Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Now Serving Hot Links

An American Baking in Paris: David Leibovitz tells about the hardships of trying to do traditional American baking and where to get hard to find ingredients like baking soda (which you have to get at the pharmacy).

A Georgian Feast: No, not the Georgia you're thinking of ... but the Republic of Georgia next to Russia. An interesting cuisine and check out the recipe for Georgian Cheese Bread which was a favorite at Christmas time in our home after my parents got the Russian book of the Time Life Foods of the World series.

Pancake Tuesday: Alicia serves up her pancake recipe for this traditional pancake day.

The Hurricane: Mmmm, one of the most delicious drinks ever. Warning, this also is one of the strongest so imbibe with caution. However, a very traditional choice for anyone who loves New Orleans and Mardi Gras.

Topolo Margarita

Tom doesn't cook, other than grilling every so often. When I say "grilling" I mean the actual cooking of the food. Not choosing what will be grilled or the marinade or anything else to do with it. Let's face it, he is disinterested in cooking.

I'm totally fine with that. I'm equally disinterested in the ins and outs of computer stuff. Which Tom is a whiz at. He maintains, upgrades, and knows everything (and I do mean everything) about computers.

To each his own.

There is one exception to Tom's disinterest in all things culinary though. At one point, he was in quest of the perfect margarita. This meant buying different orange liqueurs, different tequilas, reading articles, buying heavy duty juicers and ice crushers. Heck, one of the main reasons for choosing our refrigerator was that we could get crushed ice from the door ... although I admit I love crushed ice and use it in everything so the margaritas weren't the sole reason for that choice, though perfect ice for margaritas actually was a consideration.

We drank margaritas every weekend for several months. It was tough duty but we did it in the name of science.

It paid off. He has achieved margarita nerdvana nirvana. We both can tell with a single sip if the liqueur is inferior, the tequila not made from blue agave ... or whether (crime of crimes) someone used frozen limeade as the base mix.

To better the world and give everyone a chance to laissez les bon temps rouler just a bit before Lent, here is the recipe (from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)with Tom's recommendations to achieve perfection.

Topolo Margarita
Makes about 2 cups, serving 4
(or if you are at our house, serving 2 twice!)

Freshly grated zest of 1-1/2 limes, about 1 teaspoon
1/2 cup fresh lime juice, about 2 large limes
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
10 tablespoons water
Lime wedges
Coarse salt
3/4 cup Sauza Commemorativo tequila (Tom does not care about the brand particularly but the tequila must be from blue agave cactus)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (this is the best orange liqueur we have found, do not use Triple Sec)
About 1 cup coarsely broken ice cubes

Making 1-1/4 cups of tangy limeade. Combine the lime zest, lime juice, sugar and water in a glass or plastic pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (but no longer than 24 hours). Strain into another pitcher.

Finishing and serving the margaritas. Rub the rims of 4 martini glasses (pfft ... that's a Chicagoan for you ... use margarita glasses if possible, naturally!) with a lime wedge, then dip them in a dish of coarse salt. Refrigerate the glasses if desired.

In a shaker, combine the limeade, tequila and orange liqueur. Add ice and shake 10 to 15 seconds, then strain into the prepared glasses.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Red Beans and Ricely Yours

“I showed up with pancake mix, a ham, syrup and a bottle of bourbon, and slept on a recliner.”
Penzey's Spices, my "go to" spice retailers, also has a new food publication called Penzey's One. It is set up around an interesting theme. Since their spices are used by home cooks, the publication features home cooks.

I have not really been grabbed by the features or recipes so far. However, I may be influenced by the fact that in over a year there have been three issues. Count 'em. Three.

I know that it is difficult to get a new publication up and running on a regular basis. Chow, a real favorite of mine, is a case in point. However, the folks at Penzey's have a tendency to natter away in the magazine as if there is nothing odd going on.

