Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone. As the year ends we all tend to reflect on all we have done and would like to do in the coming year. Of course, my 'to do list' always centers around food.

In 2011, I have continued my canning adventures, which advanced to chutneys. I dived into the world of beer. And, played with sugar. All have been fun and challenging.

Next year, I plan to brew more beer, can other fruits and veggies, and have more fun with sugar. Any new adventures will come to me when the spark hits me. That is the best part about being a chef.

I wish everyone a year of good food and cooking. So, before the year ends I plan to make challah for the first time. The adventure continues.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Playing with Sugar

A few days ago the weather was dark, rainy and gloomy. And, I needed a diversion quickly. I didn't want to play outside, so I decided to play inside. My playmate was sugar. I recently pick up a sugar cookbook and wanted to try a few techniques out. First game, cotton candy.

Homemade cotton candy is very different from carnival cotton candy. It is much harder. It has a certain crunch to it. The whole process is part of the hard-crack sugar stage, which is used in many desserts.

It took about 25 minutes to get the sugar mixture up to 320 degrees (hard-crack stage). I quickly worked with the sugar and began to whisk to back and forth on to parchment paper creating strands of spun sugar. After I rolled the spun sugar into balls. The whole process is done quickly because the sugar hardens fast.

Personally, I did not care for the taste of homemade cotton candy. I did learn a lot and now I am ready to make my first croquembouche. Plus, I forgot about the weather for awhile.

December 7th is National Cotton Candy Day

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chocolate Mousse

Today I had a craving for chocolate mousse. I wasn't sure if I wanted to make one with cream or an egg base. So, I did some searching and found a vegan recipe made with avocados. I know what you are thinking, avocados and chocolate, no way. I too thought the same thing, but it was very good. I even trick someone, you does not care for avocados, to eat it and enjoy it.

The recipes was very easy. Three avocados, ¾ cup honey, one teaspoon vanilla extract and ¾ cup of cocoa. First peel the avocados and puree in a food processor until smooth. Add honey and vanilla. Process until combine. Slowly add sifted cocoa to the puree and combine well. Chill and serve. Healthy and delicious!

November 30 is National Mousse Day

Monday, November 14, 2011

Holy Guacamole!

Avocado just may be the perfect fruit. It is loaded with health benefits and is available all year round.

Here are a few health benefits. One, it contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fact that may help lower cholesterol. Two, it is a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. Three, it contains carotenoid lutin for eye health. And, it contains fiber and protein. There are not many fruits or vegetables that can claim all of those benefits.

And, if you need any more benefits, you can eat it with chips when the avocado is used to make guacamole. To your health!

November 14 is Guacamole Day

Thursday, October 27, 2011


So, if you want a lesson in patience, brew beer. I finally got to taste the fruits of my labor. It only took 25 days. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with my first home brew. You could actually taste the honey in my Honey Red Ale.

Brew day was October 1st. Brewing the wort took about 3 hours, which included set up and clean up. Three days in the first fermenter. Twelve days in the second fermenter. And 10 days to condition and carbonate in the bottles.

Opening my first home brew was like Christmas morning. I held my breath as I carefully popped the bottle cap, hoping to hear the carbonated gases slowly release. Who knew such joy could happen upon that first bottle. It's only beer, right. No, it's a home brew and that is the joy of it all! And yes, it was worth the wait!

American Beer Day is October 27th

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Four a Day

Forget about an apple a day. The new fruit is the prune. One is not enough, you need to eat four a day. Hey, they are small but very mighty indeed.

Four prunes a day helps to slow the aging process of the brain and body. Helps in cases of anemia. Helps in normal blood circulation. It is a good remedy for sore throats. It has a high beta carotene content. It contains a lot of fiber and sorbitol, a stool loosening sugar. Plus, it is an excellent source of vitamin A, potassium and iron.

So, grab some prunes, four to be exact, each day. Oh, you may want to brush after eating. Prunes will stick to your teeth faster than anything and that means cavities.

