Thursday, December 25, 2008

World's largest Gummi bears

I'm not sure that I need to write anything more than the headline for this story. I don't know why this guy decided that the world needed a large gummi bear, but for only $39.95 from Giant Gummi Bear, you can satisfy your need to find out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Energy from food waste

There seems to be a minitrend that I hope is as good as it sounds. Some food companies are exploring ways to take the waste that's produced in the course of their manufacturing and convert it to energy.

A recent such announcement comes from the Philadelphia Cream Cheese division of Kraft. Two of their plants in upstate New York plan to convert the whey (a byproduct of cheesemaking) into biogas, thus reducing their gas energy purchases by about one-third.

Another food company looking for similar solutions is Heinz. At their production facility in Oregon, there are plans to produce biofuels from potato peels.

If they joined forces, they might also have a fine potato chowder.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flavor trends

Every year for nearly 10 years, the McCormick spice company has polled chefs, food technologists and trend watchers to come up with predictions for the top 10 flavor pairings for the upcoming year.

Here's their list for 2009:

· Toasted sesame + root beer
· Cayenne + tart cherry
· Tarragon + beet
· Peppercorn mélange + sake
· Chinese five-spice and artisan-cured pork
· Dill + avocado oil:
· Rosemary + fruit preserves
· Garam masala + pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
· Mint + quinoa:
· Smoked paprika + agave nectar

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brie log

When I was living in France, I discovered that there is an etiquette to serving/eating cheese that is rarely observed in this country. Each cheese, depending on its shape, is served differently. And the one shape that always presents problems is cheese served in wedges, like Brie.

The first thing to know is that it is considered extremely bad form to cut the "nose" (the pointy end) off a wedge of Brie. Instead, you should take a kind of sideways swipe at the wedge to remove a slice, not a chunk. This of course gets harder and harder to do as the wedge gets whittled down.

So Président, the French cheese company, has decided to make a Brie in a log shape (something that no doubt horrifies cheese aficionados). The virtue of this shape, however, is that it gets you around the ticklish issue of how to serve. The cheese slices also fit very nicely on a cracker. This does mean foregoing the runniness of a perfectly ripe Brie (because you wouldn't be able to slice it), but I'm pretty sure your guests won't complain.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wild and crazy apples

A couple of weeks ago I got a small box of apples in the mail from Melissa's Produce (great place). I thought that the person who had sent me the apples might possibly have lost his mind. Why would you send 5 apples in the mail??

Well, then I took a bite. Of course you already have the punchline to this story because you can see a picture of the apple at left. But imagine my surprise when I bit into a perfectly normal apple and found red flesh on the inside.

The apple is called Hidden Rose and it's an apple that is grown organically in Oregon. It's a hybrid of an heirloom and a common variety of apple and currently the orchard only produces about 800 apples a year. But keep an eye out for these apples, because they could potentially be hitting the market in a couple of years.

There are also a number of European efforts to make red-fleshed apples. Check out the Swiss apples at Next Fruit Generation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Have a cuppa

When I was a kid, my Great Aunt Nan had a little tea infuser in the shape of a small teapot, which I coveted. This began my modest collection of tea infusers. I've got at least 10: little houses, small mesh balls, a silver ball with star-shaped holes, a teapot with a porcelain spout. I thought I had a pretty diverse collection until I started looking around at what was out there. It's a huge category.

Here's what I found.

1 Who can resist a dinosaur-shaped anything? This T-rex infuser is $4 from Fantes Kitchen Wares Shop.
2 An infuser in the shape of a lemon wedge, for those who belong to the no-milk-in-your-tea camp. The Jo!e infuser is $4 from
3 A variation on the mesh tea ball, the pyramid infuser is $6.25 from Anna Marie's.
4 Tea for two. A set of 2 Cuisipro tea infusers from Target for $24.
5 Let's not forget silicone, the ubiquitous material of choice these days. This strawberry infuser, $7.50, comes with a lid (to keep your tea hot) that doubles as a saucer to catch tea drips.
6 My favorite. A pewter tea twig with a dragonfly perched at one end. The loose tea sits in a parchment bag and the bag is suspended on the twig. The dragonfly tea twig, which comes with 10 tea bags, is $15 from Stash.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Edge-y brownies

I've run across two examples of peculiar brownie pans whose stated purpose is to create more crispy edges for brownies. I'm a middle-of-the-pan gal, myself, because I actually favor soft, fudge-y brownies.

However, clearly there are those who don't agree with me. For the edge-of-the-pan brownie folks, here are your choices.