A redeeming factor is that the third issue, which I received last weekend,focuses solely on Gulf Coast cooks who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The Penzey's retail locations suddenly found themselves with lots of Katrina survivors trying to replace lost spices. When this happened even in Milwaukee the Penzey's folks knew they had to change their focus for this issue.

Maybe they should find this sort of focus more often because this issue is one that I liked. They have a couple of samples up, about New Orleans resident, Judith Wenger, and one of the most famous New Orleans native of all, Louis Armstrong. I truly loved the story of his hard childhood and how he learned that helping others was the way to live a good and fulfilled life. I hope that Penzey's One has found their focus and future issues live up to the standard set by this one. You can subscribe here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

My Favorite Poem About Butter

Since we've been talking about dairy products 'round here ...
The King's Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
"Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?"
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, "Certainly,
I'll go and tell the cow
Before she goes to bed."

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told the Alderney:
"Don't forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread."

The Alderney said sleepily:
"You'd better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade

The Dairymaid
Said "Fancy!"
And went to
Her Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a little red:
"Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But marmalade is tasty, if
It's very

The Queen said
And went to his Majesty:
"Talking of the butter for
The royal slice of bread,
Many people
Think that
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little

The King said,
And then he said,
"Oh, deary me!"
The King sobbed, "Oh, deary me!"
And went back to bed.
He whimpered,
"Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!"

The Queen said,
"There, there!"
And went to
The Dairymaid.
The Dairymaid
Said, "There, there!"
And went to the shed.
The cow said,
"There, there!
I didn't really
Mean it;
Here's milk for his porringer
And butter for his bread."

The queen took the butter
And brought it to
His Majesty.
The King said
"Butter, eh?"
And bounced out of bed.
"Nobody," he said,
As he kissed her
"Nobody," he said,
As he slid down
The banisters,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy man -
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!"

A. A. Milne

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Now That's Interesting: Cream

Food Words: Cream, Creme, Panna
The English name for the fat-rich portion of milk, like the French word from which it derives, has associations that are startling but appropriate to its status as a textural ideal.

Before the Norman Conquest,and to this day in some northern dialects, the English word for cream was ream, a simple offshoot of the Indo-European root that also gave the modern German Rahm. But the French connection introduced a remarkable hybrid term. In 6th-century Gaul, fatty milk was called crama, from the Latin cremor lactis, or "heat-thickened substance of milk." Then in the next few centuries it somehow became crossed with a religious term: chreme, or "consecrated oil," which stems from the Greek word chriein, "to annoint," that gave us Christ, "the annointed one." [And, also, I'm thinking ... chrism, which is the holy oil used for annointing in the Catholic Church.]

Why this confusion of ancient ritual with rich food? Linguistic accident or error, perhaps. On the other hand, annointing oil and butterfat are essentially the same substance, so perhaps it was inspiration. In the monastic or farm kitchens of Normandy, the addition of cream to other foods may have been considered not just an enrichment, but a kind of blessing.

The Italian word for cream, panna, has been traced back to the Latin pannus, or "cloth." This is apparently a homely allusion to the thin covering that cream provides for the milk surface.
Seriously dating myself, I will admit that my parents had this album and the cover used to fascinate me as a child. I'd look at it, wondering how it felt to be covered with all that whipped cream. Quite luxuriously soft and silky, wouldn't you think?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

That's Entertainment


This book by the duo that wrote Desperate Dinners is more interesting because they are not relying nearly as much on packaged sauces and such to provide the foundations for the meal.

It has plenty of good tips for time management, their phased and flexible recipes give good pointers on prepping meals in steps to make it all manageable, and their style is much more casual overall than Perfect Party Food. No elaborate set ups here for a party of 20.

However, there are plenty of ideas for when 20 people burst in on you unannounced, which has been my lot for the last few Friday nights when Hannah and her friends have been nearby and set up base camp here.

Perhaps this could be looked at as the everyday entertaining guide, which is just what I need.

