November 07, 2010

Avocado 101: How to Pick, Store and Handle the Perfect Fruit


Avocados. They're not just for guacamole anymore. Delicious Hass avocados add great taste, lively color and a creamy texture to ordinary dishes, making them extraordinary. From pizza to salads to sandwiches, avocados add that little something special to your recipes. Knowing how to properly select, handle and store your avocados will ensure that they add the perfect pizzazz to your meal every time.

Selecting your avocados

• When choosing your avocados, look for delicious Hass avocados. They are known for their creamy texture, have a distinctive bumpy skin and are available year-round.

• To determine the ripeness of a Hass avocado, gently squeeze the fruit-a ripe fruit will yield to gentle pressure. Hass avocados will also turn dark green to black as they ripen.

• If you are buying avocados for future use, purchase firm fruit.

• Avoid fruit with external blemishes.

Ripening

To ripen a Hass avocado, place the fruit in a paper bag with an apple for two to three days at room temperature (apples accelerate the process by giving off ethylene gas, a ripening agent).

Storing

Ripe avocados can be stored in a refrigerator or freezer for later use.

• Mash the avocado, adding 1/2 tsp. of lemon juice per 1/2 mashed avocado to prevent discoloration.

• Lay plastic wrap directly on the surface of the mixture before covering.

• You can refrigerate the mixture for up to two days or store in the freezer for up to two months.

Handling

• Like all fruit, wash the avocado before cutting.

• Cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed.

• Twist the halves in opposite directions to separate.

• Slip a spoon between the seed and the fruit and work the seed out.

• Slip a spoon between the skin and the fruit and scoop away from the peel.

Once you've selected and prepared your Hass avocados, try them in this quick, easy recipe.

Turkey and Avocado

Sandwich Wedges


1 round flat sourdough bread loaf

2 large Hass avocados, peeled and seeded, divided

3 Tbsp. salsa

3 (6 by 11/2-inch) strips roasted red pepper

1 pound thinly sliced smoked turkey

3 thin red onion slices, separated into rings

3 pepper jack cheese slices

2 romaine lettuce leaves


Instructions:

Cut a circle out of the top of the bread; tear out the inside of the bread in the bottom section to make a shell. Mash one avocado and mix with salsa; spread over the bottom of the bread. Layer pepper strips, onions, cheese and half the turkey inside the bread. Slice the remaining avocado and place on top of the cheese. Top with lettuce and remaining turkey. Replace the bread top and press down firmly to compress ingredients. Wrap tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into wedges just before serving.



Breakfast on your agenda

Is a good breakfast on your agenda?

Because mornings are often hectic, some families try to get by with skimpy breakfasts or skip the meal entirely. You and your children, though, have already gone without food for 8 to 9 hours. Without a good breakfast, your bodies and your brains - which have no blood-glucose reserves, the brain's main energy source - have even longer to wait for an energy boost. It's much better to get up a little earlier to have a complete breakfast.

Studies over the last 30 years have confirmed again and again that children who eat a balanced breakfast score significantly higher on tests and are less depressed, anxious and hyperactive than children who eat an unbalanced breakfast or skip the meal.

Breakfast eaters also have improved strength and endurance and are not as susceptible to gnawing hunger pains in the late morning. By making you feel full longer, a good breakfast can also help you avoid overeating. In adult research, overweight women ate fewer calories the rest of the day when they had a protein-based breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit spread than women who had a calorically equal breakfast of a bagel, cream cheese and yogurt.

For either adults or children, a good breakfast should include a grain food, a protein source, a low-fat milk food and your choice of a fruit or vegetable or juice.

For the protein food, nutritious eggs are quick and easy to prepare and go well with other foods to complete a balanced meal. Pile-It-On Egg Toast, for example, can help you wake up taste buds with either a comforting or more exciting flavor combination.

Pile-It-On Egg Toast

3 servings


Cooking spray

3 slices bread

3 eggs


Topping ingredients (see variations)


Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil. Evenly coat with spray. Place bread slices on foil-lined sheet. With 2 1/2- to 3-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter or inverted drinking glass, cut out center of each bread slice. OR, pull out center of bread slice with fingers, leaving 2 1/2- to 3-inch diameter hole. Place cutouts and bread slices on baking sheet. For extra crispness, lightly coat both sides with spray, if desired. Break and slip 1 egg into hole in each bread slice. Evenly spread or spoon topping ingredients over bread slice and egg white. Avoid covering egg yolk completely.

Place baking sheet on middle rack of preheated 350 degree F oven. Bake until whites are set and yolks begin to thicken and cloud over, but are not hard, about 12 to 15 minutes. (Baking time may vary depending on temperature, amount and thickness of topping foods and exact diameter of hole in bread slice.)

Nutrition information per serving of 1/3 recipe using pumpernickel rye bread, spinach and 2% cottage cheese: 200 calories, 8 gm total fat, 228 mg cholesterol, 743 mg sodium, 229 mg potassium, 14 gm carbohydrate, 17 gm protein and 10% or more of the RDI for vitamins A, B12 and C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, iron, phosphorus, zinc

Mushroom Pizza: Use Italian bread, at least 4-inches in diameter, sliced 3/4- to 1-inch thick. In small bowl, stir together 1 cup sliced mushrooms (about 3 1/2 oz.) and 1/2 cup prepared pizza or spaghetti sauce or salsa. Spoon about 1/3 cup mushroom mixture onto each egg-and-bread slice. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons shredded low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese, 1 tablespoon per slice. Bake.