The Slice Solutions Brownie Edge Pan (top) has a grid that you put in the 11 x 17-inch pan once you've poured in the batter. Once baked, you remove the grid and are left with 18 perfectly cut brownies (with crispy edges). It sells for $19.95 from

Another way to get more edge is with the Baker's Edge Nonstick Edge Brownie Pan (bottom). This 9 x 13.5-inch heavy-gauge, cast-aluminum pan just increases the number of edges. It sells for $34.95 from

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sewing the holiday bird

I remember my mother and grandmother struggling to lace up the bird on Thanksgiving. They used long metal pins to "pin" the flaps of skin together over the stuffing-filled cavity. Then they ran kitchen string around the pins (kind of like lacing up your ice skates) to keep the turkey closed, thus keeping the stuffing moist.

I have not carried on this tradition, because it seems like such a giant hassle. I usually stick a heel of bread at the end of the cavity, which is the lazy person's solution to the lacing problem.

However, I would be willing to reconsider this position if I had this little gizmo called TheFoodLoop Lace. It's a 22-inch length of heat-resistant silicone (good up to 675°F) with a stainless steel needle at one end. You sew up the turkey, leaving the needle in place. Once the bird is cooked, you remove it, wash it (it's dishwasher safe) and store it until you need it again.

It sells for $10 from fusionbrands.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Making noodles

So because of the lasagna cookbook I wrote about in yesterday's blog entry, I now have noodles on my mind (interesting image).

I remember years ago going to a demonstration by a Chinese noodle maker who took a length of dough and pulled it thin, folded it over, pulled it thin again, and repeated this process until in a matter of minutes, he had created over 4,000 noodles. It's really just simple math. You start with one big strand, fold it over for 2, fold that for 4, etc.

Guess how many times you have to fold the dough to get 4,096 noodles? Is it 100? 400?

It's only 12!

See the process in action:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lasagna and tamales

Starch is my downfall.

Ice cream doesn't tempt me. I actively dislike candy and cupcakes. But if you wave a piece of pasta or a slice of bread in front of me, I'll follow you anywhere.

This particular leaning is why I am so attracted to two cookbooks that have come out in the past couple of months. One is filled with lasagna recipes and the other with tamales. A festival of comfort food.

In The New Lasagna Cookbook, the author, Maria Bruscino Sanchez--who is the owner/baker of Sweet Maria's in Waterbury, Connecticut--offers classic lasagnas as well as some more modern takes on this wonderful casserole. Here are a couple of recipes just calling my name:

• Arugula and Prosciutto Lasagna
• Autumn Pancetta and Porcini Lasagna
• Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Lemon Lasagna
• Beet Lasagna with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce
• Pulled Pork Barbecue Lasagna

The second cookbook, called simply Tamales is by Daniel Hoyer, an instructor at The Santa Fe School of Cooking. The book starts out with all the basics, including a really helpful photographic step-by-step for wrapping tamales in corn husks or banana leaves. There is also an extremely thorough investigation of the various types of tamale dough and fillings that are used. And then he puts it all together in a chapter of recipes that are both traditional and nontraditional. Here are the ones I am currently craving:

• Chicken and Green Sauce Tamales
• Mushroom, Roasted Pepper, and Poblano Chile Tamales
• Tamales with Squash, Corn, and Chiles
• Tex-Mex Beef Tamales

And not to be forgotten are the sweet tamales:

• Pineapple and Coconut Tamales
• Chunky Dark Chocolate, Cherry, and Pecan Tamale (swoon)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Football lovers' cookbook

It's never too early to plan your Super Bowl Party, and the Sunday Night Football Cookbook can definitely help you with that. The book is filled with recipes from professional football players who love food and professional chefs who love football. The result is a very interesting collection of recipes that are not all beefy, he-man food (though there's plenty of that, too). Check these out:

• Spicy Miso Chips with Tuna
• Seared Tequila Chicken Skewers
• Warm Bittersweet-Chocolate Cupcakes
• Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Risotto with Blue Cheese
• Thai-Style Braised Pork Shank with Chive Pancakes
• Chicken and Wild Rice Burritos

But the real deal behind the cookbook is the charitable cause that it supports. Since 1992, the NFL has partnered with Feeding America (an organization devoted to getting food on the tables of those who cannot afford it) to put on a fund-raising event called Taste of the NFL. Every year during the Super Bowl, Taste of the NFL serves regional foods used in recipes created by local chefs. Since its first event, they've raised $10 million for hunger relief groups.

For more information on Taste of the NFL events (there are currently 10 regional dinners), go to their website. And for more information on Feeding America (formerly called Second Harvest), go to When you buy the the book, you will be helping the cause.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pumpkin racing

Neskoosa, Wisconsin, calls itself the Giant Pumpkin Capital of Wisconsin, and every year, in early October, they hold a regatta. The boats are, of course, made of giant pumpkins. The contestants are given 4 hours to carve their pumpkins into boats. No motors are allowed, but supplementary flotation devices are.

Wouldn't it be cool to race your giant pumpkin in the morning, and then take the boat home and use it to make pumpkin pie for dinner?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mini pastas

Everything is cuter in miniature: puppies, toddlers' shoes, dollhouses. That's the way I feel about pasta, too.

