Thursday, January 29, 2009

What's Cooking Grandma?

There's a website called What's Cooking Grandma? that is a marvelous collision of the traditional and the technical. The website is a collection of videos of grandmothers cooking. The grannies come from a number of countries (including Brazil and Finland), but England and America represent the majority.

If everyone got out there and filmed his or her grandmother cooking something, this could be an incredible repository of old-fashioned home-cooking. There are instructions for how to add your grandmother and her video to the site. Come on all you guys, get out there and let grandma have her moment in the internet sun!!

To give you a taste of it, here is a video of 92-year-old Gran Hilda from Manchester making parkin, which is an oatmeal and molasses cake traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes Night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rabbit Hole Day

Today is Rabbit Hole Day, a day on which bloggers are meant to write about the strange new surroundings in which they have found themselves, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

So I have fallen into a place where everything is very, very small.

I couldn't resist showing you these microsculptures (top photo) by a British artist named Willard Wigan. I realize these having nothing to do with food, but you see I've fallen down a rabbit hole, and I found these amazing miniatures. The sculptures shown here are the six wives of Henry VIII. But wait, they are standing inside the eye of a needle. Check out the other miniatures at Willard Wigan: Micro Sculptor.

Now, staying with the same theme of impossibly tiny, but this time edging a little more toward food, the bottom photo is the sculpture of a very, very small orange. To appreciate its tininess, you should know that it is about one-third the width of your thumb.

There are nearly 3 dozen step-by-step photographs that show how to make it. The drawback is the extremely annoying website that the photographs are on. First you have to tell the website to ignore the ad that will automatically start playing when you go to the page. Then you'll have to scroll down until you get to the Tiny Man Made Orange how-tos. But it will be worth it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A mug for every mood

I have a huge collection of coffee mugs at home. Each one has a little history to it (various souvenirs from vacations), and each one has a slightly different feel in the hand (the clunky cafeteria-style mug or the delicate porcelain cup). I find myself picking a different mug in the morning depending on the mood I'm in.

I'm always on the lookout for new mugs, even though I really don't need any more. Here are a few I've coveted recently.

1 The designer Stephen Reed surrounded this Radiator Mug with "heat sinks" that keep the exterior of the mug cool to the touch, even though the coffee within can be scalding hot. The mug is $26 from Charles & Marie.
2 The name of this mug alone makes it worthy: Celestial Mocha Mug. This glass mug holds 14 ounces of mocha and comes from a restaurant supply company that sells a set of six for $22. Good deal.
3 I love the look of this handmade stoneware mug. It's designed by Michael McDowell, a Denver-based artist who sells his stuff on Etsy. This "White Crawl" mug (which costs $20) sadly sold out just as I was writing this blog entry, but this will give you the opportunity to visit Michael's Etsy store and maybe you can twist his arm and ask him to make more.
4 Though you can't see all of them in this shot, the stick figures by the artist Jeffrey Metzner wrap all the way around this mug. It's $12 from the MoMA store.
5 If you're feeling in a fundamental American-pottery mood, you should check out these stoneware mugs from American potter Todd Piker at the Cornwall Bridge Pottery in Connecticut. The mug is $20 and comes in 3 shapes and 10 designs.
6 Zojirushi, the Japanese company that also makes rice cookers, makes an insulated stainless mug called a D-Mug. You can buy the mug for $30 at, but here's the cool part. You can then go online and customize your own mug design at Zojirushi's D-Mug Studio.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The name Pimpinella probably conjures up a couple of things for you. Perhaps a fictional 18th-century hero? Or maybe an inner-city entrepreneur? An early Jane Fonda role?

Actually Pimpinella is a botanical genus that includes the anise plant, which produces licorice-flavored seeds used primarily in baking.

A study conducted by scientists at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has shown that anise is more than just a pretty spice. The researchers identified 22 compounds high in something called phenylpropanoids. Although these compounds are found in lots of plants, the chemical structure of those found in Pimpinella plants suggests they have anti-inflammatory potential as well as phytoestrogen properties.