What do you know about Nuts?

Since the earliest of time and even before agriculture was used by the Greeks to have better food resources, `Nuts' were a stable food and nutritional source in the diet of manhood in the dark ages.  During those times, nuts were plentiful, as there were much more forests as today, and well liked for their easy storage, which enabled people to keep them for times in which food was hard to find.  (Winter, rainy season, etc).

There is evidence that as far back as the second century B.C., the Romans distributed sugar almonds on special occasions such as marriages and births.

Nuts have their place in all cultures and through almost all cuisine around the world.  Nuts are liked by people of all ages for their subtle taste and high fat and carbohydrate content.  It is this subtle taste that Chefs like when creating new dishes and variations.

DESCRIPTION & SPECIES

Under the category nuts, we understand anything from a seed to a legume or tuber. The peanut, as an example, is a legume, the Brazil nut and macadamia nut are seeds and almonds are the seed of a fruit similar to a peach.

Botanically nuts are single seeded fruits with a hard or leathery shell that contain a edible kernel, which is enclosed in a soft inner skin.

Generally, all nut trees grow slowly but live long.  Trees of walnut, chestnut or pecan continue to produce nuts, often more than hundred years after planting.

Nut trees of any species are found all over the world.  Almonds for example are found in California, Spain, Morocco, Italy and even Australia, where as the walnut can be found anywhere from North America to the Andes and Persia to Australia. Asia also has a great variety of nuts. Ginkgo nuts in China, candle nuts in Indonesia and Malaysia, coconut in throughout southern Asia, cashew nuts in India and Malaysia and the Philippines, chestnuts in China and Japan, and the water chestnut which is found in China, Japan, Korea and the East Indies.

SOME OF THE BETTER KNOWN NUTS:

ALMOND


Scientist consider the almond as a stone fruit, much like cherries, peaches and prunes.

Because most people only know the seed (stone) of this fruit, it is generally accepted as a nut.

Almond on the tree, look like small green peaches.  When ripe the shell will open and reveal the nut in its shell.

There are various varieties of almonds.

The bitter almond is in fact the kernel of the apricot, which was found growing wild in China as far back as the late Tang Dynasty (AD 619-907).

This same apricot was taken to Europe and became the apricot fruit, which is now enjoyed all over the world.  The bitter almond kernel is toxic in its raw state and must be boiled quickly and poached in a oven before being further used.  It is primarily used in Chinese desserts like the almond bean curd.

The sweet almond is generally confined for fresh consumption.  In 1986, California alone produced 70,000 tons of almonds, which is half of the world's production.  The almond has been cultivated around the Mediterranean since ancient times and can still be found wild in Algeria and around the black sea.  Sweet almonds can be bought whole, shelled, cut in 1/2 with skin, without skin, flaked, blanched, slivered ground roasted or salted. they are used for snacks, marzipan, confectionery, and desserts as well as for the production of liqueur essence, oil and cosmetic products.

BUNYA BUNYA PINE NUT

The bunya bunya tree is a member of the pine family and grows almost everywhere in Australia.  Originally the trees originated in the area of Brisbane and Rockhampton in Queensland Australia.  Only the female trees are producing a 2cm x 2.5cm nut in the pinecone.

In the old days, the bunya bunya pine nuts were stable food for the aborigines and also used in ceremonials.  These days, the nuts gain in popularity through the trend of native food in Australia (bush food) in recent years.

The nut is rich is carbohydrate, similar to the chestnut, and therefore used more like a potato than a nut.  the bunya bunya nuts can be eaten raw but are usually boiled for easy removing of the skin. Shelled nuts are then butter fried and flavored with pepper or sugar, or added to stews and soups.

RED BOPPLE NUT

The red bopple nuts are a relative of the macadamia nut, and native to the tropical rain forest of the East Coast of Australia.

The nut is about the same size as a hazelnut and has a thick (0.5cm 0 1cm), woody husk with a bright red outer skin, which only appears if the nut is fully ripe.

In contrary to most other nuts, the red bopple nut is very low on fat, but very high in calcium and potassium.  the low fat content make this nut very easy digestible.  The nuts are eaten raw or toasted.

COCONUT

"He who plants a coconut tree", the saying goes, "plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a habitation for himself and a heritage for his children".  Indeed every part of the coconut is used, but only the coconut milk and the coconut meat are foods.  The shell is used as charcoal, the husk is used to make ropes, clothing and brushes, and the trunk of the tree and leaves are used for roofs of houses and building material respectively.

The fruit of the palm `cocos nucifera' has an edible kernel and therefore qualifies as a nut.  The palm tree is native to the Philippines, Malaysia, Brazil and Indonesia, and can produce 50 - 100 nuts a year, over a life span of 70 years.  Coconut palms grow best close to the seaside but have been proven to withstand high altitude, although the production rate is diminishing as further away from the sea the tree grows.