Barilla has a line of pastas called Piccolini (which loosely translates as itty-bitty) that are miniature versions of regular pasta. There are currently five shapes: farfalle (bow-tie), wheels, fusilli, penne and ziti.

If the cuteness weren't enough of a draw, the pastas also cook more quickly than their grown-up counterparts: only 7 minutes.

In order to appreciate their size, you need to know that in the recipe above the tomatoes are grape tomatoes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How I handle chili peppers (don't laugh)

The standard language used by cookbooks for dealing with hot chili peppers is to tell people to use gloves. This is a perfectly reasonable piece of advice, because the substance in chili peppers that makes them hot to the palate also makes them hot to your hands (and lord help you if you rub your eyes).

I usually ignore this advice and go ahead and take my chances. I try to have as little contact as possible with the inner ribs of the pepper (which is really where the heat is by the way, not the seeds) and I wash my hands with hot, soapy water the minute I'm done. What this does is just tame the effects of the capsaicin (the heat-producing compound) to a tolerable level. My hands tingle a bit for awhile, but no biggy.

However I draw the line at Scotch bonnet peppers. These little chili peppers are among the hottest in the world--40 or 50 times hotter than a jalapeño! So when I have to cut up one of these suckers, you can be sure I'm not so bold.

But I don't keep a supply of chili-pepper gloves in my kitchen. Do you? So when the need arises, here's my solution. I take a plastic produce bag (which I keep for using a second time anyway), put it on my hand and push it down in between my fingers. A rubber band at the wrist keeps it in place, though that's not entirely necessary.

Then when I'm done cutting the pepper, I just pull the bag off, turning it inside out, and throw it away, not feeling guilty about throwing away a plastic bag because I used it twice.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Frugal Food

In the 1970s, a British cookbook author named Delia Smith published a book called Frugal Food. In a moment of divine inspiration, Smith (who is still very much on the scene and has published dozens of cookbooks since) decided to reissue her book, now that frugality is back on everyone's minds.

The original book had a lot of penny-pinching recipes that I feel safe in saying would have limited (or possibly no) appeal for an American audience. Kidney-stuffed onions anyone? How about herrings fried in oatmeal?

But the new book, which is due out in Britain at the end of October, has been updated for this century, starting with a neat looking cover. The revised edition will no doubt also reflect technological changes that have taken place in the past 30 years, like microwaves (which didn't exist at all) and freezers--which amazingly were in only 20% of British households back then.

I can only guess this is the beginning of the onslaught of such books, but Delia Smith can certainly claim to be one of the first ones on the block. To find out more about Delia (who in Britain enjoys the status that Martha Stewart does here), check out her website.

P.S. It's not clear when the new book--which is a hardcover and costs about $36--will make it to this country, but in the meantime, if you're curious, original 1976 book can still be had, often for just a few dollars from used book merchants.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ten by Sheila Lukins

Sheila Lukins, co-author of the Silver Palate cookbooks,
has always been about the foods we love/crave. Gooey, rich, meaty, eggy, crispy, crunchy, silky....whatever it is that floats any of our individual boats.

So in her new book, Ten: all the food we love..., she has pinpointed the foods (or dishes) that most of us love/crave and offers 10 recipes for each of them.

For example, here are a couple of categories (and the recipes I want to make) that had me at hello:
  • Mashed Potatoes (wasabi mashed, lemon-dill parsnip mash)
  • Tomatoes (lush tomatoes and avocados, roasted tiny red and yellow tomatoes)
  • Corn (grilled corn with chipotle butter, farmers' market corn salad)
  • Stews (chicken tagine, seven-vegetable couscous)
  • Barbecued Ribs (maple bourbon country ribs, korean beef short ribs)
Well, you get the point.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Unusual Japanese waiter

I promise this is not a comment on the restaurant industry. It's just a cute video of an unusual waiter in a restaurant in Japan. The reason the story caught my eye is that the restaurant is located in Utsunomiya (in east central Japan), which is where my son spent a summer as the leader of a group of YMCA campers. I wonder if he ever went to this restaurant....

(If you watch closely, you'll notice that the waiter snacks on edamame during his break.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Noble juices

The name of the company that makes these juices is Noble with a capital N, but it turns out the company is also noble, small n. They claim the honor of being the first national, premium juice brand to package their juices in PLA bottles, which are eco-friendly and biodegradable. PLA stands for plastic polylactide, a natural polymer made from corn.

At first I had this image of juice bottles all over the land self-destructing on supermarket shelves. Well as it turns out, the biodegradability of these "E-Bottles" depends on being composted in an industrial composting facility, where they will "return to nature" in just over 3 months.

