Thursday, November 30, 2006

Purple carrots?

Did you know that carrots weren’t always orange? Back in the day (wa-a-a-y back, in Roman times and well before), carrots were purple. It wasn’t until the 16th century, when Dutch growers bred carrots in honor of the House of Orange, that the carrot got its familiar color.

Flash forward to this century, and we find that there is a push to breed carrots (and lots of other vegetables, too) in anything other than their familiar color. There are red carrots and yellow carrots and white carrots and, making their comeback, purple carrots. Purple carrots called Maroons were developed a couple of years ago at the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M. The Maroon carrots not only have the health benefits that come from their purple pigment (anthocyanins), but they were also bred to be extra high in beta-carotene.

Maroon carrots are available in some markets, but if you can’t find them locally, you can order them from a specialty produce company called Melissa's. Their mail order department (800-588-0151) can take your order or tell you what stores in your area carry maroons.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Peeling kiwifruit

I just learned the coolest new trick: how to peel a kiwifruit with a spoon. I watched this chef do it in about 5 seconds. It was amazing.

Here's what you do. Cut off the two ends of the kiwi (just about 1/4 inch of it). Then take a tablespoon--just a regular spoon from your silverware drawer--and push it up between the flesh of the kiwi and the skin, with the convex side of the spoon against the skin. Work the spoon gently around the whole fruit to loosen the skin. You can then just pop the kiwi out of its skin. Try it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Unstoppable appetite?

Scientists. You gotta love ’em. In a December 2006 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers at Yale University announced they are getting closer to figuring out why eating feels good (hmmmm).

It all has to do with something called ghrelin, which, though it sounds like it certainly must mean something in Yiddish, is actually the name of a hormone produced in the stomach. Its job is to tell the brain it’s time to eat. What the Yale researchers found out is that (in lab rats, anyway) ghrelin triggers the same neurons in the brain as sexual experiences and many recreational drugs. That is to say, it triggers the release of brain chemicals that provide a sensation of pleasure, and the expectation of reward.

What this research points to is a possible connection between ghrelin and eating disorders. There may lie somewhere in this intricate body chemistry an explanation for people who have unstoppable appetites.

If you have any interest, click here to see the full journal article.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The new new Joy of Cooking

In 1930, a newly widowed Irma von Starkloff Rombauer, realized she had to make her own living and decided to convert her considerable cooking talents and sizable personal recipe collection into a self-published book, called Joy of Cooking.

The rest, as they say, is history. And the history of Joy has just completed another of its chapters with the October 2006 publication of the cookbook's 75th anniversary edition.

Some of the attention that this new edition is getting comes from a very public feud between Irma Rombauer's grandson, Ethan Becker, and the editors of a 1997 edition of the book. That much heralded revamp of Joy was written by a collective of serious cooking authorities. In the process, however, all of the "casual culinary chat" (a phrase used in the subtitle of Irma's original book) had disappeared. It was replaced by a sort of dispassionate and anonymous editorial voice.

This loss of the quirky and the personal is what bothered Ethan so much. So his answer was to put back in this newest edition all the personality he felt had been excised. I could go on (and you may already be saying, "Stop. We don't care."), but instead I will show you the little intro written for a recipe called Welsh Rarebit (or Welsh Rabbit) as it appeared in 1) pre-1997 editions, 2) the disputed 1997 edition and 3) the brand-new Joy.

First I must preface this by saying that the name of this dish (basically melted cheese on toast) is hotly disputed. If you look up Welsh Rarebit or Welsh Rabbit on wikipedia, you will find a vicious debate going on about which of these names is correct.

From early (pre-1997) Joys: "Our correspondence is closed on the subject of rarebit versus rabbit. We stick to 'rarebit,' because 'rabbit' already means something else. We can only answer the controversy with a story. A stranger trying to calm a small crying boy: 'I wouldn't cry like that if I were you." Small boy: 'You cry your way and I'll cry mine.'"

From 1997: "Welsh rarebit--a British dish served on toast or crackers as lunch or supper--should really be Welsh rabbit. The idea is that melted cheese on toast is what the Welsh rabbit hunter has to eat when he comes home empty-handed. This is a traditional recipe, made with beer; some experts insist on stale ale."

And from the new 75th Anniversary edition: Word for word the same as in the pre-1997 editions.

And as a final P.S., for anyone who is still reading this, I would like to share a recipe from the 1931 edition of the book, because I like the name so much. I kind of wonder why it disappeared from later editions. It's a recipe for something called Cheese Monkey and it's a variant of Welsh Rarebit.

Cheese Monkey

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup soft stale bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup grated cheese
1 egg slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
A few grains of cayenne

Over a slow fire, heat the milk and add the crumbs and butter. When they are well blended add the cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted, then add the egg and the seasoning. Permit the egg to thicken slightly, stirring constantly. Serve the Monkey while very hot over crackers or toast.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Jamie's Italy

I love Italian food. I love Italy. And I love Jamie Oliver. So how perfect is it that Jamie has written a new cookbook called Jamie's Italy? The book is chockablock with photographs of Jamie charming all of the local Italians that he communed with on his travels across Italy. Oh, yes, and there are wonderful food photographs too.

As for the recipes themselves, I really would like to make every single one in the book. However, I had to start somewhere, so I made Cauliflower Risotto (delicious) and Pork Chops with Sage (yum). The next thing I’m determined to try is a dessert called Gelato con Olio e Sale (or ice cream with olive oil and salt). In true Jamie-speak, he pronounces this unusual combination “bloody gorgeous!” If any of you try this before I do, please come back and let me know what you thought.