

    When Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors arrived in what is today Mexico (on April 22, 1519), they encountered the native women making tortillas—flat corn bread. In the Aztec language Nahuatl, it was called tlaxcalli (teu-ax-CAH-lee). The Spanish called them tortillas, little cakes.

    Originally hand-flattened, “technology” most likely evolved to flattening with an implement, and later to manually operated wooden tortilla presses, flattening the tortilla dough one by one. Modern machinery can produce up to 60,000 tortillas an hour.

    Tortillas are now wheat flour in addition to maize. Typically, corn tortillas are used for tacos, flour tortillas for burritos.

       
    Tortillas Recipe

    Tortillas Recipe

    Tortilla Recipe

    Top: The dough is rolled into small balls, eachh of which becomes a tortilla (photo courtesy LoveAndOliveOil.com). Center: The balls are flattened and placed on the grill (photo © Jim Damaske | Tampa Bay Times). Bottom: Beautiful, fresh tortillas (photo TheGumDropButton.com).

     
    Women Making Tortillas
     
    Mexican women making grits in a work by Carl Nebel, 1836.
     
    THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF GROUND CORN

    Unless you work with these products regularly, you can’t be expected to know that all arground cornmeal, dried corn that’s ground down into smaller, coarse bits.

  • Corn flour is the most finely-ground maize. When nixtimalized, it becomes masa harina, used to make tortillas and other flat breads. Compare it in uses to all-purpose wheat flour: for fried food batter (start with a 50:50 mix of wheat and corn flours, for dredging, pancakes, etc.).
  • Cornmeal, also spelled corn meal, is coarse-ground maize (corn). It is used for arepas, grits for breakfast cereal or dinner sides, cornbread, fried foods, gluten-free cakes and pie crusts, hush puppies, Indian Pudding, shrimp and grits, and many other recipes.
  • Cornstarch is a thickener made from refined maize starch. It is a very fine powder.
  • Grits are hulled and coarsely ground grain. Grits can be made from any cereal, although corn grits are the norm. Here are uses for grits for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Hominy grits are the same thing as grits. Grits is the shortened term for hominy grits.
  • Masa harina, meaning “dough flour for tamales,” is very fine-ground nixtimalized corn used for tortillas and tamales.
  • Masa and hominy are both nixtimalized corn kernels, but hominy is ground from white corn.
  • Nixtimalization is a process that soaks the grain kernels in an alkaline solution, usually limewater—a diluted solution of calcium hydroxide. The kernels are then rinsed. This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. Masa harina is nixtimalized corn,
  • Polenta is a paste or dough made from medium- or coarse-ground cornmeal. It is cooked, formed into a roll and then fried or baked.
  • Southern grits are made from a different type of corn than polenta. Grits are made from dent corn; polenta from Italy is made from flint corn. Flint corn holds its texture better, which is why grits are the consistency of porridge and polenta is coarser and more toothsome.
  •  
    RECIPE: HOMEMADE CORN TORTILLAS

    All you need to make tortillas is masa harina and water. Masa harina, Spanish for dough flour, is the corn flour (corn meal) used to make tortillas and tamales. You can’t substitute regular cornmeal: Masa harina is specially treated corn (see the next section).

    You can find masa harina in any Latin American market or other market with a good Latin American foods section. We prefer Bob’s Red Mill brand, which we pick up at Whole Foods. Rick Bayless uses Maseca brand. Since the cornmeal provides the only flavor in the tortilla, go for the freshest, best-quality product. And don’t buy “instant.”
     
    Ingredients For 15 Tortillas

  • 1-3/4 cups masa harina (substitute 1 pound fresh smooth-ground corn masa*)
  • Water
  •  
    ________________________________
    *If you’re near a tortilleria, you may be able to purchase fresh, smooth-ground corn masa. On the other hand, if you’re at a tortilleria, you can purchase the tortillas freshly baked.

     

    Masa  Harina Bob's Red Mill

    51L2KlaJw7L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

    Top: All you need to make tortillas: masa harina and water (photo courtesy Bob’s Red Mill). Because the corn flour is the only flavor to the tortilla, buy the best. Bottom: The tortilla recipe is from Rick Bayless’ great book, Everyday Mexican (photo courtesy W.W. Norton, Inc.).

     

    Preparation

    1. MEASURE the masa harina into a bowl and add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water. Knead with your hands until thoroughly combined. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. (If using fresh-ground masa, available from a tortilleria, scoop it into bowl, break it up and knead a few times until smooth.)

    2. SET a large griddle (one that stretches over 2 burners) or 2 skillets on your stovetop. Heat one end of the griddle (or one skillet) to medium, the other end (or other skillet) to medium-high.

