Thursday, May 24, 2007

Potato surprise

In World War II--or at least in the old war movies I watched--grenades were called pineapples (for their resemblance to that fruit) and the word grenade itself means pomegranate in old French. And to continue the food similes, a particular style of grenade that had a stick at one end so it could be thrown farther was called a potato masher.

So how ironic is it that a woman in Naples, Italy, bought a bag of potatoes that turned out to have a grenade in it? It was a WWII-era American grenade with its pin pulled (so therefore active) that had been buried for years in a potato field.

The story ends happily with no mashed potatoes or exploded Italian cook. The potato purchaser was washing what she thought was a dirt-covered potato when she discovered the grenade and called the police, who recovered it and detonated it. Phew.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Honey for your health

I read a little science news item the other day about the antioxidant content of honey. Apparently, some honeys have greater antioxidant properties than others. (Just to remind you, antioxidants are compounds that work to counteract the effects of free-radicals, oxygen molecules that are responsible for all sorts of damage to our bodies.)

According to a group of Spanish scientists, who studied 36 local honeys, the antioxidant content depends on what the bees have eaten. Certain bees collect nectar from flowers and others collect something called honeydew. The honeydew honeys are the ones with more antioxidants. I got all excited at the thought of honeydew honeys (sounds delicious, doesn't it?). Except here's what honeydew actually means: a fluid exuded by plants in response to a visit by a plant-sucking insect. Euuuuwww. Well, let's not think about it.

Anyway, I'm not sure how this translates into useful information for the consumer, but the study appeared in a trade journal for the food science industry. So you can be sure that as soon as they can figure out how to slap a "high-antioxidant" label on honey, they will.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The incredible, edible train

So if you have been reading my blog, you know I hate cupcakes. But that said, I actually love little cakes if they're baked in a funny shape. I have a sizable collection of pans that bake little cakes in the shapes of acorns and dinosaurs and rosebuds and castles and fish. I am always on the hunt for a new shape that I don't have. So I was delighted to find this wonderful pan that bakes cakes in the shape of train cars.

When I was a kid, my mother used to make birthday cakes for me and my sisters in the shape of a train. The cake was laboriously constructed out of pound cakes all linked together, with a jellyroll sitting on top of a slab of pound cake to form an old-fashioned steam-powered engine. She used chocolate cigarettes to make the cow catcher, M&Ms in the coal car and peppermint candies for train wheels. She might have viewed this pre-formed train pan as the sissy's way out, but I think it's cool. You can buy the pan for $34 from Williams-Sonoma.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Idli steamer

An idli (or iddly) is a steamed rice & lentil cake from India. I first tasted one at a New York City restaurant called Madras Woodlands (it's now in the suburbs, on Long Island) that specialized in vegetarian food from south India. Idlis are wonderful, light discs that are somewhat like airy pancakes. They are always served with a fresh chutney, like coconut or cilantro.

To make idli, you need a special steaming rack that resembles a multistory egg poacher. A batter made of ground uncooked rice and lentils, often seasoned with Indian spices, is poured into the indentations in the idli steamer and it's placed in a covered pot of boiling water to cook.

Now, I'm telling you all of this not because I think that you're going to run out and learn how to make idli (though it might be fun), but because this neat piece of equipment ($30 from can also be used to make single-serving frittatas, tortillas (Spanish frittatas) or eggah (Middle Eastern frittatas), which I think would make the neatest appetizers or brunch dish. And speaking of brunch, I've no doubt the idli steamer can be also used as an egg poacher.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Greek elephant beans

I have a friend named John Vasiliadis whose family is from Kastoria in northern Greece. Most of his family now live in this country, near Manhattan, in a heavily Greek neighborhood where the grocery stores are stocked with wonderful Greek ingredients like my new favorite beans: Elephant beans.

These delicious beans--which look like white kidney beans on serious steroids--actually come from Kastoria, where they've been cultivated since the 17th century. It's hard to describe their meaty, buttery taste (wait, I just did), but you will have to taste them to see what I mean.

The brand that my friend John brought for me to try is called Arosis. On their packaging it very sweetly states "In the villages of Kastoria, life goes on peacefully with faith in human values. Taste a product made with respect to nature and to the consumer."

I encourage you to look for Greek elephant beans (also called gigantes) wherever you might find Greek or Mediterranean groceries.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

UglyRipe tomatoes

Santa Sweets, a tomato grower in Plant City, Florida, won a court battle this past January to be able to market an heirloom hybrid tomato called UglyRipe outside of Florida. The UglyRipe had not been allowed to show its face outside Florida because the state's Tomato Committee (there's a committee for everything, isn't there?) declared that the tomato just didn't measure up to their beauty standards and was thus ruining Florida's reputation for pretty tomatoes (?!?).

This has now been resolved and the UglyRipe can be sold in grocery stores--including Whole Foods--outside Florida. However at the moment UglyRipes may be hard to find because, with all the hoopla about them, the growers are having trouble keeping up with the demand.

From all accounts--and I have not been able to find one myself--the UglyRipe may be ugly, but it is extremely tasty. The same grower also sells Santa Sweet grape tomatoes, and if they are any indication, I can't wait to actually get my hands on an UglyRipe. In any case, Florida stops shipping tomatoes out of state by June 15, so we still have a couple of weeks to see if we can locate the elusive UglyRipe.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Planting pumpkins for their seeds

If you're a gardener who lives in the temperate zones, you're probably making plans for what to put in your garden this year. So here's an idea: How about planting kakai pumpkins? They weigh between 5 and 8 pounds each and have dark green stripes. But here's the cool part: Inside are large, hull-less, dark-green (almost black) seeds, which are delicious roasted.

*Health bonus: The kakai is related to the pumpkin used to make Austrian pumpkin seed oil, which has been found in a number of European studies to be extremely good for prostate health.

Each plant will produce 2 to 3 pumpkins in 100 days. The plants are described as "semi-bush, short-vine," which I take to mean that they take up less room than a standard pumpkin plant. You can get a packet of 30 seeds for $3.35 from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Or, if you have an empty field available, you can buy 25 pounds (55,000 seeds) for $1,300.