But enough of this palaver about the container...the juice inside is delicious. It's fresh, 100% pure and deeply flavored. The newest juices are Blood Orange (yum) and Tangerine-Cranberry, but they also have Tangerine-Clementine, Guava-Mango (double yum), Ruby Red Grapefruit and plain Tangerine.

To check on retail availability, go to the Noble Juices website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gentlemen, start your garlic

I am not a great gardener. I don't have the patience. But the one thing I plant every year, without fail, is garlic. Years ago, a friend of a friend encouraged me to grow garlic. He told me all I had to do was remember the garlic-planting mantra: "Plant on Columbus Day and harvest on the Fourth of July."

So that's what I do. This time of year, I go to my local farmer's market and buy a couple of heads of really good garlic. Then on Columbus Day (not the observed day, the real day) I plant them.

Here's how it's done: Separate the head of garlic into individual, unpeeled cloves. Dig a small hole in your garden about 2 inches deep and put in a garlic clove pointy-side up. Cover the hole. Repeat, spacing the holes about 4 inches apart. That's it.

In the meantime, check your local farmstand for garlic. I prefer the so-called hard-neck varieties, like Rocambole. If you don't have a convenient farmstand, then just use supermarket garlic. It works just fine. Or if you want to check out "gourmet" garlic, go to one of these sites:

Fox Hollow Farm

The Garlic Store

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Under the Tuscan Gun

If you've ever seen the HBO show Entourage, then you know who Debi Mazar is. She plays Shauna, the loud-mouthed publicist for the main character, Vince (Adrian Grenier). But in her personal life, she is a wife, mother and avid cook with a website called "Under the Tuscan Gun." The site is basically an internet-based cooking show in which Mazar and her Italian husband Gabriele Corcos cook Italian dishes from Tuscany.

They're in their third season now, and the most recent episode was for Sangria, Polenta and Mushroom Appetizer, Tagliata with Rucola and Grilled Vegetables. There is also an archive of most of their shows. Check out this episode in which they cook Spaghetti all'Amatriciana.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Homemade animal crackers

As a kid, when I got my hands on a box of animal crackers, I would spend time treasuring the beautiful details of the lions and tigers and bears (oh, my). I know I had favorites and would eat all the other shapes first so I could save the best for last.

But it has never occurred to me to make my own animal crackers, I guess because I wouldn't have imagined being able to get that lovely detail into a homemade cookie. Well, enter the Circus Cookie Cutters from Williams-Sonoma. The cutters work by cutting the dough out in the shape of the animal and then stamping the animal detail onto the dough with the spring-loaded stamp. They come in a set of five (tiger, lion, giraffe, seal and elephant) and cost $19.95.

The website also has an animal cracker recipe and a video that shows you how to use the cutters.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Starbucks oatmeal

Starbucks is getting all serious about nutrition. They've hired a nutritionist who has been given free rein to make the company responsible for the nutrition of the food they sell. They have completely eliminated some of the gargantuan calorie monsters they used to sell, and others have been slimmed down. And starting this fall, they will introduce a line of whole-grain baked goods as well as--and this is my favorite--oatmeal.

The oatmeal is served with a choice of toppings, including dried fruits, brown sugar and nuts. But staying true to the good-nutrition mission, the toppings are portioned in sensible amounts: The brown sugar is 50 calories and the fruit and nuts are 100 calories each. The oatmeal will sell for $2.45 with a choice of 2 toppings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vertical ice cube tray

I wonder what inspired the person to invent this very clever vertical ice cube tray. It's such an odd (but practical) idea. Here's how it works: You fill the lower container, which has the actual ice cube shapes in it, with some water. Then when you insert the inner container, it forces the water into the cubes. Then you put the whole thing in the freezer.

Here is what the designers of the IceORB say in its favor:

1) There's no way you can spill water when you put this in the freezer.
2) The ice is covered so it doesn't absorb odors in the freezer.
3) Once frozen, you can use the rig as a wine chiller or as a way to keep dips or ice cream cold.
4) Once you've made a batch of cubes (it makes 21), you can put them into the inner container to keep them frozen while you make the next batch of cubes.

Check the fusionsbrands website for a video that shows how it works.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Believe it or not, this shoe is...

...actually a cake.

It's the creation of Redmond, Washington-based pastry chef Mike McCarey, who specializes in incredible custom cakes. If you visit Mike's Amazing Cakes, the first thing you will see on the site is a collection of images. Though each one is a cake, you would not be crazy if you assumed they were statues. Click on the image in the upper lefthand corner to see a gallery of his cakes.