    3. SQUEEZE the dough gently. If it is stiff (it probably will be), knead in some water, 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time, until the dough feels like soft cookie dough: not stiff, but not sticky. Divide the dough into 15 pieces, rolling each into a ball. Cover with plastic.

    4. CUT 2 squares of a plastic bag, 1 inch larger than your tortilla press (we used our George Forman grill with the flat plates). Open the press and lay on one piece of plastic. Lay a dough ball in the center, and gently mash it. Top with the second piece of plastic and close press. Gently flatten the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick disk. Peel off the top piece of plastic.

    5. FLIP the tortilla onto your right hand (if you’re right-handed); the top of the tortilla should line up with the side of your index finger. Gently roll it onto the side of the griddle (or skillet) heated to medium. Let the bottom of the tortilla touch the griddle, then lower your hand slightly and move it away from you. The tortilla will stick to the hot surface so you can roll your hand out from under it as it rolls down flat. After 30 seconds, the edges of the tortilla will dry slightly and the tortilla will release from the griddle. Until this moment, the tortilla will be stuck.

    6. FLIP the tortilla onto the hotter side of the griddle (or the hotter skillet) with a metal spatula. After 30 seconds, the tortilla should be lightly browned underneath. Flip it over. Cook 30 seconds more—the tortilla should puff in places (or all over—a gentle press with metal spatula or fingers encourages puffing). Transfer to a basket lined with a napkin or towel.

    7. PRESS and bake the remaining tortillas. Stack each newly baked tortilla on top of the previously baked tortillas. Keep the tortillas well wrapped in a kitchen towel for warmth.

     
    REHEATING CORN TORTILLAS

    Some people have a tortilla steamer to reheat tortillas in the microwave (we picked up a silicone steamer and use it every day to warm or steam other foods in our microwave). But you don’t need one: You can substitute a kitchen towel.

  • In the microwave: Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water over a clean kitchen towel and wrap the tortillas. Place in a microwaveable plastic bag and fold it over—don’t seal the bag. Microwave at 50% power for 4 minutes to create a steamy environment around tortillas. Let stand for 2 or 3 minutes before serving.
  • In a vegetable steamer: If there is a center post, remove it. Pour 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of a pot. Wrap the tortillas (no more than 12 at a time) in a clean kitchen towel. Place it in the steamer, put the lid on the pot and set it over high heat. When the steam begins to seep out under the lid, time for 1 minute. Then turn off the heat and let the tortillas steam for 10 minutes.
  • On a griddle: Quickly reheat the tortillas one at a time on a dry griddle or skillet.
  • With kitchen tongs: Hold the tortilla with tongs over a low flame.
  •  
    CORN TORTILLAS VS. FLOUR TORTILLAS

    People who don’t enjoy the more pronounced flavor or texture of corn tortillas prefer the milder, softer flour tortillas are prized for their mild flavor and softness. Either can be used in any recipe requiring tortillas. However:

  • Flour tortillas are made with added fat—lard or vegetable shortening—and salt.
  • A standard six-inch corn tortilla contains about half the fat and calories and one fourth the sodium of a similar-sized flour tortilla.
  •  
    Recipe © copyright 2005 Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Bok Choy & Endive ~ Veggies To Grill

    We wager that anyone who likes veggies looks forward to vegetables cooked outdoors on the grill, for as long as the weather allows. Asparagus, bell peppers, corn, eggplant, onions, portabella mushrooms, tomatoes and zucchini are popular.

    But why not try vegetables you’ve never grilled before?

    Previously we’ve recommended grilled cabbage, grilled cauliflower and grilled romaine for a Caesar Salad.

    Today, for your consideration: Belgian endive and Chinese bok choy (both grown in California).

    WHAT IS ENDIVE?

    Endive is one of the vegetables that were once available in the late fall. Once imported from Europe, it is now grown year-round in California.

    Endive can be grilled, added to salads, or used as “boats” to hold finger foods at parties. You can even make a type of Tarte Tatin using endive instead of apples.

    Endive, Cichorium endivia, is a member of the chicory genus in the Asteraceae family. The genus includes other bitter leafed vegetables, including escarole, frisée and curly endive and radicchio. It has a crisp texture and a sweet, nutty flavor with a pleasantly mild bitterness. It can be served raw or cooked.

    Endive is pricey, because it’s one of the most difficult vegetables to grow. There’s a two-step growing process:

  • The seeds are planted and grow into a leafy green plant in 150 days.
  • They are then harvested, the leafy tops are cut off and the deep roots are dug up and placed in cold storage, where they enter a dormancy period.
  • The dormant roots are removed from cold storage for their second growth, which takes 28 days in dark, cool, humid forcing rooms (similar to a mushroom growing facility).
  • The control over the initiation of this second growing process allows for the year-round production of endive.
  •  
    You can sometimes find good prices on endive, especially when the edges of the tips start to brown, reducing the aesthetic. Since they brown on the grill anyway, it’s an impetus to grill.