October 17 is Eat Four Prunes Day

Monday, September 19, 2011

Home Brewing

A few months ago, a book on home brewing caught my eye in my monthly cookbook catalog. “Home brewing”, I thought, “how involved is that process?” So, to answer my question I checked out several books on the frothy subject from the library.

Immediately I was intoxicated. Malts, hops, yeast, wort, racking, original gravity, final gravity, pitching, etc. And, the recipes go on and on. So many. Needless to say, I ordered that original home brewing book. I had a hard time choosing my first brew but I finally settled on Honey Red Ale.

I have all of my hardware. The brew kettle, fermentation bucket, carboy, hydrometer and siphon. This is the short list. I plan to purchase the ingredients this weekend. Most recipes yield 5 gallons which is the equivalent of about 45-50 bottles of beer. I like beer but that is a lot of beer!

I will be sharing most of the beer, which will be bottled under the name “Brewlene”. I couldn't resist. I wonder if my circle of friends will increase while I learn the art of zymurgy. I guess that is all a matter of taste. Cheers!

September 28th is Drink Beer Day

Monday, September 5, 2011

Purple Reigns

I believe potatoes are not getting their just due. People often shun these tubers when they are dieting and they should not. What they need to shun is the butter, sour cream and chips. But potatoes should be a part of any healthy diet. Especially purple ones.

Yes, purple potatoes. Peruvian purple potatoes to be exact. Peru is the world's potato capital. Peruvian potatoes dates back to the Incan empire. The diversity of tubers in Peru is unprecedented, with the purple potatoes reigning supreme.

A recent study has shown that purple potatoes has a high concentration of antioxidants, which protects your body from molecules called “free radicals” that can damage healthy cells. One potato has only 110 calories, sans the butter and sour cream. And, they taste great mashed, baked or broiled. No frying allowed for nutritional benefits. Sorry, but those are the rules.

September is National Potato Month

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meyer Lemons

A few months ago I continually ran into Meyer lemon recipes. I have heard of them but have never tried them. So, I searched and searched and searched. Nothing. I went on line and found that these little jewels, that are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, are plentiful in California. I live on the east coast. So, the next best thing was to buy a Meyer lemon tree!

And, that is what I did. After some searching I purchased an one year old dwarf Meyer lemon tree from a California grower. I was thrilled. I quickly potted my tree and dreamt of preserved lemons, lemonade and Moroccan chicken w/ olives and lemons. My dreams will have to carry me a couple of years, because my tree will not produce any fruit for two or more years. So, non-Meyer lemons will be my fill-in until then. To be continued . . .

Preserved Lemons
8 Meyer (or regular) lemons, scrubbed very clean
½ cup kosher salt
extra lemon juice, if needed
sterilized jar

Place 2 tablespoons of salt in the bottom of a sterilized jar. Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons and cut ¼ inch off the tip of each lemon. Cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in half, but do not cut all the way. Keep the lemons attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, now the lemons are quartered, but attached. Pry the lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over the the insides and the outsides. Pack the lemons in the jar. Squishing them down to extract the juice. Fill the jar with the lemons. Add more juice if necessary to cover the lemons. Seal the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple of days. Turn the jar occasionally. Put in refrigerator for at least 3 weeks or until the lemon rinds are soften. Turn upside down from time to time. To use, rinse the lemons to remove salt. Discard seeds and pulp. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

August 15 is Lemon Meringue Pie Day
August 20 is Lemonade Day
August 29 is Lemon Juice Day

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Peaches Everywhere

I ventured out and battled the heat last weekend and went to the local farmer's market. I was looking for some unusual fruit and vegetables for a class I am teaching this week. I did not come across anything unusual but there was no short supply of peaches. They were everywhere. Every corner I turned was another stand with peaches. Now, I am not complaining. In fact, I love peaches but they have a very short shelf (or table) life. People often complain when they are hard as rocks at the store. It is better that way. Because in two days they will be perfect and in 4 days they will be soft and mushy.

