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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Preserved Lemons

One of the classic flavors in many Middle Eastern, North African, Cambodian and Indian food is the preserved lemon.

Originally used as a way to keep lemons long past the time they were fresh, lemons are basically pickled in a strong brine of salt, sugar, water and lemon juice.  (Sometimes other flavors like cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns or other spices are added.) 

The flavor is sweet, salty, sour and bitter all at the same time.  It pairs great with the strong flavors of the cuisines listed above, but you could use them in any dish that you think might work with them.  The rind and/or the pulp may be used to flavor the dish and they can be sliced, diced or cut in whatever way works best for the dish you're making.

They aren't hard to make, but the problem is, they can take at least 3 weeks to make depending on the recipe you have.

But Melissa Clark of the New York Times gives a way to make this unusual flavoring in just about 10 minutes in this article.  She also includes a link that tells how you can make them the traditional way. Either way, they last a long time in the fridge, so you'll have plenty of time to try out all sorts of new recipes on your family!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

As Easy as Biscuits

I made some biscuits from Cook's Country magazine the other night and they were so tasty and, even better, so incredibly easy, that I thought I'd pass them on to you.  They literally take minutes to put together.

Serve warm with dinner.  I used a left over biscuit for a sandwich (smoked turkey from Blooming Glen Pork) and it was delish!

Makes 12 biscuits

2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 (16 oz) container sour cream
7 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 425 degrees.  Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.  Stir in sour cream and 5 Tbsp of the butter until combined.
  2. Scoop and drop generous (slightly heaping) 1/4 cup of dough 2" apart onto the baking sheet using a 1/4 cup measuring cup lightly sprayed with cooking spray to prevent sticking.  Brush with remaining 2 Tbsp butter and bake until golden brown, 20-25 min, rotating the sheet halfway through the baking time.  Let biscuits cool on the sheet on a wire rack for 15 min.
That's it!  Couldn't be easier!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Does anyone know what a dekopon is?  Isn't it a kid's game from Japan?  No, it's a brand of paint, right?  Wait, I think my uncle was diagnosed with dekopon a few years ago.

Actually, it's a fruit.  And by all accounts, it's pretty much the most delicious citrus fruit around.  It's a hybrid fruit developed in Japan in 1972 and has been celebrated by the people of that country ever since.  For the first time, it's available in this country--where it's been cultivated, in California.

The delectable fruit is large, seedless, has a peel that comes off easier than a Clementine and has a distinctive bump at the stem end.  The membranes dividing the sections are extremely thin, so there's nothing chewy about it.  It has virtually no pith (the bitter white part between the skin and sections in citrus fruits.

The flavor is the perfect balance of sweet and acid.  It's intensely "orange-y" and, according to some, the sugars coat the mouth like eating a piece of candy. 

Unfortunately, unless you live in Japan or California, we're not going to get dekopons at their best.  Like most fruits, storage, packaging and shipping cause damage to the texture and flavor of dekopons.  But from the way some people rave about them, it might be worth taking a trip!

For some more info, check out this article from the LA Times and this one from a blog called "Nichi Bei".

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What to Pack

So what do your kids eat at lunch?  Do you pack a lunch or do they buy it?  To save money these days, many people are packing their kids' lunches (I always preferred that, myself).

At Jake's school, he has to bring his lunch (that will change next year in 1st grade, but I would guess he'd continue to pack).  They've been talking about different food groups in his class, so he's very conscious of the things we give him.

For the most part, he will have some sort of protein--either a peanut butter sandwich (on whole-grain or wheat bread--he doesn't do white--and for a treat, he gets PB and Nutella) or PB on crackers or some sort of meat (left over turkey or chicken or beef sticks from Blooming Glen Pork).  He has to have his favorite--fruit.  Can be pretty much any kind of fresh fruit.  Sometimes applesauce (always no-sugar-added) or mandarin oranges (packed in juice, not syrup).  He usually will have a Stonyfield drinkable yogurt and sometimes something crunchy like nuts, pretzels or Wheat Thins.  His drinks are provided at school. 

He's a very slow eater, so that's plenty for him.  We don't give him any sweets--he can have that after dinner--and he doesn't really miss it.  Overall, a pretty healthy lunch for a kid who likes pretty healthy foods.  He has an insulated lunch bag with a spot to put an ice pack to keep his food cold.

Here's an article about what another chef gives his daughter for lunch.  I can't argue with too much of what he says.  Do you have anything to add--any tips to pass along?  Let me know!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Happy 100th!