    Bonus: A leaf of endive has just one calorie! It’s a good source of potassium, vitamins and minerals, high in complex fiber and promotes digestive health.

    Here’s an easy recipe from Endive.com, which has many more endive recipes.

    RECIPE #1: GRILLED ENDIVE

    Ingredients

  • 3-4 heads endive, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Optional: chopped fresh rosemary
  •    

    Grilled Endive

    Endive With Root

    Top: Endive hot off the grill. Bottom: This is what endive looks like when it’s pulled from the ground. The huge taproot is grown from seeds, harvested, placed in dormancy, and then re-planted to grow the endive heads. This technique enables endive, once a cool weather vegetable, to be grown year-round. Photos courtesy Endive.com.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the grill over a medium flame. Brush each endive half with olive oil and place on grill, cut side down. After 8–10 minutes, flip and cook another 12-15 minutes, turning occasionally and lowering the flame if needed until the endives soften.

    2. SEASON with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped rosemary. You can serve it hot off the grill or at room temperature.

    3. VARIATION: You can also toss cooled grilled endive into a salad. Cut it into one inch slices; mix with arugula, watercress or other bitter green; and toss with an olive oil-lemon dressing. Garnish with crumbled chèvre or feta cheese and roasted nuts.

     

    Grilled Bok Choy

    Grilled bok toy and lamb patties. Photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     

    RECIPE #2: GRILLED MISO BOY CHOY & LAMB PATTIES

    Bok choy, a member of the powerful cruciferous* vegetable family (Brassica), has even more nutrients than some of its cousins (see the list below).

    This easy dinner is a cultural fusion: Chinese bok choy (also called pak choi and Chinese cabbage) meets Middle Eastern lamb patties. The bok choy doubles as a salad and a vegetable side; the miso butter gives it a celestial flavor. The fresh herbs are icing on the cake.

    The recipe, from Good Eggs, takes 15 mins active time and 10 minutes cooking time.

    Ingredients For 2-3 Servings

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • ½ cup of feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, roughly chopped (substitute 3 teaspoons dried oregano)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons miso
  • 3 heads bok choy, sliced in half lengthwise and rinsed
  • Lime wedge
  • Preparation

    1. COMBINE the lamb, feta, egg, oregano, and salt and egg in a mixing bowl. Mix well with clean hands and form into patties about 1” thick and 3” wide. Set aside.

    2. MIX the yogurt, garlic, mint, 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Taste and adjust salt to taste (not too salty, as you’re also using salted butter). Set aside.

    3. MIX the butter and miso in a small bowl with the tines of a fork. Melt two tablespoons of the mixture in a cast iron pan over high heat. When melted and hot, tip the pan to coat the bottom of the pan with the mixture.

    4. ADD the bok choy cut side down and sear until it is a deep golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Flip and cook on the back side for about a minute. Remove from the pan and squeeze a bit of lime over the bok choy. Return to the pan to finish cooking. When the bok choy is finished…

    5. WIPE the pan clean, add a tablespoon of olive oil and place the pan over high heat. When the oil is hot…

    6. ADD the lamb patties, leaving 1” in between each patty. Cook over high heat for about 4 minutes until the patty is golden brown. Flip to the other side and repeat. When both sides have good color…

    7. CHECK for doneness by inserting a sharp knife into the center of a patty. If the center has a flush of light pink, they’re ready. If the center is still dark pink, pop them in the oven (or toaster oven) at 350°F for 2-3 minutes.

    8. SERVE with the minted yogurt and bok choy. If desired, garnish with a sprig of mint or oregano.
     
    ________________________
    *The botanical family Brassicaceae, also known as the brassicas, cabbage family, cauliflower family and mustard family, consists of nutritional powerhouses that are packed with potent, cancer-fighting phytonutrients (antioxidants). Brassica members include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, cauliflower, horseradish/wasabi, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna (Japanese mustard), mustard greens, radish, rapeseed/canola, rapini, rutabaga, tatsoi and turnips, among others.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Herb & Spice Grinders

    Some recipes instruct you to grind herbs or spices. In our grandmother’s day, that meant using a mortar and pestle. In our mother’s day, it meant using the coffee grinder for herbs and spices.

    Mom, a purist, had a second grinder for that purpose. Other folks had to first grind uncooked rice in their coffee grinder to remove minute particles of coffee, or else suffer coffee-accented spices.

    Today, manufacturers are doing more to meet the needs of home cooks. McCormick, for example, sells four popular herbs—basil, Italian blend, oregano and parsley—in non-refillable glass grinder bottles (center photo).

    On the spice end, McCormick has grinders for peppercorns and peppercorn-herb blends, seasoned salt blends and plain salt grinders.