Everything Old is New Again: Powdered Milk

Powdered Milk in 13th-Century Asia
[The Tartar armies] make provisions also of milk, thickened or dried to the state of a hard paste, which they prepare in the following manner. They boil the milk, and skimming off the rich or creamy part as it rises to the top, put it into a separate vessel as butter; for so long as that remains in the milk, it will not become hard. The milk is then exposed to the sun as it dries. [When it is to be used] some is put into a bottle with as much water as is thought necessary. By their motion in riding, the contents are violently shaken, and a thin porridge is produced, upon which they make their dinner. — Marco Polo, Travels
Here I thought that powdered milk was one of those inventions from the 1950s or 1960s, like instant mashed potatoes. I don't keep powdered milk around but powdered buttermilk is very handy for those times when all your buttermilk has turned bad and you're depending on baking some Skillet Cornbread to round out the meal.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Low Fat Does NOT Equal Good Health

Now this is an interesting story. Notice the story is not giving carte blanche to be obese, not exercise, etc. But it is saying that low fat products do not bring any added health benefits in and of themselves. I foresee additional printings of The Fat Fallacy : The French Diet Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss.

Here's the entire story from the Dallas Morning News.
Low-fat diet may be low in benefit

Study of women shows no change in cancer, heart disease risks

11:55 PM CST on Tuesday, February 7, 2006
By GINA KOLATA / The New York Times

The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet has no effect.

The $415 million federal study involved nearly 49,000 women ages 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years. In the end, those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased, researchers are reporting today.

"These studies are revolutionary," said Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician in chief emeritus at Rockefeller University in New York City.

"They should put a stop to this era of thinking that we have all the information we need to change the whole national diet and make everybody healthy," said Dr. Hirsch, who has spent a lifetime studying the effects of diets on weight and health.

The study, published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was not just an ordinary study, said Dr. Michael Thun, who directs epidemiological research for the American Cancer Society. It was so large and so expensive, he said, that it was "the Rolls-Royce of studies." As such, he said, it is likely to be the final word.

"We usually have only one shot at a very large-scale trial on a particular issue," he said.

The study was part of the Women's Health Initiative of the National Institutes of Health, the same program that showed that hormone therapy after menopause might have more risks than benefits.

The results, the study investigators agreed, do not justify recommending low-fat diets to the public to reduce their heart disease and cancer risk. The investigators added that the best dietary advice, for now, was to follow federal guidelines for healthy eating, with less saturated fats and trans fats, more grains, and more fruits and vegetables.

Not everyone was convinced. Some, like Dr. Dean Ornish, a longtime promoter of low-fat diets and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., said that the women did not reduce their fat to low enough levels or eat enough fruits and vegetables, and that the study, even at eight years, did not give the diets enough time.

Others said that diet could still make a difference, at least with heart disease, if people were to eat the so-called Mediterranean diet, low in saturated fats like butter and high in oils like olive oil. The women in the study reduced all kinds of fat.

The diets studied "had an antique patina," said Dr. Peter Libby, a cardiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School. These days, he said, most people have moved on from the idea of controlling total fat to the idea that people should eat different kinds of fat.

But the Mediterranean diet has not been subjected to a study of this scope, researchers said.

And Dr. Barbara V. Howard, an epidemiologist at MedStar Research Institute, a nonprofit hospital group, and a principal investigator in the study, said people should realize that diet alone was not enough to stay healthy.

Except for not smoking, the evidence for advice on what makes a healthy lifestyle is largely indirect, Dr. Howard said.

Although all the study participants were women, the colon cancer and heart disease results should also apply to men, said Dr. Jacques Rossouw, the project officer for the Women's Health Initiative.

Dr. Rossouw said the observational studies that led to the hypothesis about colon cancer and dietary fat included men and women. With heart disease, he said, researchers have consistently found that women and men respond in the same way to dietary fat.