The large thick green pod encloses a brown fibrous husk around a brown shell , which contains a layer of soft white flesh and the clear water in the center.  Sub-species found only on one island of the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, produces a nut often weighing more than 20 kg, which needs 10 years to ripen.

Coconuts are the worlds most commercially used nuts.  Especially the meat, or copra, as it is called after sun drying, is vital for the export industries, in coconut growing countries.  The coconut is a important food source especially in South East Asia, India, Brazil and the South Pacific Islands.

The copra can be brought shredded or desiccated and is used in confectioneries, ice creams and to coat chicken or fish for frying. However much of it is pressed for its oil also called coconut butter as it is white and fatty at room temperature.  Not only is it used for cooking and to make margarine, but it also goes into soaps, detergents, shampoos, face cream, perfumes and candles.

It is also a major ingredient in glycerin, synthetic rubber, safety glass and hydraulic brake fluid. Coconut juice or milk is the natural juice of the nut, but not the water inside the coconut. It is won by shredding the raw coconut meat, then adding water and straining the mixture through a cotton cloth.  The coconut milk has then the consistency and color of skim milk and is available canned or frozen.

CANDLE NUT

The candle nut gets her name, from when threaded tightly on the midrib  of a palm leaf it has been used a primitive candle.  More recently, the nuts were grounded to a paste, mixed with copra (grated coconut meat) and ten formed into a candle.

Candlenuts are the seed of the candle berry tree native to Indonesia and Malaysia but widely spread throughout south East Asia, the South Pacific and Sri Lanka.

The nut has a very high content on fat and is valued for the extracted oil for lighting as well as cooking.  The nut is colored gray to black, about 5cm in diameter, with a thin, papery husk containing one or two nuts.

Candlenut oil for lighting purposes is extracted by roasting the nuts when they are only half ripe as oil for cooking is extracted by roasting the nuts when they are fully ripe.  For human consumption, the nuts have to be roasted as raw once have been causing sicknesses.

Ripe candle nuts are roasted, then pounded into a meal and mixed with salt, chilies or shrimp paste for usage in curries or as a spicy condiment to curries.  Traditionally, the Javanese have roasted the nuts for eating in the whole.

PALM NUT

The palmyra palm native to most South East Asian Countries produces a hard, shiny nut, from which a sweetish sap or gel is extracted.  While this sap is used in the Indonesian cuisine for soups and desserts, it is on other well known product that is begin produced out of the palmyra palm - The Palm Sugar (gula melacca).

There are not reliable data available on the nutritional value of the palm nut, but it is widely known that the fat is saturated.

MACADAMIA NUT

Native to Queensland and New South Wales in Australia, the macadamia nut takes its name from Dr John McAdam, a scientist and early promoter of the cultivation Australia.

The macadamia trees are evergreen and reach a height of up to 20 meters. The edible seed of the silk oat tree has a very hard, light brown shell, 2 - 3cm in diameter.

In 1888, macadamia trees have been planted in Hawaii where through careful cloning and hybridization, it became an important commercial product.

Today, macadamia nuts are also cultivated in South Africa, Zimbabwe, California and parts of South and Central America.

It is very difficult to crack the macadamia nut as it's shell is very hard and so tight to the kernel that when cracked the nut is smashed.  In Hawaii, American scientist developed a way of separating the kernel from the shell by shrinking them in drying bins.  They then developed the first commercial cracker. It was through these two developments that the macadamia nut could be formed to the commercial importance it has today.

This is also the reason why macadamia nuts are only available already de-shelled.  Macadamia nuts also are valued for their oil and the macadamia nut butter.

They are available roasted and salted.  When buying macadamia nuts, give care that they are packed in a air tight or vacuum bags, as they become easily rancid once opened.

Macadamia nuts are used for confectioneries or as snacks, but also gain in popularity in the kitchen as they have a very mild and subtle taste and add texture to salads, and hot dishes.  It's oil makes excellent vinaigrette and cold sauces.

WATER CHESTNUTS

The name refers to a nut like tuber of a aquatic plant called Trapa.  The plants are common to several parts of the world, but are mainly used in Japan, China and Thailand where it is also a sought after ingredient in it's cuisines.

The trapa plant roots in ponds and lakes and sends, its' leaves to the surface, similar to a water lily.  The water chestnut grows on the roots underneath the water surface.  Water chestnuts are flat and round with a diameter of 5 - 7cm.  They have a soft black skin and white flesh similar to the flesh of a coconut.  Once peeled, they can be eaten raw, or dried and are a well liked ingredient because its crunchy texture, and sweet subtle taste.  Water chestnuts are also boiled and made into flour, which is used for thickening of sauces and dishes, much like cornstarch.

CHESTNUT

Chestnuts are thought to have originated in Southern Europe and Persia even though they are also found in China, Japan and Northern America.

The nuts of the chestnut tree have a brown shiny color and leathery shell. they can be eaten raw, but mostly are consume boiled, baked or roasted or as a chestnut puree sweetened or unsweetened.  They are also sold in syrup as marron glaces.

Chestnuts are the only nuts, which are treated like a vegetable because they contain more starch (30%) and less fat 3%.

Chestnuts are also made into a flour high on fiber and starch.