    There are herb mills and spice grinders, a.k.a. mills, but we especially like the new Kyocera “Everything Grinder” (bottom photo—more about the mill below). Technically, “mill” refers to the entire device and “grinder” to the grinding mechanism inside the mill.

    FOOD 101: HERBS, MINERALS & SPICES—THE DIFFERENCE

    Herbs, minerals and spices are three options to flavor foods.

  • Herbs are parts of leafy green plants, such as leaves and stems.
  • Spices are bark, berries, fruits, roots or seeds of plants. Peppercorns are the berries of a vine.
  • Minerals are solid inorganic substances. Salt is a mineral. Other minerals used in cooking include baking powder, baking soda, citric acid, MSG and tartaric acid. Sugar is not a mineral since it is derived from the sap of a plant.
  • Herbs and spices lose their flavor over time, but salt retains its flavoring.
  •  
    THE KYOCERA EVERYTHING MILL

    Now, one mill grinds everything: dried herbs, pepper, salt, seeds and spices: the Kyocera Everything Mill With Adjustable Advanced Ceramic Grinder.

    The company states that its advanced ceramic burr mill mechanism, close in hardness to a diamond, will outlast any metal-based grinding mill. Is adjusts from fine to coarse grinds.

     

    Marble Mortar & Pestle

    McCormick Oregano Spice Grinder

    Kyocera Everything Mill

    Top: Marble mortar and pestle from RSVP. Center: McCormick Spice Grinder. Bottom: Kyocera Everything Mill.

     
    The mill features a glass body, ceramic grinding mechanism and acrylic top. The glass base is dishwasher safe, and all components are rustproof.
     

    In addition to salt and peppercorns, you can grind celery, cumin, dill, flax, mustard and sesame seeds; any spices including red pepper flakes; and any dried herbs.

    To grind pliant fresh herbs you’ll still need a mortar and pestle (preferably) or a spice mill/coffee grinder with a metal blade. We’ve tried both and strongly recommend hand-grinding with a mortar and pestle for the finest flavor. Metal blades tear the leaves in a way that releases the oil in a different way. You’ll also need the mortar or metal blades stop grind nuts.

    But for most grinding, you can count on the Kyocera Everything Mill. There’s a color for every kitchen: Apple Green, Bright Black, Brilliant White, Candy Apple Red, Translucent Blue and Translucent Maroon.

    At $19.95, they make good gifts for your favorite cooks. All colors are available on Amazon.com.
     
    FUN: The History Of Coffee Grinders.


      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Serve Eggs In Mini Flower Pots

    Last spring we published a tip on serving foods in mini flower pots—the size that can be used to pot small succulents.

    You can use them anytime: to serve breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, desserts and snacks.

    You can find mini flower pots in terra cotta or terra cotta-colored plastic. Either can go into the dishwasher.

    For Mother’s Day or other special occasion, why not start the day by using them to serve scrambled or boiled eggs?

    Use wax paper, parchment or butterhead lettuce leaves (bibb, Boston, green leaf, red leaf) to plug the drainage hole on the bottom of the flower pot; then add the food.

    Garnish scrambled eggs or peeled boiled eggs with:

  • Minced chives or parsley
  • Salmon caviar (or other caviar or roe)
  • Truffles
  •  
    Include a salt shaker (or flavored salt) and a peppermill.
     
    DON’T WANT TO BUY FLOWERPOTS?

    You can serve scrambled eggs in a Martini glass.

    Don’t like eggs? Serve berries in the flower pots.

     

    This variation tops scrambled eggs with bay scallops, and a chive stem for garnish. If the chives are flowering, great! Photo courtesy David Burke Fromagerie.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Stir-Fried Pasta With Leftovers

    Stir Fry Pasta Recipe

    Stir Fried Spaghetti

    Stir-Fried Leftover Bowtie Pasta

    Top: Stir-fried fusilli and shrimp from Tes Photchaman Yuphin of TesAtHome.com. Here’s her recipe. Center: Stir-fried spaghetti from Annie Chun. Bottom: Stir-fried bowtie pasta, Asian-style. Here’s the recipe from KaluhisKitchen.com.

     

    If you can make fried rice from leftover rice and other leftover grains, why not fried pasta? You can serve it as main course or a side.

    You can use any un-sauced pasta or noodle with any other ingredients, and give it the spin you want—Italian versus Asian, for example. You can use pasta with tomato sauce if you select add-on ingredients that would taste good together in an omelet.

    You can use any ingredients you have on hand. We’ve used sausage and fresh mango, and ham and pineapple, for example.

    RECIPE #1: STIR-FRIED PASTA, FREESTYLE

    Here are options for free-styling (combining whatever you want). Or follow the measured recipe below.