So, when you buy too many peaches, do the next best thing. Can them. I made this peach chutney with some ripe but firm peaches. It was delicious. If I have the strength and discipline to save a jar or two I will have a real treat to complement my holiday ham this year.

August is Peach Month
August 22 is Eat a Peach Day
August 24 is National Peach Pie Day

Peach Chutney

1 tablespoon oil
1 cup chopped onions (about 2 medium)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon ground allspice
3 cups chopped, peeled peaches (about 4 medium)
¾ cup dried cherries or cranberries

In a medium saucepan heat oil. Add onions, ginger, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and allspice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir in peaches and cherries. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. Ladle hot chutney into sterilized canning jars. Seal and process filled jars for 10 minutes (start timing when water starts in boil) in a boiling-water canner. Remove jars and cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ice Cream for ALL

Summer would not be summer without ice cream. Ice cream has the power to wow you with it's creamy and smooth texture. Add some fruit, nuts or chocolate it's everyones favorite go to dessert. Well, not everyone. If you are lactose intolerant you may look with envy as friends eat their chocolate cones, because you can not eat milk products. But, wait there is goat milk and if you a ice cream maker you can make your own.

Goat's milk is more easily digestible than cow's milk. It is little more expensive and sometimes hard to find, but for ice cream lover's that are lactose intolerant, it is worth the money and search.

A friend of mine who is lactose intolerant was visiting this month so I decided to whip up a batch of goat cheese ice cream. It was super good with just the right amount of sweetness and tang you would except from goat cheese. So, if you have passed on ice cream in the past due to your milk free diet, pick up some goat milk and cheese and give it a spin in your ice cream maker. Don't have a maker. Buy or borrow one. It will be worth it.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream
2 ½ cups goats milk
½ cup sugar
4 oz goat cheese
4 egg yolks

Warm milk and sugar in a saucepan. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl. Pour milk over egg yolks and return back to the saucepan. Simmer until thickened. Crumble cheese in a large bowl. Pour custard through a mesh strainer over cheese. Stir until cheese has melted. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Freeze in ice maker according to manual. Enjoy!

July is National Ice Cream Month

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Licorice, love it or hate it

The word licorice immediately brings to mind black chewy candy. The flavor is one of a kind. But, is it really? That flavor we call licorice can also be associated with anise, star anise, fennel and coriander. When you describe any of the above flavors you usually say “it taste like licorice.” Let's break all the this down, one herb at a time.

Licorice is a very powerful plant. The root of the plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is extracted and used for many medicinal uses, such as calming coughs and relieving constipation. Excessive consumption can be toxic to the liver and cardiovascular systems. The word licorice means sweet root. Anise, fennel and coriander are all herbs which are part of Apiaceae family. Apiaceaes are aromatic plants with hollow stems. Star anise are the seeds from a evergreen tree, Illicium Verum, grown in Asia. They all have very similar flavors which we refer as “licorice like”.

I personally love all things with a licorice flavor. But, I have come to find out that most people either love it or hate it. Why? Why do people shun fish or lima beans? Well, lima beans are just bland, that's why. Now, fish needs to be fresh. People with aversions to fish have probably eaten not so fresh fish. All things licorice flavor are sweet, delicate and sometimes black or red (in the case of licorice candy). So, what's not to like? Maybe they had stale licorice when they where kids and they have block all licorice tasting foods from their tastebuds. Ahh, what a shame!

July 2 is Anisette Day

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bubble Tea

Are you ready for a fun summertime drink. If yes, pick up some tea, milk sugar, tapioca pearls and a large straw. We are making bubble tea.

You may have seen bubble tea at the mall or at some beverage kiosk. It is all the range in Asia where it may be called pearl shake, boba tea, momi or zhen zhu nai cha. Basically, bubble tea is strong black tea with sugar, milk and tapioca pearls.

At the heart of bubble tea is the tapioca pearls. When I first ventured out to buy them I was unlucky and just bought minute tapioca. Minute tapioca is fine for pudding and gravy but it does not have the same wow factor as tapioca pearls. The minute tapioca does create the bubbles but they are smaller. I finally found tapioca pearls at an Asian grocery store. If you unable to get yours hands on tapioca pearls you can certainly use the minute tapioca and a smaller straw. Cheers!