Researchers analyzed data from 48,835 women ages 50 to 79 between 1993 and 1998. About 40 percent were counseled to eat more fruits and vegetables and to cut their overall fat intake, with the goal of reducing their total fat consumption to no more than 20 percent of their daily calories.

Blood pressure, heart attack, stroke: The women on the low-fat diet had slightly lower levels of "bad" cholesterol – low-density lipoprotein – and blood pressure, but their risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease was unaffected.

Colorectal cancer: The women who cut their fat intake had no decrease in risk. However, they were less likely to develop polyps that increase the risk, suggesting a benefit may emerge later.

Breast cancer: Women on the low-fat diet had 9 percent fewer breast cancers, but researchers could not be sure that the difference was not the result of chance.

The Washington Post

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Now That's Interesting: Milk

Food Words: Milk and Dairy
In their roots, both milk and dairy recall the physical effort it once took to obtain milk and transform it by hand. Milk comes from an Indo-European root that meant both "milk" and "to rub off," the connection perhaps being the stroking necessary to squeeze milk from the teat. In medieval times, dairy was original dey-ery, meaning the room in which the dey, or woman servant, made milk into butter and cheese. Dey in turn came from a root meaning "to knead bread" (lady shares this root) — perhaps a reflection not only of the servant's several duties, but also of the kneading required to squeeze buttermilk out of butter and sometimes the whey out of cheese.
One of my favorite desserts made with milk is Chocolate Pudding (and I so do not mean the kind out of the box). Give this a try and see if it doesn't take you back to your childhood.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Caramelized Onions and Carrots

I was extremely dubious of this recipe from Cooking for the Week : Leisurely Weekend Cooking for Easy Weekday Meals. None of us are fond of cooked carrots and I like my onions well browned (and I couldn't tell if this recipe was going to give me those results ... it didn't). However, I tried it anyway and we all really liked it. It seems like a lot of sugar but the quantity is such that there is just a delicate sweetness and, as Rose said, a really wonderful aftertaste. Do give it a try.

1-1/2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
12 medium carrots (about 1-1/2 pounds) peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
3 large yellow onions (about 2-1/2 pounds), cut into thin wedges
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley (I didn't have any)

In a large saute pan or skilled, melt the butter with the oive oil over high heat. Swirl to coat the pan, add the carrots and onions, and saute, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook for 10 minutes.

Uncover the pan, increase heat to high, and add the sugar, salt and pepper.

Saute until the vegetables are lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add parsley, and stir to combine.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Spicy Dan Dan Noodles

I made these last night and, as happens every time, wondered why I don't make them more. Probably because I don't often have the ground pork on hand. They are so easy ... from Cook's Illustrated. For a wonder, I don't think I adjusted a single thing.

Step 1:
8 ounces ground pork
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
Pinch white pepper
Combine all, stir well with fork and set aside.

Step 2:
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3/4 cups chicken stock
Whisk together to make sauce base and set aside.

Step 3:

12 ounces linguine, 6 cups cooked
Boil and drain.

Step 4:
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
While noodles cook, heat 12-inch skillet over high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add pork and cook, breaking in small bits. Stir in all ingredients from above; cook until fragrant; about 1 minute. Add sauce base; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer to blend flavors, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes.

Step 5:
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Stir into sauce.

Step 6:
3 medium scallions, sliced thin (1/3 cup)
2 cups (6 ounces) bean sprouts
Divide noodles among individual bowls, ladle sauce over, and sprinkle with scallions and sprouts. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hot Links Comin' Up

A fantastic essay on what deep frying does for food.

You catch them eating le quignon on the way home from the boulangerie.

The French are finally falling prey to McDonald's and more sedentary jobs.

Slashfood has been having fun with old cookbooks and retro comfort food. My favorites are Twelve (or more) ways to tuna casserole, 1950's food ads, and the I Hate to Cook Cookbook.