Category Archives: Food

Conch Fritters

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Ingredients

2 cups diced conch meat (see how to prepare below)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon Cayenne pepper

1 egg

½ cup milk

¼ cup diced onion

½ cup diced green bell pepper

½ cup diced red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Peanut oil for frying

Lime, quartered

Cocktail sauce

Directions

If you have purchased whole conch, place it on a cutting board and using the rough side of a meat mallet, pound the conch to about 1/4″ thickness.  Then use a very sharp chef’s knife to dice the conch meat into 1/4″ pieces.   Transfer the chopped conch to a large mixing bowl.

In a large pot or deep fryer, heat oil to 365°F. Mix the flour, baking powder, egg, and milk in a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Mix in the chopped conch meat, onion, green and red bell pepper, and garlic until well blended. Drop rounded tablespoons of the mixture into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with a wedge of lime and cocktail sauce on the side.

 

Bahraini Cuisine

Bahrain is an international port and, as such, imports goods from all over the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Africa. Each restaurant in Manama featured a different cuisine and the food markets offered a dazzling selection of bins filled with spice, shelves stocked with oils, dates, honey and staples from around the world.

Spices

But what did the average Bahraini eat? Every meal was served with flatbread, and various small plates of egg dishes, meat dishes (usually chicken or lamb), vegetables (I liked the white beans with cilantro which were very spicy), hummus, tahini, and curries. These dishes were shared among diners. The flatbread was torn into smaller pieces and a spoonful of one of the other items was placed on the flatbread and rolled up. Diners ate this morsel with their right hand, utensils being reserved for serving. The population is predominantly Muslim and alcohol is not served except in larger establishments and hotel restaurants. Thus, diners drink water or fruit juices with their meals and follow the meal with Arabic style (strong) coffee or chai tea.

The area is subject to dust storms of very fine, white silt, which was probably the reason there was not any “street food” per se as there is in other cities of the world. The famed “shwarma” was sold at many establishments along the sidewalk where doors could be slid open to reveal the juicy, marinated chicken and lamb roasting on a spit. This Middle Eastern variation of a wrap was available everywhere for the equivalent of $3 US.

The vast array of available spices is incorporated into most menus. The following recipe is for the Chicken Machboos that we made in our cooking class.

Bahraini Chicken Machboos

Ingredients

¼ c. rose water

¼ t. saffron threads

2 T. melted butter

¼ c. canola oil

Whole spices:

3 star anise

2 black lemons*

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

5 whole cardamom

Vegetables:

2 medium onions, diced

2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced

½ t. ground ginger

½ c. fresh cilantro, chopped

½ c fresh dill, chopped

1 medium tomato, diced

Remaining spices:

1 T. salt

½ t. black pepper

½ t. cinnamon

½ t. ground cardamom

½ T. turmeric

½ T. paprika

1 T. curry powder

1 t. cumin

1 2-3 lb. chicken, quartered

2 c. basmati rice

4 c. water

Green chili (optional)

Directions

Pour rosewater into a measuring cup and add saffron threads. Cover with plastic wrap and soak for 4 hours or overnight.

In a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven, heat butter and oil over medium high heat. Add whole spices and sauté until you can smell the aroma. Then add onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add cilantro and dill and stir for one minute. Add the fresh tomato and mix until it softens. Add remaining spices and mix for 3-4 minutes.

Add the chicken and fry for 5 minutes on both sides to lightly brown. Add 4 c. water and bring to boil. Simmer for 40-45 minutes until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Rinse rice with cool water until it is clear. Drain. Add to stockpot. There should be 3 c. water in the stockpot for the 2 c. rice. If not, add more water. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the rose water and saffron. Place chicken on top of all other ingredients and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Garnish with lemon slices. Serves 4-6.

Thai Cuisine

Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonized by Europeans. Thus, its cuisine is authentic and has only been slightly influenced by bordering countries or traders.

Thai cuisine is very spicy and focuses on dishes which are well balanced in four areas – sweet (usually palm sugar or coconut milk), salty (fish sauce and salt), sour (lime in several forms and tamarind) and spicy (chilies). Meals served in restaurants are accompanied by a quartet of sauces brought to the table – fish sauce, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, dried chili flakes, and palm sugar. Rice is served at most meals, (usually jasmine rice, but also sticky or glutinous rice) and sometimes noodles. Cucumbers are often served to cool the palate. I was told recently that additional ways to counter the spiciness is to add more rice, add sugar, or drink more beer!

Thai food was traditionally eaten by the right hand while seated on cushions on the floor, but today most Thais eat with a fork and large spoon. The fork is held in the left hand and is used to scoop or push into the spoon which is held in the right hand. Chopsticks are reserved only for noodle dishes.