As you might suppose, these cakes are quite costly, so this is really all about window shopping. (What do you suppose the web-based version of window shopping is? Surf-shopping? Shop-browsing?). But if you are a frustrated cake artist, then you might consider getting Mike's DVD ($40), which gives detailed instructions on how to sculpt cake into a 3-D, to-scale car. Click on the lower lefthand image for more information on the DVD.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Panko has gone mainstream

Panko (in case you don't know what it is) is the Japanese word for bread crumbs, borrowing from the romance-language word for bread (pain in French, pane in Italian, pan in Spanish). The Japanese use panko to make extra-crispy coatings on dishes like tonkatsu (pan-fried pork cutlets).

Several years ago panko was discovered by American chefs, who liked the extra-crispy nature of panko (which I will attempt to explain below). This eventually inspired home cooks to do the same.

Until quite recently it was a bit of a treasure hunt to find panko in stores, but now Progresso offers two different styles of panko, plain and (of course) Italian-style. Because of Progresso's national presence in supermarkets, it should now be easy to get this once esoteric ingredient.

The How of Panko
As I was musing about writing this blog entry, I thought it would be a good idea to explain why panko is so incredibly crispy. So I studied a Japanese website to see if I could figure out how they make it. As near as I could figure out (everything was in Japanese), panko is made by baking a crustless bread. The bread then has the moisture vacuumed out of it in a big chamber (I think it's similar to freeze-drying, but without the cold). Then huge rotating saw teeth cut the bread into what are essentially shards, not crumbs, which then get aerated. The end result is a crumb that will not absorb oil, which leaves a fried coating light and crisp instead of oily.

In my effort to understand the Japanese site, I took a portion of the text and put it into translation software. I thought I would share the result, because it's funny: "The many air bubbles (air) having entered in the bread crumbs, the fire sort, rises in order to perform the function of heat insulation slowly tastily. The bread crumbs are made shattering the pan." Get it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mug magic

OK, I really don't understand the science of this mug, but it completely fascinates me. When the mug is empty (or when it has a cold liquid in it), it's a black mug with white letters that read COLD. But if you fill it with a hot liquid, the mug turns white (???!?), and the letters, which say HOT, are black.

As the level of your hot liquid goes down, the top turns back to its original black.

Like I said, I don't get it, but I want to get one. They go for $25 from Charles & Marie.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wine ice creams

Have you ever been carded when you tried to buy an ice cream cone? Probably not...unless you have had the pleasure of buying one of the wine-flavored ice creams from Mercer's Dairy. The ice creams are made with real wine and because of the alcohol content (5 percent by volume), you have to be 21 to buy them.

Mercer's Dairy, located in Boonville, New York (in the Adirondacks), is owned by a collaborative of local dairy farmers. Their wine ice cream line (they make conventional ice creams, too) currently has 6 flavors: A la Port, Peach White Zinfandel, Red Raspberry Chardonnay, Royal White Riesling, Cherry Merlot and Chocolate Cabernet.

If you happen to be near Boonville, you can buy the ice cream in their store, but they have an increasing presence in retail locations. You can visit Mercer's Dairy for more information, or you can email them at to inquire about a retail store near you.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dress up your backyard BBQ

So maybe Dad doesn't want to get all dressed up when he's standing over a hot grill, but the least he can do is put on a tie when he sits down to eat, right?

Since the chances of actually making that happen are pretty slim, maybe he would be willing to tuck this Dressed for Dinner paper napkin into his T-shirt and keep everyone happy. A package of 20 napkins sells for $5.95 at The Spoon Sisters.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Home Creamery

When I first got serious about food many a moon ago, one of the first things I spent money on was a yogurt maker. I merrily made yogurt for months, happy at the money I was saving. But soon I was restless and needed more of a challenge: aha, crème fraîche. That led to clotted cream, then butter, then cottage cheese.

Needless to say, I was pleased when I ran across a new book called The Home Creamery, whose subtitle reads "Make Your Own Fresh Dairy Products." Author Kathy Farrell-Kingsley has recipes for all of the things I used to make and more, from sour cream and kefir to goat cheese and mozzarella. I'm particularly intrigued by something called piima butter, which is butter made with a specific culturing agent that gives the butter a nice tang.

The first half of the book is all about making homemade dairy products, but the second half of the book is a collection of recipes that you could use even if you didn't make your own buttermilk or cream cheese. How does this sound: Cornmeal Waffles with Peaches and Mascarpone Topping? Or Crispy Buttermilk Chicken? How about Fudge-Swirl Cappuccino Cheesecake?

Hmmmmm, I wonder what I did with that yogurt maker?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My garlic harvest

Last October, I planted garlic in my garden. As with other bulbs, like daffodils or irises, you plant garlic bulbs in the fall, then come spring they sprout, and round about the end of July, the garlic is ready for harvest. (Click here for information on planting garlic.)

When I first started planting garlic about 10 years ago, I judged when to harvest the garlic by the fact that the lower leaves had started to turn brown. Then I stumbled on the best advice ever. It all has to do with garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the hollow stalks that a garlic plant sends up. It has a flower bud on its end and the scape is curled over in a kind of gooseneck shape [Photo 1]. The theory is that if you cut off the scapes, you will force the plant to put all its energy into growing a big bulb instead of growing a flower. The cut scapes [Photo 2] are actually quite tender and you can cook with them; they have a nice mild garlic flavor.