CASHEW NUT

Originating in the West Indies and native to the north of Brazil, Portuguese explorers introduced the nut to India and Malaysia as well as parts of Africa.

The hard-shelled nut grows inside the cashew apple.  When mature the cashew nut appears at the end of the red or yellow apple.  The cashew tree is a member of the poison ivy family and farmers must take great precautions when extracting the nuts.  The hard shell contains an oil, which irritates the skin, so the nuts are heated to extract the kernel.  The smoke and steam, which occurs however may still be harmful to skin and eyes.  When heated the cashew nuts are harmless and may be extracted.

GINKGO NUT

The ginkgo is the prehistoric maidenhair tree, which survives as a wild tree only in China.

The fruit looks like a tiny plum but has a foul and bitter shell.  the Chinese wait for the smelly hull to full off, then paint the nuts and use them for festive decorations, before they crack them open to eat the nut. In Japan and Korea, ginkgo nuts are skewered and then grilled, which turns the nuts color from yellow to green.  In China, the ginkgo nut is a popular ingredient to vegetarian dishes. The nuts can be obtained fresh or canned.

HAZELNUT /FILBERTS

The nut of the hazel bush is native to Europe and North America and was mentioned in writings as far back as 2838 B.C., and was credited of currying many human ills as well as being considered excellent for Boldness and use as a hair tonic.  Some say that the name filbert comes from Saint Philibert, a French abbot whose feast day on 22 August coincides with the ripening of the first nuts in the Northern hemisphere.

Hazelnuts have a very hard shell, which has to be cracked by a nutcracker before getting to the kernel.  Hazelnuts are available, raw, blanched, or toasted, chopped, ground, cooking as well as hazelnut liquor.

PEANUT

The peanut is not a true nut.  It is the seed of a leguminous plant with a soft, brownish colored brittle shell and belong to the Botanical family of beans and peas.  But they are usually considered along with the nuts because of they're physical characteristics and nutritional value.  The nuts grow on the long roots of the plant and below the ground. The peanut is native to Brazil and has been found there ever since the first recording in 950 B.C..

Today, peanuts are cultivated throughout the tropics all over the world (India, China, West Africa, Australia and the USA are the largest peanut growing countries).  Peanuts produce excellent oil, which is used for salads and cold dishes as well as for frying.  Peanuts also produce peanut butter, margarine, and also used in canning of sardines. Peanuts are available whole, de-shelled and de-skinned and raw or toasted. Peanuts are used in all different varieties in everything from salads to main courses and desserts.

PINENUT

These are the edible seed of the pine tree and grow in the cone.  Pine trees are found in the Southern USA, Mexico and around the Mediterranean sea.  It is very difficult to establish a pinenut industry as the trees are growing very slow and don't carry a lot of fruits until they're 75 years old.

Pine nuts are mostly obtained raw and then toasted, fried or grilled. Pine nut oil is used for the cosmetic industry. Pine nut flour is used in confectionery.

PISTACHIO NUT

The pistachio nut is a small green kernel, which grows on the pistachio tree originating in Syria, Palestine and Persia.

The natural color of the shell is grayish white, but some times the nuts are dyed red to cover up some of the staining.

The pistachio nut is now cultivated in India, Europe, North Africa, Mexico, the USA and the Far East.  Pistachios are usually sold in their shell or shelled and blanched.

The greenish seed is used as flavoring in cooking, candies and ice cream.

WALNUT

The walnut is related to the hickory and pecan tree and grows anywhere from North America to the Andes and Europe to China.  English walnuts, butternuts and hickory nuts are all walnuts, botanical speaking.  All those walnuts have different shells and kernels but the English walnut with it's rough, rippled shell and yellow brown kernel is the most popular and popularly referred to as `The Walnut'.

Walnuts are bought in the shell or de-shelled and are sought after for their oil, which is used for cooking as well as for salads and dressing.


NUTRITIONAL VALUE AND INFORMATION

Nuts are rich in fat (40-60%) and dietary fiber (5-15%) with moderate amount of protein (2-25%) and small amounts of starch (up to 10%).  As mentioned above chestnuts are an exemption to this general rule.

The fats in nuts are mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated and contain no cholesterol as nuts are harvested from plants.  Only the coconut and palm nut contain saturated fats.

Significant amounts of minerals can be found in nuts, including zinc, calcium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium.

They also contain some provitamins and vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin E & C.

Nuts contain very little natural sodium and have a high amount of potassium, which in this constellation is recommended for the control of blood pressure.

Unfortunately nuts are often sold salted as snacks, which upsets this natural balance, and by a over consummation of salted nuts people take in a lot of fat and salt.

Nuts are also a great source of energy and often used in diets for athletes.

Used in moderate amounts, nuts in unsalted forms are nutritionally valuable food.

USAGE OF NUTS FOR THE PROFESSIONAL CHEF

One does not know where to start where to compile information about the usage of nuts and nut related product in today's hospitality. In the kitchens, there is no limit on the amount of dishes and creations a Chef can use nuts or nut products for. From appetizers to salads, soups and desserts, with cheese, fish, pasta, meats and vegetables, nuts are very versatile and do not have a over powering flavor, and its subtle taste and crunchy texture adopt early to almost all given products as a supplement.