Bubble Tea

4 cups water
½ cup tapioca pearls
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ cups strong black tea
1 ½ cups milk
sugar to taste

In a large pot bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the pearls. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let set for another 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Divide pearls among two large glasses. Mix tea, milk and sugar in a pitcher and pour into glasses. Add ice and straw. Enjoy.

National Tapioca Day is June 28th

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Parfait Perfection

What makes a meal or dessert perfect? Is it the taste or the preparation? I have often asked this question. To have both would make the dish a winner. Well then, consider parfait the winner.

As summer slowly falls upon us, so does the need and want of tasty easy food prep. Ice cream is the first choice for summer time treats. A parfait (a French word which means perfect) is most likely the best example of an ice cream dish. Layers of ice cream, fruit and whipped cream. It is the perfect summer treat, easy and delicious.

But not all parfaits are desserts. Many restaurants are now serving savory parfaits. Layers of meat, gravy and potatoes. This too is perfect. Sweet or savory the parfait reigns supreme when it comes to prep and taste.

June 25 is National Strawberry Parfait Day

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mint Julep

Spring has finally sprung. And, in Maryland that means the Preakness Stakes is just around the bend. The Preakness is the second race of the triple crown. The first race is the Kentucky Derby and the third is the Belmont Stakes.
So, what does all that have to do with food? Everything, if you are thirsty for a cool drink. That cool drink being the mint julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938. The mint julep was served in a souvenir glass that year for 75 cents. It has been proudly served every year since. This year there will be about 80,000 mint juleps sold at the Derby.

The mint julep is a spin off of an Arab drink called julab. Julab is made with water and rose petals. The drink was introduced to the Mediterranean region were people replaced rose petals for mint leaves, which were indigenous to the region.

There are basically to ways of make a mint julep. One, by muddling mint and sugar together. And, the other by making a mint syrup. Of course, good Kentucky bourbon is added to both methods, along with crushed ice. I tried both and I prefer the mint syrup method. It does take a little more time, but you do have enough syrup to make several drinks.

Horse racing fan or not, the mint julep is a winner.

Mint Julep

4 mint leaves
2 cups ice
2 tablespoons mint syrup (see below)
2 tablespoons water
2 ounces Kentucky bourbon

Place mint leaves and ice in blender. Pulse until crushed. Fill glass with crushed ice. Add remaining ingredients. Garnish with mint and serve.

Mint Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 bunch fresh mint leaves

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add mint leaves. Cool. Pour syrup into a jar, seal and place in refrigerator. Remove leaves after 24 hours. Syrup will keep for several weeks refrigerated.

Mint Julep Day is May 30th
And for the horse racing fans:
Kentucky Derby is May 7th
Preakness Stakes is May 21st
Belmont Stakes is June 11th

Monday, April 4, 2011


Chances are you use it often and rarely think about the small vegetable called garlic. Garlic comes from the Old English word garleac, which means "spear leek". It dates back over 6,000 years from Central Asia. In fact, the Egyptians worshiped garlic by placing them in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Garlic was even used as currency.

Raw garlic has an excellent anti-bacterial compound called allicin, which kills salmonella and staphylococcus. Cooked garlic prevents arteries from clogging and reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

It's no wonder Americans consume more than 250 million pounds of garlic annually. It may be pungent but it sure delivers the good stuff and taste great on toast with olive oil.

April 19 is Garlic Day

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cheers, Spring is Coming!