Now here's the trick I learned about knowing when to harvest garlic. When a garlic scape UNcurls and points straight up [Photo 3] in preparation for opening the flower, it's time to harvest the garlic. So when you cut off the scapes earlier in the summer, leave one scape to use as your barometer for the harvest.

Here's my harvested garlic [Photo 4]. The garlic in a freshly picked bulb is nicely pungent and almost crisp in texture. It's really rewarding to cook with your own homegrown garlic.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An old-fashioned remedy

In the course of my research for a history-oriented feature (for Hallmark Magazine) called "Signature Dish," I spent a lot of time looking through really old cookbooks (you can get almost anything these days from the used booksellers at Amazon and Barnes & Noble) as well as websites that specialize in food history. (If you're interested, a particularly good one is called Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.)

Once you spend any time checking out food history, you'll discover that many of the books from earlier generations were more than just cookbooks. They also dealt with the topic of household management. There was advice on everything from how to make stucco to removing ink stains from a mahogany desk to getting rid of crickets.

One of my favorite tips comes from a book called The House Servant's Directory. This landmark book was written in 1827 by Robert Roberts, a professional manservant and a prominent figure in the African-American community in 19th-century Boston. Along with advice for those wishing to enter into "gentlemen's service," Roberts also included such practical advice as this:

"To remove flies from rooms. Take half a teaspoonful of black pepper, in powder, one teaspoonful of brown sugar, and one tablespoonful of cream; mix them well together, and place them in the room, on a plate, where the flies are troublesome, and they will soon disappear."

It sounds oddly tasty, doesn't it? I'm very curious to know if it actually works. If any of you has a problem with houseflies, give this remedy a try and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beautiful handmade papers....from food

Foods in cross-section can be quite beautiful (think of the starfruit, the kiwi or even an apple). Apparently a German art paper company thought the same thing and took ultra-thin slices of different fruits and vegetables to make what they call papyrus. Some of the more ordinary vegetables--like carrot and cucumber--were surprisingly neat looking. See if you can guess the fruits or vegetables in the photographs above (see below for answers).

If you're actually interested in purchasing any of these papers (they would be great for craft projects, especially anything where a light could shine through to show off the patterns...a lamp shade?), check them out at Hiromi Paper. They cost $9-14 per sheet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Raspberries, yum

My raspberries bushes have gone crazy. It seems like a good year for these luscious little fruits, at least in my neck of the woods. So time to indulge in the real (locally grown) thing.

For inspiration, I recommend checking in with the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. They really know their stuff. You'll find the latest research on the healthful compounds in berries and you'll also find a collection of cool-sounding berry recipes, like Chocolate Raspberry Napoleons, Key Lime Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce, Berry Empanadas, Raspberry Tiramisu.... But here's the one that I'm saving up (my berries) to try:

Raspberry–Blackberry Cobbler with Triple Ginger Biscuit Topping

1 cup sugar
6-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
6 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chilled heavy cream

1. Prepare the fruit: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and lemon zest. Add the berries and lemon juice, and toss to blend. Transfer to the baking dish and dot with the butter
3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the mixture begins to bubble.
4. Meanwhile, make the topping and biscuits:In a small bowl, blend all the topping ingredients and set aside.
5. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, crystallized ginger, baking powder, fresh ginger, ground ginger, lemon zest and salt.
6. Using fingertips, rub in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal (or process in the bowl of a food processor for 30 seconds). Add the cream and stir until a dough forms.
7. Turn the dough out onto floured surface and knead gently until smooth, about 6 turns. Roll out to 3/4-inch thickness. Using 2-inch shaped cookie cutter or round biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits. Re-roll dough scraps; cut out additional biscuits.
8. After the fruit has been baking for 30 minutes, place biscuits atop hot fruit, spacing closely. Sprinkle the reserved topping over biscuits. Bake cobbler until fruit is tender and biscuits are golden, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The perfect pitcher

My friend Meg mentioned to me the other day that her husband was on an iced tea kick, possibly inspired by the pitcher she gave him for Father's Day. This got me to thinking about how summertime is when you haul out your pitchers. But if you're like me, your "pitchers" may only be a ratty collection of plastic juice containers with broken or mismatched tops. So I decided to look around for some inspiration to bring my pitcher game up. I found lots of good stuff.