Nut oils are also widely used for dressings, frying and flavoring of hot and cold dishes.  Nut liqueurs can be a welcome supplement to savory sauces as well as pastry sauces and creams, marzipan and other nut pastes are often used to produced chocolates and confectionery items. In the Indian cuisine, a cashew nut paste is often used for the thickening of curries and sauces. Through the wide spread of different nuts around the world, nuts are used in almost all cuisines known and its nutritional value make it an asset to so many diets since the ancient days.

In the beverage outlets, nuts are used in form of lacquers (Hazelnut, Almond) and liquid (coconut Milk), and as snacks served with drinks (Salted Nuts)

November 04, 2010

Chicken Soup Recipe - Making Your Own

I think everyone who likes to cook chicken should be able to make a good soup with it. It's a great way to use up leftovers, and an even better way to make sure you get enough vegetables in your diet.
While there are countless variations of techniques and ingredients in chicken soup, there is one constant that no one can do without: a good stock or broth. Without this your soup will have a watery taste, and that is no fun to eat. Also, a tasty broth is more likely to be healthier for you, since where there is flavor there is usually also nutrients. A good stock typically contains some gelatin, which comes from dissolved collagen from bones and connective tissue. Gelatin is great for carrying both flavor and nutrients because it can interact with organic molecules better than water can.
So does that mean you have to make your own chicken stock in order to have a good chicken soup recipe? Not necessarily, as there are many good chicken stocks available at grocery stores. I prefer the kind you get in boxes, but the canned stuff is usually good too. I'll use the powdered or cubed stuff in a pinch, but I find they have too much salt and other flavor enhancers for my liking. I'm also not sure how much gelatin they contain, if any.
However, if you do prefer to make your own stock, there are many excellent Web sites available that give instructions. Basically all you have to do is simmer chicken bones along with some onions, carrots and celery for an hour or two. Regardless of how you make it, there is one piece of advice I can give you that will always work: after the stock is made, remove the solid ingredients, and boil off some of the water to reduce the amount to half. Concentrating the stock will intensify the flavor, making everything you use it in that much more flavorful.
After the stock, your next choice is which vegetables to use. I've already mentioned the classic onion, carrot and celery mix, but there are so many other choices available. From time to time I enjoy some chopped spinach in my chicken soup, or any other leafy green I happen to have on hand. Frozen peas are another great option, but remember to add them about 5 minutes before the soup is done cooking, unless you prefer your peas mushy. Tomatoes are another great vegetable to use in chicken soup, and they have the added benefit of bolstering a weak-tasting stock. You can also use "substitute" vegetables to replace some of the classics: fennel in place of celery, leeks or shallots for the onions, parsnips for carrots, etc. And let's not forget about all the peppers out there, both hot and mild!
When it comes to vegetables, I usually just add whatever I have in my refrigerator. Any leftovers or veggies that are about to expire become candidates. I usually avoid root vegetables as they take longer to cook through, but if they are already cooked then they are fair game too. If not, then just chop them up into small pieces so they cook more quickly.
Next in the list of ingredients to select is the type of starch to add. There are so many to choose from that there is no way I could list them all, but one thing to think of is how much the starch you choose will thicken the broth. This will depend on how quickly it dissolves into the broth and how long you will be cooking it for. Most people don't want to thicken their chicken soup too much, so pasta is the usual choice for most people. If there is one variant of chicken soup that is more famous than all the others, it would definitely be chicken noodle soup.
But noodles are far from being the only choice. Brown rice is my go-to starch for chicken soup. Like barley, it will thicken a broth given time, but it normally takes more than an hour for that to happen. I like how it swells in the liquid of the soup, and how it adds just a touch of viscosity to it. It helps the flavor of the soup cling to the tongue for just a little bit, enhancing the taste experience.
Lentils are a very healthy starch to use, and there are a lot of varieties to choose from. Red lentils will practically dissolve into the soup, while the little green gems known as Puy lentils will keep their shape almost forever. At the other end of the spectrum are potatoes, which given enough time will thicken a soup enough to stand your spoon in it.
If you want to go for big-time comfort food, then dumplings should be your selection. Personally I have never made dumplings, but I know some people that swear by it.
Lastly, you need to decide what spices and herbs to go for. Chicken has such a neutral flavor that you should pay more attention to matching your spices to your vegetables you used. The basic spices that are considered "classic" would be parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme...just as in the song. These work very well when you use the classic veggies. But when you use other vegetables, then there are some really good combinations available. For instance, if you used tomatoes then you would be making a mistake to leave out the basil. Spinach and marjoram work very well together, while tarragon and fennel make a good pair.
But don't think just about spice and herbs. If you want a really refreshing flavor, add a bit of lemon juice. Don't forget about the garlic either, as it works with almost all other ingredients. And lastly, don't be afraid to add a bit of spice. You don't need to add so much that it burns the palate; just a little will heighten all the other flavors.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I left chicken itself out of the discussion. Any cooked or raw chicken will do, but you'll find that white meat is the best in soups. Dark meat, while tastier, has a much higher fat content and tends to make a soup feel greasy. White meat for soups and pastas, dark meat for everything else is the rule that I go by.
I hope you aren't disappointed that there wasn't a recipe that you could follow to the letter in this article. The truth is I don't usually cook that way anymore. I found I made much better meals once I understood the basics of whatever meal I was making I could improvise and make improvements and substitutions based on my tastes, who I was cooking for, and what I had in stock.