    Ingredients

  • Leftover pasta
  • Leftover meat, poultry, seafood; fresh tofu; diced or julienned
  • Egg: raw (mixed into the stir-fry pan or wok to cook) or fried or poached as a topper
  • Sauce: crushed tomatoes, fish sauce, peanut sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce
  • Veggies: bell pepper, broccoli florets, carrots, celery, corn kernels, green beans, mushrooms, onion or scallion (green onion), peas (green, snap or snow), shredded cabbage, spinach, etc.
  • Asian veggies: baby corn, bean sprouts, bok coy, Chinese broccoli, edamame (shelled), mushrooms (black, tree ear/wood ear), snow peas, pea pods, water chestnuts
  • Nuts: cashews or peanuts
  • Stock or broth
  • Olive oil, other cooking oil and some dark sesame oil (optional)
  • Fresh herbs: basil, cilantro, parsley
  • Spices: curry, ginger, minced garlic, red pepper flakes (or minced fresh chiles or hot sauce), toasted sesame seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish: lime wedge
  •  
    Preparation

    1. ADD the olive oil and vegetables to a large pan. If using dark sesame oil, add a small amount—it is very strong. Sauté over the medium heat until the veggies are al dente.

     
    2. ADD the sauce components of your choice and stir to integrate. Add vegetable stock and increase the heat to high. When the sauce is bubbling, add the shrimp (if you use raw shrimp, cook until they turn pink and curl up).

    3. ADD the pasta and meat/seafood and mix well. Add the fresh herbs, stir and serve.
     

     

    RECIPE #2: CRISPY LEFTOVER PASTA WITH EGGS, ONIONS & PEPPERS

    This recipe from PatsaFits.org uses ingredients most of us have around the house. You can also use leftover pasta with a tomato sauce in this recipe.

    Ingredients For 4 Main Servings

  • 12 ounces cooked leftover pasta, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups/8 ounces onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups/8 ounces red pepper, finely chopped
  • 8 eggs, well-beaten
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce, or to taste
  • ¼ cup/¼ ounce fresh parsley, chopped (substitute basil, cilantro or other fresh herb)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. HEAT a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil and sauté the onions and peppers until softened and starting to brown (about 3 minutes).

     

    Plain Spaghetti

    Leftover cooked spaghetti. Here’s how BackToHerRoots.com used it in a frittata recipe.

     
    2. STIR in the eggs and sriracha and use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to using to scramble the mixture. When eggs are mostly cooked but still look a little wet, stir in the spaghetti (about 3 minutes). Continue to cook until the eggs are fully cooked and the spaghetti is warmed through (about 2 minutes more).

    3. DIVIDE among 4 bowls, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
     
    FRIED RICE RECIPES

    Have leftover grains instead of pasta? Here are three ways to stir-fry them.

  • Fried Rice With Kimchi
  • Americanized Fried Rice
  • Stir-Fried Quinoa
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Grilled Cabbage Steaks

    Green Cabbage

    Grilled Cabbage Steaks

    Crumbled Blue Cheese

    Top: Take a head of cabbage (photo courtesy Good Eggs). Center: Slice it, grill it and garnish it (photo courtesy McCormick). Bottom: For better flavor, chop quality blue cheese instead of using packaged crumbles (photo courtesy KitchenHealsSoul.com).

     

    What’s next after Grilled Cauliflower Steaks? Why, its cruciferous† cousin, Grilled Cabbage Steaks.

    It can be a side, a vegetarian main, or part of a grain bowl. It’s just as delicious as cauliflower, and less expensive.

    This recipe from McCormick adds more flavor to the thick cabbage “steaks” with a zesty marinade. Crumbled bacon, blue cheese and green onions (scallions) are popular toppers. But if you prefer a vegetarian dish, use any toppings you like, from vegetarian bacon and cheese to grilled tofu and cherry tomatoes.

    An average head of cabbage can be cut into six steaks. Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.
     
    RECIPE: GRILLED CABBAGE STEAKS

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 1 head green cabbage, cut into six 3/4-inch thick slices
  •  
    For The Marinade

  • 1 package McCormick Grill Mates Smoky Applewood Marinade (or your own marinade*)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  •  
    For The Garnish

  • 6 slices bacon, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
  •  
    ________________________
    *Marinade mix comprises pre-selected seasonings, to which you add your own oil and vinegar. It’s easy to make a “freestyle” marinade from whatever you have on hand. Here’s a basic recipe: 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon each of three herbs of choice (basil, hot chile flakes, oregano, rosemary, thyme or other favorite. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (hold the pepper if using chile flakes). Or substitute lemon zest for an herb and/or lemon juice for part of the vinegar.

     

    Preparation

    1. COOK the bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the drippings. Crumble the bacon and set aside.

    2. MIX the marinade packet, oil, vinegar, maple syrup and the reserved bacon drippings in small bowl until well blended. Place the cabbage steaks in large resealable plastic bag or a glass dish. Add the marinade and turn to coat well.