The Thai pantry can be stocked from items available in the international aisle at a grocery store or a local Asian market. Lo’s Seafood in Portsmouth, NH carries Thai canned goods (coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind paste), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, fresh chilies (bird’s eye chilies or very tiny chilies are hotter than larger chilies), Thai basil and cilantro. Green, yellow and red curry pastes (hottest to mildest, respectively) can be made from scratch or purchased already prepared.

The following recipe for Chicken Coconut Milk Soup is one which we prepared at the Thai Farm Cooking School while I was in Thailand recently.

Tom Kaa Gai (Chicken Coconut Milk Soup)

Ingredients:

½ c. water

¼ cup of peeled, thinly sliced galangal or ginger

1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced into one-inch pieces

½ cup halved grape tomatoes

½ cup sliced mushrooms

1-5 bird eye’s chili peppers

1 chicken breast, sliced thinly and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 can coconut milk

2-3 kaffir lime leaves

1 stem of cilantro, finely diced

3 sliced scallions

1 T. fish sauce or soy sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of lime juice

Directions:

Combine water, galangal, lemongrass, tomatoes and mushrooms in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to boil. Remove stems from chili peppers and crush open by banging down with your palm on the flat side of a heavy knife. Add chili peppers, coconut milk and chicken pieces to broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until chicken is milky white all the way through. Fold kaffir lime leaves in half along spine and remove spine of each leaf to release flavor. Add to soup with cilantro, scallions, fish sauce, sugar and salt to taste. Continue to cook over medium heat for 5 more minutes to intensify flavor. Finally add lime juice (soup will be too bitter if lime juice is added too early.) Lemongrass pieces, kaffir lime leaves, chilies and  galangal or ginger root should be removed prior to serving as they are all too tough to chew. Serves 2.

 

 

 

 

 

K’UL Chocolate

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I recently had the opportunity to taste some fabulous artisan chocolate crafted by the K’UL Company of Minneapolis. (Wish you were here to assist!)

The name K’UL (pronounced cool) comes from the Mayan word for energy. The chocolate bars are promoted as a superfood providing the energy to do more and to do it better. The K’UL chocolate makers directly import their cacao beans from farms in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru eliminating the middle man. The farms are chosen not only because they have great tasting cacao beans, but also because they are professionally managed, have well-paid labor, and practice sustainable, environmental-conscious organic farming. All K’UL bars are 70% cacao, vegan, gluten free, soy free and dairy free.

Chocolate tasting is an art in itself, involving all five senses. First, use your nose and start by smelling the chocolate. Taste is 75% aroma and these chocolate bars were rich with the fragrance of cocoa. Next, use your eyes as you need to evaluate the appearance of the chocolate. All of the K’UL bars were deep brown in color with a polished sheen. Let’s use our sense of touch. These bars were smooth in texture except where extra ingredients were added for more complexity. What does a good chocolate bar sound like?  When you bite into one or break off a piece, you should hear a distinct “snap,” indicating that they have been properly tempered. (Tempering prevents the dull grayish color and waxy texture that happens when the cocoa fat separates out.) And last, but most important, is the way the chocolate tastes. Did you know that chocolate has 400 flavor profiles? That’s more than a fine wine! Let is slowly melt in your mouth. Using your tongue, move the chocolate to the roof of your mouth. Move your tongue back and forth to warm the chocolate for full appreciation. Mmm! The K’UL bars had no bitter after taste, either.  I must admit they were the finest I’ve ever tasted!

Peru

Made from the world’s rarest cacao white bean, this single origin chocolate bar has a distinct orange accent, with a slight butterscotch flavor and floral notes. I compared this bar to a Lindt Intense Orange dark chocolate bar which I had on hand, and the Lindt chocolate  tasted like vegetable shortening by comparison.

Brazil

This single origin bar was one of my favorites (but then, they all were.) Deep, dark and rich, it felt like velvet on my tongue. I detected malt, fruit, brown sugar and maybe a hint of coffee.

Electrobar

This chocolate bar was chewy and tangy with a slightly crumbly texture. The added bananas and coconut make this one truly healthy and delicious. What a great way to enjoy chocolate for breakfast!

Power

Perfect to tuck in your gym bag, this superfood bar is packed with protein from peanuts and currants!

Endurance

The Endurance bar combines premium dark chocolate with cranberries, guarana and pumpkin seeds, which add a nice toasted nut flavor.

Stamina

The stamina bar was also one of my favorites. It was a luscious dark chocolate enhanced with maca root, cranberries, cherries, pomegranate and raspberries. I wonder if this could count in my diet as a serving of fruit?

Saltsation

The rich chocolate flavor of the Saltsation bar is enhanced with the addition of sea salt.