As you probably have heard, today is the 100th birthday of one of the world's most perfect foods: the Oreo cookie.

It's a long way since the first Oreo was sold in Hoboken, NJ on March 6, 1912.  Today, Nabisco produces about 70 million Oreo each DAY!  That's a lotta cookies. 

Since the beginning, the classic Oreo has stayed pretty much the same--the very dark chocolate cookie embossed with the familiar design and "OREO" name, filled with creamy white filling.  It was inevitable that variations would eventually appear.  Double-Stuffed Oreos have been around for a while.  Not classic, but gotta love them.  You can also find chocolate cream-filled Oreos (again, not for the purist, but awfully darn good), mint cream-filled and peanut butter cream-filled.  They also put out orange-colored cream for Halloween and maybe even pink cream at Valentine's Day.

When Oreos are the topic, the question is usually: How do you eat them?  Do you simply bite into it?  Pull it apart and eat the cream filling?  Maybe you shove the whole thing in your mouth.  And many of us dunk them. 

Me?  Cold milk and Oreos are inseparable.  My way of eating them is to dunk the cookie in to the half-way point for about a 5 second count.  Eat the dunked half and then dunk half of the remaining part of the cookie (a quarter of the full cookie).  This allows for finger room.  Then pop the last quarter in your mouth and finish with a big gulp of milk.  Repeat 18-43 times.

Many have realized that Oreos, while best for eating as above, can be used in many different applications. 

Go to any fair or carnival and you probably will find batter-dipped deep-fried Oreos. 

Grind them up in a food processor to make an easy and yummy crust for cream pies or cheesecakes.

How about this one?  Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Yes, please.

Dip them in melted chocolate or crush them up and use them as an ice cream sundae topping.  Try putting crushed Oreos in your favorite muffin or pancake batter.  That's what I'm talking about.

Heck, you can even make turkeys out of Oreos.  (That's for those of you more crafty than I am.)

So tell me, how do you eat your Oreos?  Do you have any other interesting ways to use them?  Please share!  However you eat them, celebrate a century of these yummy creations!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Be a Stalker

Celery in the garden.
Celery.  How does that make you feel?  Nothing too exciting, huh?  It's not like I said lobster or chocolate or even tomato.  But come on...the humble crunchy celery stalk should get a little bit of lovin'.

Without this member of the parsley and fennel family, Louisiana-style cooking wouldn't have the "Holy Trinity" (celery, onion and bell pepper) and French cooking's mirepoix would only be onion and carrot.  These traditional flavorings are the basis for many classic dishes.

In ancient times, the celery eaten was a wild variety--called "smallage"--much different from the veggie we know today.  It is smaller and with a very strong, somewhat bitter taste.  Many cultures (ancient China, for example) used wild celery for medicinal reasons.

Modern day celery, while not used as medicine, has plenty of health benefits.  It is high in dietary fiber and contains a number of cancer-fighting compounds.  It also gives some Vitamin A, C and the Bs, potassium, folic acid, calcium and much more. 

Celery seeds.
Some people are extremely allergic to celery.  Like some with peanut allergies, those with celery allergies can go into anaphylactic shock if they ingest celery or even come in contact with it. 

The stalk of the celery isn't the only edible part of the plant.  Celery root (or celariac) is an ugly, but tasty root that can be used in a number of different applications.  It can be used in many of the same ways as potatoes.  I really enjoy the crunchiness and mild celery flavor of raw celery root.  Really tasty with a nice dip. 

Celery leaves are more strongly flavored than the stalks and can be used in salads or to help to flavor stocks and soups.

Celery seeds are a great source of calcium and can be used as a spice to flavor many different recipes.  To me, egg salad isn't egg salad without a nice sprinkling of celery seed.

Celery root (celeriac).
So go ahead--go to your fridge right now and pull open that produce drawer.  Pull out that overlooked bag of celery and thank it for being such a healthy and essential part of our cuisine.  Or just rip off a stalk, smear some peanut butter on it and enjoy!  (Just don't go into anaphylactic shock!)

Oh, by the way, if you have droopy celery stalks, don't despair, it can be fixed.  Just cut off the bottom of the celery, put it in a container with clean water and after some time in the fridge, it'll be crisp again.  (Time depends on the droopiness.)  To keep your celery crisp longer, remove it from the plastic bag and wrap it in aluminum foil and keep it in the crisper.  Sounds weird, but it works.