    3. REFRIGERATE the cabbage in the marinade for 30 minutes; longer for extra flavor. Then remove the cabbage steaks from marinade, reserving any leftover marinade (see the next section).

    4. GRILL the cabbage steaks over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until tender-crisp, brushing with the leftover marinade. Garnish with the bacon, blue cheese and green onions, and serve.
     
    Next up: Brussels Sprouts Kabobs?
     
    CAN YOU RE-USE MARINADE?

    For a meat or fish marinade, the answer is no. Potentially harmful bacteria that are killed during cooking will remain in the marinade. If you really want to re-use it, you can boil it first to kill the bacteria: Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

    Vegetables do not harbor harmful bacteria, so can be re-used or frozen for later use. The marinade will lose flavor each time it is frozen and defrosted, so check it after two additional uses and spruce it up with seasonings as needed.

    Here’s detailed information on marinade safety from FoodSafety.gov.
     
    ____________________________
    †The plant genus of cruciferous vegetables, Brassica, contains nutritional powerhouses that are packed with potent, cancer-fighting phytonutrients (antioxidants). Brassica members include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish/wasabi, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rapeseed/canola, rapini, rutabaga and turnips, among others. Eat up!

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Rhubarb, A Spring Favorite

    Rhubarb

    Trimmed Rhubarb

    Top: Rhubarb with its leaves. Don’t eat the leaves—they’re mildly toxic (photo courtesy OurOhio.org). Bottom: Trimmed rhubarb, as it is most often seen in stores (photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco).

     

    To many foodies, the beginning of spring means asparagus, fava beans, morels, ramps, scapes and shad roe.

    We add rhubarb to that list. In North America it grows between April and June, paralleling asparagus season.

    Nana was so fond of stewed rhubarb, she made it once or twice a week during rhubarb season. She served it in a dish, like pudding, with or without heavy cream; in a compote; in a parfait; on pound cream (with whipped cream); and as a topping on ice cream.

    Her daughter, Mom, was an inveterate pie baker, turning out Rhubarb Pie, Raspberry Rhubarb Pie and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. We have a Strawberry Rhubarb Tart recipe below.
     
    RHUBARB: A VEGETABLE, NOT A FRUIT

    Technically, rhubarb is a vegetable, a member of the sorrel family. Fruits are not necessarily sweet. Tomatoes are fruit, avocados are fruit, hot chiles are fruits, cucumbers and squash are fruits.

    By botanical definition, fruits have their seeds/pits, on the inside, contained in the fruit’s ovary sac*.

    Fruits carry their seeds inside; vegetable seeds scatter in the wind. You see seeds in an apple, avocado, cucumber and tomato, but not in broccoli, carrots or lettuce. Lacking sweetness doesn’t make it a vegetable.

    Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, is a vegetable in the Polygonaceae family. The leaf stalks (petioles) are crisp like celery with a strong, tart taste. Rhubarb looks like rosy-pink celery, but is no relation (celery is a member of the Apiaceae family).

     
    Even for a vegetable, rhubarb is very tart. Before it was served sweetened, it was added to soups (try it in lentil soup) and sauces: in the Himalayas, in Moroccan tagines and in Middle Eastern stews. Be sure to cook only the stems; the leaves are mildly toxic (they contain oxalic acid).

    But for most of us, rhubarb needs a sweetener. It’s absolutely delicious as stewed rhubarb, rhubarb ice cream, rhubarb pie and its variation in this recipe, strawberry rhubarb pie. Some people eat the stems raw by dipping them into sugar.

    Rhubarb grew wild in northwest China, and was cultivated about 5,000 years ago for medicinal purposes. It made its way west via Turkey and Russia, and was first planted in England by an apothecary in 1777. Once sweetened, it became popular for jams, sauces and crumbles.

    The thinner and darker pink the fresh rhubarb stalks are, the less tart they will be. Look for stalks that are crisp, bright pink, thin, and unblemished.
     
    _______________________
    *The only exception is the strawberry, which is not a botanical berry but an accessory fruit. True vegetables have no pit or seed sac.
     
    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB GALETTE

    This French-inspired pastry is the perfect balance of tart and sweet, prepared with fresh strawberries and peak season rhubarb enveloped inside a buttery, hand-formed crust and garnished with a touch of sparkling sugar.

    It’s a spring specialty at Hewn, an artisanal bakery in Evanston, Illinois, which advises that this pastry makes a brief appearance only during the late months of spring, when rhubarb season is at its peak.

     
    What’s A Galette?

    In the pastry world, a galette is a rustic, open-face fruit pie. It is flat, with a flaky, turned-up crust that wraps around the filling to creates a “bowl.” The Italian word is crostata.