Marcona Almonds

Hand roasted almonds added a crunchy, crispy texture to this velvety chocolate.

Vanilla

The blend of dark chocolate with pure vanilla added even greater depth to the deep cocoa flavor.

Haiti

Rich and silky smooth, this single origin bar has the flavor of fruit, floral notes like jasmine and a hint of licorice.

Ecuador

The single origin bar from Ecuador has a buttery flavor that made me think of brown sugar and butterscotch.

For more information and ordering these and other K’UL chocolate bars, visit www.kul-chocolate.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 52: Turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is an orange-colored spice native to India and Indonesia, revered for its culinary and therapeutic benefits. Turmeric gives the curry its bright yellow or orange color and contributes to its peppery, warm, and mildly bitter taste. It also provides a tangy and ginger-like fragrance.

Turmeric is a root crop known for its tough brown skin and bright orange flesh. For more than 5,000 years, this root crop has been cultivated in the tropical regions of Asia. During the 13th century, turmeric was introduced to western countries by Arab traders. Its popularity has slowly spread across the globe. Today, the leading producers of this aromatic spice are India, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Haiti, and Jamaica.

First used as a textile dye, turmeric has been used for its medicinal properties in China and India for thousands of years. Turmeric is also used as a food additive to create a rich, yellow color in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, and gelatins.

Health Benefits

Turmeric is arguably the most powerful herb on the planet at fighting and potentially reversing disease. It has so many healing properties that currently there have been 6,235 peer-reviewed articles published proving the benefits of turmeric.

Turmeric’s active ingredient is an extracted compound called curcumin. Among the health benefits of curcumin is reducing inflammation of the joints characteristic of arthritis. Other studies suggest that this powerful spice may also help protect us against breast, lung, stomach, liver, and colon cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease by reducing some levels of beta amyloid plaque in the brain, a compound associated with cognitive decline.

Turmeric has the ability to improve the effects of diabetic medications and help in controlling the disease. It reduces the risks of developing insulin resistance, a physiological condition in which the cells fail to respond to the normal actions of the insulin hormone.

Research also suggests that turmeric can help reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides in overweight people with high cholesterol. Turmeric may also relax blood vessels and minimize heart damage after suffering a heart attack.

So for inflammation and more, it appears that turmeric could be the supplement you’ve been searching for. When searching for a turmeric supplement, however, be sure to choose one that includes the black pepper extract piperine. Without it, the curcumin that is ingested gets metabolized before it’s absorbed.

Preparation

Our local Asian market in Portsmouth, NH sells turmeric rhizomes. You can make your own fresh turmeric powder by boiling, drying and then grinding the roots into a fine powder.

However, its deep color can easily stain, so quickly wash any area with which the turmeric has come into contact with soap and water. To prevent staining your hands, you might consider wearing kitchen gloves while handling turmeric.

Side Effects

Some people have reported allergic reactions to turmeric, especially after skin exposure. Typically this is experienced as a mild, itchy rash. People taking certain medications should also be careful when using turmeric in their food or supplementing with it. Turmeric may interfere with anti-coagulants like aspirin, and warfarin. It also can affect medications such as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. As with any herb or supplement, use as directed.

So why wouldn’t you try this natural ingredient for better health? It could just be the “spice of life.”

Resources

www.draxe.com

www.tophealthsource.com

www.thetruthaboutcancer.com

www.webmd.com

www.whfoods.com

 

Week 51: Oodles of Noodles

noodles

Nearly every culture has a form of noodle to compliment its cuisine. The word “noodle” derives from the German word nudel. Generally made of unleavened dough (no yeast), they are cut into strips, shaped or dropped by the teaspoon into boiling, salted water to cook, or are steamed or fried.

In the Philippines noodles represent long life and good health and it is believed that they must not be cut short so as not to corrupt the symbolism. The Filipino noodle dish pancit is served to celebrate the birth of a child and on subsequent birthdays. Kugel is a baked pudding or casserole made from egg noodles (Lokshen kugel) or potato and is a traditional Jewish dish, often served on Shabbat and Yom Toy. In the northwestern region of China and Central Asia, Uighurs and Uzbeks make a dish called manta, steamed dumplings filled with mutton and pumpkin and served with cream. In Turkey, the dish evolves into manti, tiny tortellini-like dumplings that are boiled and served with yogurt, mint-infused oil, paprika, and crushed walnuts.