5 Ways to Make Your BBQ a Memorable Family Event

Here are 5 ways to make your routine evening barbecue a more unique experience:

1) Who said you have to stick to meat? Much can be done with bread and fruits over an open flame. To make this into a fun activity with your kids, use cookie cutters to make the bread and fruit into shapes. You can decide on themes like “animals” and “letters” or ask that each shape be different from the others! Then, let your kids decide which toppings they would like to put on. Add cheese, onion and various spices to bread and cinnamon and honey to fruit.

2) Try foil-wrapped surprise meals. Place different combinations of chicken, fish and vegetables with sauces and spices in foil packets. These cook in less than 20 minutes and lead to no-mess, lip-smacking results. Children will love the surprise element and can easily switch packets. You can even ask your family for combo suggestions before the barbecue, or draw ingredient names out of a hat to create new meal ideas. 

3) A little variety goes a long way. If you tend to stick to the same old beef burgers and pork wieners, why not try grilled pizza or salmon steaks? Similarly, try to mix it up with condiments and seasoning. Sick of ketchup? Try salsa instead. Look online where you’ll find hundreds of easy recipes for barbecue rubs. These give your food that extra pizzazz and prevent the mess and drip that comes with barbecue sauces. 



4) Barbecues don’t have to be rushed. In fact, barbecue devotees will tell you that today’s quick broiling is an insult to the term, which should represent a process of slow cooking on low heat. You can find many slow cooker recipes online, and the wait is a great opportunity to pass some quality time with your family and friends. Entertaining backyard activities include creating an outdoor canvas to paint on or playing backyard bowling with household items. 

5) Mom said not to play with your food, but there’s always an exception! Barbecue games are great fun and tasty at the same time. In the game Glutton, each player gets a certain amount of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese or any other side dish. Various kitchen utensils are put in a box and the players blindly pick a few. On the go, they begin to eat their dish with the items that they took out. The first to finish his or her food wins the prize!

Finally, don’t fret! Far too many people get lost in the details of planning the perfect barbecue party and forget to enjoy the social atmosphere and delicious food. So kick back, bask in the relaxing sun and prepare for a summer of unforgettable barbecues!


November 03, 2010

4 Types of Tea: How is Each One Made


Tea is one of the most popular after food drinks in the world, but still very few people are aware that there are four inherently different flavours and types of tea one can find in every supermarket. Each tea is made out of different ingredients and each tea has its advantages and disadvantages. I will explain.

What you should always remember is that there are only four types of tea.
1) Black tea
2) Green tea
3) White tea
4) Oolong tea

All these are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, also known as the tea plant. Other herbal infusions such as chamomile tea, ginger tea or red tea made of rooibos leaves are disqualified as types of tea since the tea plant is not involved in their making. The difference between the four tea variations lies in the process of making them. In addition, each type of tea has another flavor and various health benefits.

1) Black Tea
The strong flavored burnt Sienna colored hot beverage is the most popular type of tea in the West. Either served with a squeeze of lemon or added milk and a cube of sugar, the cup of black tea is part of daily tea ceremonies that take place worldwide. Black tea is made of heavily oxidized Camellia sinensis leaves. When served plain, it contains no calories, carbohydrates, or fats. A cup of black tea contains more caffeine than any other types of tea but less than in any cup of coffee.

2) Green Tea
The lightly oxidized tea has been popular in China, Japan and Korea for centuries. Recently, rumors on its health benefits increased its popularity in the West as well. It has been proven that drinking green tea can lower cholesterol, prevent cancer, increase metabolic rates and be helpful in variety of other conditions and illnesses. The green tea is lightly oxidized, dried, but not fermented. It is usually served plain, without sugar or milk. Since some of the green tea variants taste a bit bitter, it should be brewed in lower temperature than the boiling point.

3) White Tea
White tea is rarer and more expensive than the other types of teas mentioned above. Originated in the Fujian province of china, the white tea is made of young Camellia sinensis leaves, which go through a long process of steaming or frying, inactivate fermenting and drying. Since the leaves are harvested while the buds are still covered by white hair, it is called white tea. White tea has the most delicate, sweet taste than the other types of tea. Moreover, it contains the smallest amount of caffeine and the largest amount of antioxidant that help prevent cancer.

4) Oolong Tea
The traditional Chinese tea is the common companion of Chinese foods such as dim sum and chop suey in American Chinese restaurants. The oolong tea, black dragon in Chinese, got its name after its long, dark distinguished leaves that look like wild black dragons when brewed. The unique taste of the oolong tea is achieved by a long process that includes sun drying of the Camellia sinensis leaves, light oxidization, cooling and drying processes. The result is a lighter flavor than the popular black tea and stronger than the delicate green tea.