    A galette is a pie instead of a tart because it uses a pâte brisée crust, instead of the dense, crumbly and sweet pâte sablée used for sweet tarts.

     

     
    Ingredients For A 6-Inch Galette

    For The Filling

  • 1 pint ripe strawberries, cut in quarters
  • 2 stalks of rhubarb, skin removed (use a knife to peel off the dark outside layer)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean (the other is used in the dough)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/16 teaspoon sea salt
  •  
    For The Dough

  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 sticks chilled butter, cut into tiny cubes
  • ¾ cup chilled cold water
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • Optional: fresh thyme or tarragon, chopped, to taste
  • 1 egg (whisked and used to brush the dough before baking)
  •  
    Preparation

    Make the Filling

    1. CHOP the rhubarb into ¼ inch strips. Toss the rhubarb with the quartered strawberries.

    2. ADD the sugar, vanilla bean and sea salt to the rhubarb and strawberries. Toss until it is coated.

    3. ADD the flour and mix the filling.

     
    Make the Dough

     

    Rhubarb Tart

    Stewed Rhubarb

    Top: Rhubarb Galette from Hewn; recipe included, Bottom: Nana’s favorite: stewed rhubarb. Photo courtesy Fast-Ed.com.au.

    The easiest way to make the dough is to use a food processor—but you have to make sure to not overwork the dough.

    1. USING a food processor add the salt and flour and pulse for 5 seconds. With the food processor on…

    2. SLOWLY DROP butter in, in a continuous stream. You should be able to have all the butter added within a minute. Once all the butter is added, let the processor run for 10 more seconds. The dough should look very shaggy and the butter should still be visible. Add the optional herbs.

    3. TURN to the the pulse setting and slowly pour the cold water. This is where the dough can get overworked. Once the water is added, the dough will still be shaggy and should NOT form a ball. The shaggier it is, the flakier the dough will be.

    4. SCOOP out the dough and form into a flat disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and let the dough chill for 2 hours before rolling it out.
     
    Assemble And Bake

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F (325° for a convection oven).

    2. ROLL the dough out and use a ring or bowl to trace a round. The size should be about 6 inches. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper, lay the dough ring on it sheet pan and spoon ¼ cup of the filling in the center. Fold the edges of the dough up, so it creates a pocket to contain the filling. Add the rest of the filling.

    3. BRUSH the edge of the dough with the egg wash and bake the galette for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes check: The crust should be deep golden and the filling should not be runny.

     
    ABOUT HEWN ARTISANAL BAKERY

    Founded by partners Ellen King and Julie Matthei in 2013, Hewn is a cozy neighborhood spot in a historic space. Ellen is a classically trained chef, Julie is the business director.

    Hewn sources local and seasonal ingredients from small, local farmers. The bakery’s name refers to the craftsmanship associated with making something by hand For more information, visit HewnBread.com.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cider Tasting For Mother’s Day

    Hard Cider & Food

    Drier ciders work better with meats. Photo courtesy Angry Orchard.

     

    Skip the Pinot Grigio and taste some cider for Mother’s Day. It’s more novel than wine, and will suit any guest:

    Cider is equally popular among men and women, whereas beer is significantly more popular among men*. Cider is also gluten-free and less filling than beer.

    While many people think “autumn” when they hear “cider,” that is true for non-alcoholic cider, which is fresh-pressed.

    Hard cider is fermented for eight weeks after the juice is pressed. The cider then matures for several months, is blended, filtered and carbonated. So the “freshest” hard cider is on the market now, not in the fall.

    Another note: In the U.S., alcoholic cider is called hard cider and apple cider/apple juice (the terms are interchangeable in the U.S.) is simply called cider.

    In the U.K. it’s the reverse: “Cider” is hard cider.

    While most cider is made from apples, you’ll also find pear cider, known in the U.K. as perry.

     
    CIDER & FOOD PAIRINGS

    Hard ciders pairs with the same foods as beer and white wine. Styles range from very dry to sweet “hard apple juice.”

  • The sweetness of cider allows you to serve desserts with it, too, especially apple desserts (pie, crumble, bread pudding).
  • For nibbles, serve hearty cheeses and charcuterie.
  • For main courses, consider barbecue, chicken, pork and sausages (beer and brats, meet cider and brats); plus soups, stews and one of our favorite pairings, cheese fondue.
  •  
    TIPS

  • In recipes, you can substitute hard cider for wine.
  • Hard cider is best served chilled or over ice.
  •  

    CIDER TASTING PARTY: WHERE TO START

    1. Gather up a dozen brands or so, and invite friends over for a hard cider tasting. You’ll find hard ciders from the U.S. and England†. Get apple cider for the kids.