Although anise is not all that common an ingredient in most American kitchens, anyone of Italian heritage has probably had (or even made) waffle cookies called pizzelle. Most recipes for pizzelle call for anise extract or anise oil (a highly concentrated form of the good stuff found in the seeds). Who knew pizzelle was health food?

If you're interested in making your own pizzelle, you need to check out the collection of irons (from $17-$50) at the Fantes Kitchen Wares Shop. They also sell both anise oil ($6 for 2 ounces) and anise extract ($3 for 2 ounces), and they have an old family recipe for pizzelle.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Whole Grains for Busy People

We all know that we're supposed to get more grains in our diets. And thankfully, the food industry has been responding lately by providing whole-grain versions of their standard products. But when it comes to cooking whole grains at home, most of us get a little shy.

I'm guessing there are multiple reasons for this, starting with just plain ol' not liking the taste of whole grains. Some grains can definitely have a very earnest, crunchy-granola, almost-barnyardy flavor. But next on the list of reasons not to cook whole grains is the time it takes to cook them...not to mention the long soaking occasionally involved.

Well, Lorna Sass, who has written a bunch of cookbooks (including one called Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way), decided that the time factor should not be the reason to not cook with grains. She has put together Whole Grains for Busy People, a collection of recipes that use quick-cooking grains that are almost all available in supermarkets, with one or two in health-food stores (though many supermarkets now have pretty good health-food aisles).

I already love whole grains, so it was hard for me to pick recipes from the book that might win over someone who feels a little iffy about them, but see what you think of these:

• Soft Chicken Tacos with Smoked Paprika Sour Cream
• Spirals with Beef Ragu
• Coconut Chicken Curry with Thai Black Rice
• Goat Cheese and Corn Enchiladas
• Dilled Barley and Chicken Salad
• Wild Rice with Mushrooms, Potatoes, and Squash
• Banana Coconut Cream Pie

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Meat loaf cupcakes

There is a restaurant that opened recently in Chicago called The Meatloaf Bakery. The restaurant looks at first glance like a regular bakery, with a big glass display of all the "baked goods." But what's in the case is meat loaves baked to look like pastries, including layer cakes, tarts and my favorite, cupcakes.

Now, the reason I'm mentioning this restaurant (because this is really only interesting news to someone who lives in Chicago, which I don't), is that I think the idea of baking a meat loaf as a cupcake is a really cool idea.

If you'd like to give it a try, the concept seems really simple. Just take your favorite meat loaf mixture and bake it in muffin tins. Then just think of something that you can top the cupcake with that will take the place of frosting. To get you started, here are some cupcake ideas from The Meatloaf Bakery's menu:

  • Ground chicken seasoned with minced celery and spicy wing sauce. Frosting: whipped blue cheese.
  • Ground pork loin seasoned with minced chorizo sausage, hot peppers, almonds and garlic. Frosting: roasted garlic-mashed potatoes.
  • Ground beef and Italian sausage seasoned with basil and sun-dried tomatoes. Frosting: angel hair pasta.
  • Salmon loaf seasoned with lemon, parsley and dill. Frosting: wasabi mashed potatoes.
  • Ground turkey seasoned with fresh herbs. Frosting: herbed bread stuffing.
  • Ground sirloin seasoned with minced bacon, cheddar, mustard and ketchup. Frosting: 3-cheese mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Star anise

If you read the Flavor Trends post on December 18, then you will have noticed that Asian five-spice powder is being predicted as one of the trendy flavors for 2009. A key spice in five-spice powder is star anise, which are the seeds of a Chinese evergreen tree. The seeds are housed in a star-shaped seed case, hence the name.

Star anise and five-spice are used a lot in Asian and Indian cooking, but I am more intrigued by nonAsian uses of the spice. For example, I have a friend from the Netherlands who uses star anise in tomato sauce. It was a revelation to me. The flavor that the star anise adds to the sauce is out of this world.

You can buy star anise at Asian or Indian groceries, or online at Penzey's Spices or Mountain Rose Herbs.

And to experiment with the taste of star anise, I would throw a pod into any tomato sauce-y thing, into rice as it's cooking, into a coconut-milk-based curry, into beans as they cook, into any recipe that calls for tarragon, fennel or anise (but not measure for measure, because star anise is quite strong).