1 Here's a good example of a pitcher that's perfect for iced tea. It has a center chamber that you fill with ice, which keeps the tea cold but doesn't dilute it. The 2.75-quart Samoa glass pitcher by Frigoverre is $21.99 from Chefs Catalog.
2 Same idea, different method. The 2-quart DuraClear® (polycarbonate) Icing Pitcher has a removable insert that sits on the side of the pitcher instead of down the middle. It's $45 from Williams-Sonoma.
3 Ah, these Bormioli Rocco Gelo refrigerator jugs remind me of the iced tea jars my grandmother had. They're not elegant, just practical, because they fit in the refrigerator door. About $15 for a set of two.
4 Practical like the Gelo jugs, but bigger, this almost 2-quart Quadro glass pitcher from Luminarc is a reasonable $8.
5 Or go the old-fashioned route with a nice ceramic pitcher. This 2-quart Le Creuset ceramic pitcher is $34.95 at Broadway Panhandler.
6 The Bordalo green earthenware pitcher, made in Portugal, holds 1 quart and is dishwasher safe. It's $19.95 from Sur la Table.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cupcakes Take the Cake

I'm the first to confess that I'm not a cupcake fan. But when I found this blog, Cupcakes Take the Cake: All Cupcakes, All the Time, I was blown away. It's hard to imagine that there could actually be so much information about cupcakes out there. But if it exists, I'm pretty sure that it's somewhere in this blog.

In addition to great photographs that go with the posts, the blog has the world's longest list of cupcake bakeries (with websites) around the nation. I swear, I'm on the verge of caving in and craving a cupcake.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Love Affair with Southern Cooking

Jean Anderson, a well-known food writer and cookbook author, recently won a James Beard award for her cookbook A Love Affair with Southern Cooking. (Congratulations, Jean!) The love affair in the book's title comes not only from Jean's considerable talents and expertise as a food historian and cookbook author, but also from her birthright. Jean is a natural-born Southerner and currently lives in North Carolina.

The book is filled with great recipes, of course, but also lots of sidebars and timelines and interesting nuggets of Southern food lore. In collecting the recipes for the book, Jean drew heavily on her own upbringing as well as that of friends; and many of the recipes are Southern classics, like Jefferson Davis Pie, Robert E. Lee Cake, Country Captain or Hoppin' John.

When I was thinking what recipe I would like to share with you from Jean's book, I decided it had to be something typically North Carolina, so to me that meant something barbecued. As Jean puts it: "Of course, every southern state believes its barbecue to be 'the best in the world' and as a Tar Heel, I devoutly make that claim for North Carolina." [Scroll down for Jean's list of favorite North Carolina barbecue joints.]

The following recipe is not for a North Carolina-style barbecue (since I believe that involves a giant smoke pit and a whole hog), but for a really interesting sounding grilled pork tenderloin.

Spicy Grilled Pork Tenderloin
(adapted from A Love Affair with Southern Cooking by Jean Anderson. William Morrow, 2007)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
I hesitate to call this "barbecue" although some people might. It's unlike any barbecue I've eaten; still it's a popular way to prepare pork tenderloin down south.

— 2 large whole garlic cloves
— 4 large scallions, trimmed and chunked (white part only)
— 3/4 cup pineapple juice
— 1/2 cup cider vinegar
— One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
— 2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
— 2 tablespoons molasses (not too dark)
— 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
— 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
— 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
— 1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
— Two 1-pound pork tenderloins
— 2 tablespoons cold butter, dice

1. Whiz the garlic, scallions, pineapple juice, and vinegar in an electric blender at high speed until smooth. Pour into a jumbo-size plastic zipper bag, add all remaining ingredients except the pork and butter, seal, and shake well to combine.
2. Add the pork tenderloins to the bag and reseal. Refrigerate overnight, turning the bag from time to time so the pork marinates evenly.
3. When ready to proceed, pour about 1/3 cup of the marinade into a measuring cup and reserve. Pour the balance into a heavy, nonreactive saucepan and set aside. Preheat the grill to moderate heat (375°F).
4. Grill the tenderloins with the lid up, turning and brushing now and then with the reserved 1/3 cup marinade, for 25 to 30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer, thrust into the center of a tenderloin, reads 150°F.
5. Meanwhile, bring the pan of marinade to a boil over moderately high heat, reduce the heat to its lowest point, set the lid on the pan askew, and keep the sauce warm while the tenderloins grill.
6. Transfer the tenderloins to a carving board, tent with foil, and let stand for 5 minutes. Add any leftover basting marinade to that in the saucepan and simmer uncovered while the tenderloins rest. Just before serving, add the diced butter to the hot marinade bit by bit and whisk until smooth.
7. To serve, slice the tenderloins 1/2 inch thick, slightly on the bias. Fan out on heated dinner plates and top each portion with some of the hot marinade.