    2. For serious foodies, conduct a blind tasting. Serve them in order of alcohol content, lowest to highest. Either cover up the labels with paper (we used a removable glue stick) or place each one in a paper sandwich sack (the size of a take-out coffee bag, which you can get at the nearest deli [offer to pay for them and you’ll likely get them for free]).

    3. Mark each label or bag with a number, and provide each person with a tasting notes sheet. If your group is accustomed to evaluating beer and wine, you can adapt this professional scoring sheet. We put all the descriptors in the left column of that sheet onto one piece of paper, with one for each guest. For notes, we made up a simple sheet with designated areas for rating ciders 1 through 12 (or however many ciders you’re serving) on a second sheet.

    You can also print out this Cider Tasting Wheel.

     

    Cider Goblet

    You can use any glass you like for cider; this one is popular in Europe. Photo courtesy Crispin Cider.

     
    4. Decide on the food and how many bottles of each cider you’ll need for your size crowd.

    5. Start with small pours: An ounce each of 12 cider becomes 12 ounces in relatively short order. At the end of the comparison tasting, people can go back for more.

    6. Provide “dump buckets” so participants can toss what they don’t like. These can be large tumblers or other vessels (we’ve used short vases!).

    7. Have a great time.
     
    _____________________________
    *Beer is preferred by men in terms of market penetration (+10% for men), frequency (+35% for men), and servings consumed (+33% for men).
     
    †Magners Irish Cider is the only hard cider imported from Ireland.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: The Best Oven Mitts

    When you’re working with hot oven pans, stove pot handles, steaming pasta pots and the like, you need more protection than a cloth oven mitt. Otherwise, be prepared to say “Ouch!”

    We tossed our cloth oven mitts 15 years ago when the first Orka silicone oven mitts debuted. No matter pleasing the design—or the ability to wear a matching apron—cloth mitts didn’t provide enough burn protection.

    Beyond protection against burns, cloth mitts are neither waterproof nor oil-proof—and get pretty stained pretty fast.

    If you haven’t yet heeded the call, it’s time to toss your cloth oven mitts and bring in the heavy hitter: silicone.
     
    THE SOLUTION: SUPERFLEX GLOVES FROM THE TRIUMPHANT CHEF

    While there are numerous silicone mitts on they market, we recently gave our older ones away in favor of what we think is the new best: the Silicone Flex Mitt from The Triumphant Chef.

    They’re the latest generation of silicone: super-flexible, yet still heat resistant up to 450°F.

  • The no-slip silicone grips better than cloth—and even better grip from the circle-and-spoke pattern.
  • You can flip chops, steaks, hot dogs on the grill without tools.
  • You can easily hold down a turkey or roast while you carve it.
  • You can fully clean them in the sink with soap and hot water—or in the dishwasher.
  •  
    A couple of decades ago, Playtex Living Gloves promoted themselves as “so flexible, you can pick up a dime. We didn’t easily pick up a dime with Flex Mitts, but it was a cinch to pick up a quarter.

    Like those Living Gloves, they have a soft cloth liner, here quilted. They’re currently on sale at Amazon.com for $13.83 a pair, plus a bonus silicone basting brush. The gloves are available in:

  • Black
  • Canary Yellow
  • Dark Red
  • Lime Green
  • Royal Blue
  • Royal Purple
  •  
    Get them for your favorite cooks for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, summer grilling weekends…and think ahead to Christmas season.

     
    THE HISTORY OF OVEN MITTS

    For much of man’s history, hot pots and pans were handled with cloth. One source notes that mittens have been in use for more 1,000 years for a wide range of protective purposes, including protecting hands from hot ovens.

    If so, they were abandoned somewhere along the line for the presumably more effective potholders.

    Apparently, a Texan named Earl Mitt (seriously?) came up with the idea in the early 1870s, after a bad burn while baking. In an effort to prevent getting burned again, he invented the first oven mitt from shoe leather and wool. After experimenting with different materials and designs, he finally came up with the oven mitt style of cooking glove. [Source]

    Today, the outer layers are typically made of cotton or polyester, while the inner layer is filled with an insulator fabric.

    Thanks, Earl; but they’re old technology now. Along with potholders, they provide incomplete protection against high heat, steam and oil splattering. A user can be scalded by boiling water and burned hot pans and steam.

    What are you waiting for?

     

    All Clad pot from Williams-Sonoma. It can be monogrammed!All-Clad Pasta Pot

    Tramontana Deep Fryer

    Super Flex Silicone Oven Gloves

    Super Flex Oven Mitts

    Do you really want to touch a hot pot with kitchen towels or cloth oven mitts? (All-Clad Pasta Pot and Tramontino Deep Fryer from Williams-Sonoma). Bottom: Our favorite protection, Super Flex Oven Mitts from The Triumphant Chef, with a soft quilted liner and a bonus matching basting brush.

     

      

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