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?