Here's a list of 'cue joints from Jean's book:
• Lexington Number One, Lexington, NC
• Stamey's, Greensboro, NC
• Short Sugar's, Reidsville, NC
• Melton's, Rocky Mount, NC
• Parker's, Wilson, NC
• Flip's, Wilmington, NC
• Wilber's, Goldsboro, NC
• Scott's, Goldsboro, NC
• Skylight, Ayden, NC
• A&M, Mebane, NC
• Scott Howell's Q Shack, Durham, NC

To find out more about Jean Anderson--she's written tons of other cookbooks and also won other James Beard awards--check out her website JeanAndersonCooks.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Eat local

I'm so happy about the recent groundswell of interest in eating food that's been grown locally. It has a threefold impact on our lives: 1) the food you buy will be fresher because it's picked closer to actual ripeness and has to travel shorter distances to get to market, 2) because it travels a shorter distance there is less fuel expended to get the food to you, and 3) it helps support local farmers.

So here is a cool little tool to help you if you decide to jump on this bandwagon. A website called Local Harvest has an interactive map of the United States with local farms and farmer's markets (plus other food sources such as CSAs and online stores). There is a Search that lets you plug in an ingredient and then a zip code, city or state. When I plugged in Strawberries and Nevada, I got 14 matches.

Keep in mind that the map relies on the individual farmer's markets and other food vendors for the information in the map, so there may possibly be some inaccuracies. For example, it told me that I could buy artichokes at a farmer's market in New Jersey. My guess is that if they have them, they come from California, so not local. But who knows, maybe there is an enterprising farmer in New Jersey who has decided to grow artichokes. That would be cool.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blender drinks are all the rage

In case you haven't heard, blender drinks are fashionable again. I'm sure this comes as a surprise to many of you out there who never gave up on blender drinks. But I'll bet you're still working with your old blender....the one you got as a wedding present.

Well, do I have a blender for you. Hamilton Beach recently introduced their Dual Wave™ blender, which has an amazing feature: It has two motors. What this means is that you can choose either to use it with two smaller, single-serving (16-ounce) blender jars, or with one giant 80-ounce pitcher, which sits over both motors. This gives you the option of using the small jars--which are also travel mugs, by the way--to make individual smoothies or the large jar to make big batches of frozen drinks for a party.

The large party-sized jar also has a spigot so it can double as a dispenser. (Just think of the horrible mess you make as you pour people's drinks straight out of a traditional blender jar.) What's more, if the drink you've made starts to separate, you can quickly reblend it because the jar is still in place over the motors.

The stainless steel version (shown here) has a 1000-watt motor and retails for about $70; it also comes in black. A nice bonus: The little single-serving jars store inside the large party pitcher.

Now, what to put in the blender? Hamilton Beach has kindly provided some ideas on their website. They have regulation frozen drinks (margaritas, and smoothies, but they also have a number of ice cream-based drinks with intriguing names like Crash a Van with Cow Juice or Fuzzy Chicago Bottom.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Growing square watermelons

If you lived in Japan, you could actually buy a square watermelon in the market (though it would cost you a pretty yen). However in this country, you'll have to grow your own. If you have a garden and are already interested in growing watermelons, then you can actually grow a square watermelon. On a website called Instructables: The World's Biggest Show & Tell, there are full instructions for how to do that.

The concept is really quite simple: grow the fruit inside a box so that it is forced to take on the shape of the container. The instructions for making the box, however, seem a little daunting to me, but then I'm not especially handy with power tools.

If any of you tries this--or has already tried such a project--I would love to know how it worked out. Please send me photos.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Quack! I want some soy sauce

So the folding steak story has put me in a bit of a Japanese mood, which led me to the MoMA store where they are currently featuring Japanese design.

Though I loved a lot of the objects, including a very modern looking spork, I fell in love with this Duckbill Soy Sauce Dispenser. (I'm a sucker for pitchers and dispensers in the shape of animals.) Even though it was designed for soy sauce, you could just as easily use it for something else. For example, it would make a dandy milk dispenser for your tea or coffee.

UPDATE: MoMa sold out of these

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Completely vegetarian beef steak

No meat here, this steak is actually made of paper. If you go to a site called Atelier Fare (it's a Japanese site, so don't expect to understand any of it), you'll find a section labeled (in English) "Papercraft of steak." There you can download a jpeg file of a raw sirloin steak.

The scale of the image is 1:1, so once you print the image, cut out the pieces and assemble them, you have a lifesize steak. How you assemble the steak is more or less self-explanatory, which is a good thing because the downloadable instruction manual is in Japanese.

If the raw steak gets your crafting/origami juices flowing, then you can also download some other projects to assemble, including a knife, fork, plate and cooked version of the steak.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Save Our Earth glasses

There are plenty of companies out there making objects out of recycled materials, but I just happened to like these glasses better than most.

Made in Wisconsin from recycled Bordeaux bottles, the glasses have been etched with the phrase "Protect Our Earth" in four languages: English, Spanish, Afrikaans and French.

A set of four 11-ounce glasses is $45 from Uncommon Goods.