November 02, 2010

3 Ways To Cook The Perfect Rice

Rice may be cooked by 3 methods, each of which requires a different proportion of water. These methods are boiling, which requires 12 times as much water as rice;  the Japanese method, which requires 5 times as much; and steaming, which requires 2-1/2 times as much. Whichever of these methods is used, however, it should be remembered that the rice grains, when properly cooked, must be whole and distinct. To give them this form and prevent the rice from having a pasty appearance, this cereal should not be stirred too much in cooking nor should it be cooked too long.



BOILED RICE  - Boiling is about the simplest way.  Properly boiled rice not only forms a valuable dish itself, but is an excellent foundation for other dishes that may be served at any meal. The water in which rice is boiled should not be wasted, as it contains much nutritive material. This water may be utilized in the preparation of soups or sauces, or it may even be used to supply the liquid required in the making of yeast bread.

BOILED RICE (Sufficient to Serve Eight)
1 c. rice ; 3 tsp. Salt;  3 qt. boiling water

Wash the rice carefully and add it to the boiling salted water. Boil rapidly until the water begins to appear milky because of the starch coming out of the rice into the water or until a grain can be easily crushed between the fingers. Drain the cooked rice through a colander, and then pour cold water over the rice in the colander, so as to wash out the loose starch and leave each grain distinct. Reheat the rice by shaking it over the fire, and serve hot with butter, gravy, or cream or milk and sugar.

JAPANESE METHOD - Rice prepared by the Japanese method may be used in the same ways as boiled rice. However, unless some use is to be made of the liquid from boiled rice, the Japanese method has the advantage of being a more economical way of cooking this cereal.

JAPANESE METHOD  (Sufficient to Serve Eight)
1 c. rice ; 1-1/2 tsp. Salt; 5 c. boiling water

Wash the rice, add it to the boiling salted water, and boil slowly for 15 minutes. Then cover the utensil in which the rice is cooking and place it in the oven for 15 minutes more, in order to evaporate the water more completely and make the grains soft without being mushy. Serve in the same way as boiled rice.

STEAMED RICE - To steam rice requires more time than either of the preceding cooking methods, but it causes no loss of food material. Then, too, unless the rice is stirred too much while it is steaming, it will have a better appearance than rice cooked by the other methods. As in the case of boiled rice, steamed rice may be used as the foundation for a variety of dishes and may be served in any meal.


STEAMED RICE (Sufficient to Serve Six)
1 c. rice; 1-1/2 tsp. Salt 2-1/2 c. water

Wash the rice carefully and add it to the boiling salted water. Cook it for 5 minutes and then place it in a double boiler and allow it to cook until it is soft. Keep the cooking utensil covered and do not stir the rice. About 1 hour will be required to cook rice in this way. Serve in the same way as boiled rice.


3 Non-Traditional Ways to Prepare Your Holiday Turkey


Deep-Fryed Turkey

3 gallons peanut oil for frying, or as needed
1 (12 pound) whole turkey, neck and giblets removed
1/4 cup Creole seasoning
1 white onion


In a large stockpot or turkey fryer, heat oil to 400 degrees F. Be sure to leave room for the turkey, or the oil will spill
over.

***** Side Note *****

How to determine the amount of oil you need:

The easiest way I've found to determine the amount of oil you need is to place the turkey into the fryer and fill with water until the turkey is just covered. Remove turkey and allow to drain, pat dry with paper towels as well. Make note of the level of water in the fryer. Discard water and dry throughly. Fill frying vessel with oil to the level as noted above. This should help in preventing hot oil spill overs.

***** End Side Note *****

Layer a large platter with food-safe paper bags. Rinse turkey, and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Rub Creole seasoning over turkey inside and out. Make sure the hole at the neck is open at least 2 inches so the oil can flow freely through the bird. Place the whole onion and turkey in drain basket. The turkey should be placed in basket neck end first. Slowly lower basket into hot oil to completely cover turkey. Maintain the temperature of the oil at 350 degrees F, and cook turkey for 3 1/2 minutes per pound, about 45 minutes. Carefully remove basket from oil, and drain turkey. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh; the internal temperature must be 180 degrees F.

Finish draining turkey on the prepared platter.

Grilled Whole Turkey

12 pounds whole turkey
2 cups water
3 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon paprika

Prepare an outdoor grill for indirect medium heat, and lightly oil grate. Rinse turkey, and pat dry. Place turkey breast side down on the prepared grill. Sear turkey on both sides until skin is golden to dark brown. In a large roasting pan, mix together the water, bouillon powder, garlic powder, onion powder, poultry seasoning, parsley, and paprika. Place turkey breast side down in the roasting pan. Scoop the pan mixture over the turkey. Cover tightly with foil and place on grill. Grill 3 to 4 hours, until the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 180F. Remove turkey from grill and let stand 15 minutes before carving.

Smoked Turkey

1 turkey 8 to 22 lbs., fresh or completely thawed
Sweet Pickle Brine (recipe to follow)
Maple syrup

Sweet Pickle Brine:

1 gal. water
2 1/2 cups salt, rock, pickling or canning salts are recommened
1/3 cup of light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Lquid garlic
1 oz. pickling spices

Mix well. You may need to adjust the amounts depending on the size of your bird. This recipe should suit you fine for an 8 to 12 lb. turkey.