Think of spring and you may think flowers, yellow peeps and hay fever. You rarely think of beer. Bock beer to be exact. Bock is the term for a strong lager of German origin, which is made to be consumed in the spring. Bock is brew in the fall and aged through the winter and enjoyed in the spring.
Bock beer was first brewed in the 14th century by German brewers in the Hanseatic town of Einbeck. This style of beer was later adopted by Munich brewers in the 17th century.
The Bavarians of Munich pronounced Einbeck as "ein Bock" which means a billy goat. To this day you will often find goat on bock labels.
Traditional bock is lightly hopped, sweet and slightly strong. The color is light copper to brown with white head. the mouthful is smooth and rich with a toasty caramel finish.
If that sounds too light weight you can always give Doppelbock (double bock) a try. It is high in alcohol and sweet. Some monks call it"liquid bread". The aroma is very intense and malty.
Darker versions have hints of chocolate and fruit undertones.
So raise a tall glass to spring. Cheers and enjoy the flowers, yellow peeps and hay fever!
Bock Beer Day is March 20th, the First Day of Spring

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


We all have our favorites – mashed, baked or fried. You may have guessed I am speaking of potato dishes. What potato dish warms you like a fuzzy blanket on a snowy day? A mountain of whipped potatoes with beef gravy mounted on top or a baked potato with a pat of sweet butter. Whichever one you choose it will surely ease any daily stress. They don't call potatoes comfort food for nothing.

This past weekend I decided to venture out of my usual potato comfort zone and try my hand at gnocchi, potato dumplings. The word gnocchi may have been derived from the Italian word nocchio which mean a knot in wood or from nocca which means knuckle. Either word, I was ready to get my hands and knuckles messy for some dumplings.

Making gnocchi wasn't that difficult. One does require a “feel” for dough making. Just like pasta or bread making, the right ratio of dry and wet ingredients is key. In addition, you need to know when you have added enough flour and when you have kneaded enough. Both techniques come with time and practice. Knowing this is worth the time, I might add.

My gnocchi recipe is the following: 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, 3 ½ cups all purpose flour and 2 eggs. Boil the potatoes until very tender. Drain and mash. Slowly add the eggs. Stir until smooth. Add one cup of flour at a time. Mixing after each cup. Knead the dough on a floured surface for a minute or two, until the dough becomes soft and pliable. Shape into logs about ½ in diameter. Cut into one inch pieces. Place the gnocchi in a pot of boiling salted water for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with sauce, butter or pesto. Enjoy!

Ah, that feels better.

February is Potato Lover's Month

Monday, January 3, 2011

Peking Duck

I started 2011 with a grand culinary idea. “I will make Peking Duck”, she said sheepishly. Personally, I am a lukewarm Chinese food lover. So, the idea of Peking Duck was both a surprise and a shocker. My main draw to the dish was all of the prep work and written praises about the crispy skin and succulent meat. The way I saw it was I could order Peking Duck at a restaurant or make it myself. So, I made my list and went to the market on New Year's Day.

My grocer did not have fresh duck. So, after purchasing a few weekly staples I headed to the nearest Asian market. To my surprise they too did not have fresh duck, only frozen duck. I sulked silently and purchased my 6 pound frozen duck at $2.99/pound. However, a frozen duck meant a day for thawing.

On January 2nd I cleaned and rinsed my duck and placed it a solution of water, vinegar, honey and cornstarch. This step tightens the skin and begins rendering the fat. I proceeded to placed my duck on a rack with a pan beneath it to catch the drippings. I then positioned it below a roaring ceiling fan. I left my duck to dry and played Mah Jongg with friends.

Upon my return, 6 hours later, I promptly placed my duck in a 350 oven on a rack. I placed a pan with a little water in it to catch the fat drippings. It roasted for 1 ½ hours. I cooled it for 15 minutes. I was very excited to taste my efforts. I was disappointed. The taste was ok but the amount of meat from this 6 pound duck was slim to none.

Did I do something wrong? I am not sure. Did I need more drying time? Even if the drying time should have been longer that still does not account for the small amount of meat.

Well, my conclusion is Peking duck is not for a crowd or the budget minded. I may consider Peking Duck the next time I go out for Chinese. But that evening, after Peking Duck, I had a bowl of popcorn and a beer.

Happy New Year!

January 18 is Peking Duck Day
January 19 is National Popcorn Day