Rinse turkey thoroughly with cold water, drain and pat dry. Prepare sweet pickle brine. Brine turkey according to the following schedule, 8 to 12 lb. bird 3 days, 13 to 16 lb. bird 4 days, 17 to 22 lb. bird 5 days. Remove from brine; rinse thoroughly in cold water and pat dry. Allow to dry in refrigerator for 24 hours. 

Lock wings behind back and tie legs and tail together. Baste turkey with maple syrup before putting in smoker and every 2 hours while smoking. Position turkey on cooking grill. Smoke cook until done. 

The best way to determine doneness is to insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey (the breast) the internal temperature should read 180 degrees F.

Smoking food is more an art than a science; this recipe is not intended for the novice. Allot of factors go into determining the cooking time for a particular food when smoking.

Cool turkey in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving to enhance the smoked flavor. You may serve the turkey right away if you wish.


10 Things You Didn’t Know about Barbecue


Every spring, North Americans gear up their grill, stock up on the meat and prepare for many mouth-watering barbecues. But how much do we really know about the art of barbecuing? From the familiar pastime’s origins to surprising tips and tactics, this list will provide you with all the information you need to wow your friends at the next neighbourhood barbecue!

1) Barbecues originated in pig-pickin’s, feasts that were common in the Southern United States prior to the Civil War. Whole pigs were cooked and eaten by the crowd.

2) “Smoking” was used as far as 6000 years ago in order to make meats safe to eat and store. The meat was exposed to smoke and low heat in order to prevent bacteria and enzymes from growing.

3) In Australia, a barbecue is commonly referred to as a barbie. The famous statement “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you,” which appeared in Australian tourism advertisements, is often used to refer to the country.

4) What most North Americans partake in today isn’t actually barbecuing. Barbecuing is cooking at temperatures around the boiling point of water (180-220*F) for a longer time period, in order to make the meat tender while preserving its natural juices. Today, the method most commonly used is in fact broiling: cooking at 475-700*F in much less time.

5) According to the Barbecue Industry Association, half of all marshmallows eaten in the U.S. have been toasted over a grill.

6) For an easy way to check how much propane you have left, bring your bathroom scale outside and weigh the gas tank.

7) The origin of the word barbecue is unclear. Some believe it came from the American-Indian word barbacoa for a wood on which foods were cooked. Others say it came from the french words “de barbe à queue,” meaning “whiskers to tail.”

8) To add a smokey flavour to your gas-grill-cooked foods or foods cooked inside the house, use “liquid smoke.” A condensation of actual smoke, this product can be easily added to your barbecue marinade or sauce.

9) Brisket, the extremely hard cut of meat taken from a cow’s chest, takes one to two hours per pound to barbecue. That’s an average 12 hours on the grill for a basic 8-pound piece!

10) Kansas City, Missouri and Lexington, North Carolina both claim to be the barbecue capitals of the world. Memphis, meanwhile, stakes a claim to being the pork barbecue capital.

Now you’re set to impress!


10 Great Tips On Cooking Meals

If you are as busy as most people you are always looking for ways to feed your family in convenient, fast, yet not-too-expensive ways. Try the following suggestions:

1. Cooking several meals for the week at one time. It may take a few hours of your time up front but will pay off in the long run when you come home each evening and have a meal ready to eat in a short amount of time. Try cooking a roast and using part of it as a main meal and then using some for sandwiches, beef stroganoff or as part of a stir-fry. Fry several pounds of hamburger and make a casserole, taco meat and chili to freeze for use later in the week.

2. After you return home from the grocery store clean all the fruits and vegetables you can. When it’s time for a meal all you will have to do is cook them or add them to a salad or soup.

3. Get ideas from the cooking shows on T.V. There are great shows that show you how to make a healthy meal in a short time.

4. Develop a revolving recipe file. If you get bogged down by the idea of having to plan 30 meals a month the recipe file is for you. Let family members choose some of their favorites and put the recipes in a monthly file. Flip to day five or fifteen and there is the meal just waiting to be cooked.

5. Enlist the help of the members of your family. As soon as the kids are old enough divide up the cooking responsibilities. Let everyone take turns with specific tasks or the whole meal. Pair these meals with fruit and veggies that have already been washed and cut-up and you are ready for dinner.

6. Share the cooking with friends or neighbors. I’ve known people who cook four or five of the same meal and then trade with four or five other people. This works best when people share the same basic ideas on what they like and don’t like. It’s a great idea though for a very easy week of evening meals.

7. Save coupons for those convenience things at the grocery store. They have entire entrees and dinners either fresh or frozen. Sometimes they are rather pricy but with the coupons they are good to have on hand for an evening when everyone is running in different directions and time is of the essence.

8. It’s O.K. to eat out from time to time. Clip coupons for these occasions and if you have kids keep a look-out for the places that have special prices for children. Some of the fast-food restaurants are trying to offer item choices that are a little more healthy.

9. Many larger cities have businesses that prepare food for the evening meal. They seem expensive at first but are so convenient and available for one person or entire families. There are many menu choices and meals cooked for special diets. When you calculate the groceries you buy and the times you eat out each week, this may work for you.

10. Combine several of the above ideas into a plan that is best for you.

It is possible with a little planning to cook meals that are quick and easy without spending hours in the kitchen every day.