History

The Chinese made noodles as far back as 3,000 BCE, although the first written evidence of noodles in China was not until 206 BCE. An excavation of an Etruscan tomb shows drawings of natives making pasta in the 4th century BCE, and in the 1st century BCE, Horace wrote of fried sheets of dough called lagana. Arabs took noodles, string-like shapes made of semolina flour and dried before cooking, with them on long journeys in the 5th century. Wheat noodles (udon) were adapted by a Buddhist monk in Japan in the 9th century from an earlier Chinese recipe. Persian resteh noodles were eaten in the 13th century. Pasta has been a staple for Italian families for generations.  Marco Polo is credited with bringing pasta to Italy after his exploration of the Far East in the 13th century and written records of spatzle in Germany date to 1725.

Health

A virtually fat free and salt free food, noodles are low on the Glycemic Index (GI). The Glycemic Index is a ranking of carbohydrates and the effect they have on our blood glucose levels. A low GI carbohydrate is digested more slowly and satisfies hunger longer without increasing blood sugar levels.

Classification

Noodles are usually classified according to ingredients.

Acorn noodles – Korean noodles known as dotori guksu made of acorn meal, wheat flour, wheat germ, and salt.

Cellophane noodles – made from mung beans, potato starch or canna starch.

Kelp noodles – made from seaweed.

pasta

Pasta – Italian noodles made using semolina flour, which comes from grinding kernels of durum wheat. Sometimes the semolina is mixed with other flours. It is then mixed with water until it forms sticky dough. Additional ingredients are then added to the pasta, like eggs to make egg noodles, or spinach or tomato to make red or green colored pasta. Pasta is formed into various shapes. Here are some of the most common:

Alfabeto—tiny alphabet letter pasta

Agnolotti—shaped like half moons

Anellini– little rings

Anolini—ravioli in half-moon shape with ruffled edges

Bucatini—long, fat hollow strands like spaghetti

Capelli d’angelo—angel hair pasta; very fine long strands

Castellane—rigid shell shape

Conchigliette- little conch shells

Ditali—small tubes like “thimbles”

Farfalle—bow-tie or butterfly shapes

Fusilli– shaped like a corkscrew

Gnocchetti—small oval dumplings

Maccheroni—little elbows

Mezzi Tubetti—larger hollow tubes

Millerighe– large rigatoni with ribbed sides

Orecchiette—shaped like little “cups” or “ears”

Paccheri– very large tubes

Penne piccolo– small narrow tubes with ends cut on diagonal

Rigatoni—big hollow tubes

Rotelle—small wheels

Rotini– small corkscrews

Sedanini—thin, hollow tubes

Spaghetti—long strands

Spellete- little stars

Tagliarini– similar to linguine with a flat side, but thinner

Vermicelli– similar to spaghetti, but thinner
Rice noodles

Rice vermicelli – also known as rice sticks, they are long and thin

Idiyappam – Indian rice noodles

Khanom chin – fermented rice noodles used in Thai cooking

Pancit noodles – very thin rice noodles used in Filipino cooking

Soba noodles

Somen – thin Japanese noodles often coated with oil

Spatzle – a German noodle made of wheat and eggs

Udon – thicker Japanese wheat noodles

Preparation

Always cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water to keep it from being sticky.  Never add oil to the water or you inhibit the ability of the sauce to cling to the pasta.  Also, it is not necessary to drain the pasta after cooking unless you are going to serve it cold in a pasta salad. Generally, you should use thinner pastas with thin sauces and thicker shapes with thicker sauces as the sauce will coat the shape and cling to it better.

The proper way to eat spaghetti is to wind the spaghetti up on the fork and eat it in one bite. It is very impolite to eat half of the noodles and let the other half to fall back into your plate. In Asia cultures, making slurping sounds while eating noodles shows that you are really enjoying the meal!

Resources

Fukushima, Shunsuke. Japanese Home Cooking.

Marlani, John. The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink

www.theatlantic.com

www.wikipedia.com

Week 50: Lobsters

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I love living on the Seacoast! My cottage is just a block from the beach and I get to hear the lobster boats go out in the early morning, just before the sun comes over the horizon. And did I mention lobsters? They are plentiful and inexpensive here.

Most of the lobsters we are familiar with are the cold water clawed marine crustaceans referred to as the “true” lobster, but there are tropical varieties as well which include the spiny lobsters and slipper lobsters (which have no claws), squat lobsters, and crayfish.

Lobsters are found in all oceans. They live on rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms from the shoreline to beyond the edge of the continental shelf. They generally live singly in crevices or in burrows under rocks. They are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary.

Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard exoskeleton, which means they have to molt as they grow. Lobsters, like snails and spiders, have blue blood due to the presence of hemocyanin which contains copper. In general, true lobsters are 10-20 inches long (although they can grow up to four feet long and weigh as much as 40 pounds), and move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomens. They live to be about 70 years old and are able to add new muscle cells at each molt. This longevity may be due to an enzyme that repairs long repetitive sections of DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres.

Did you know that lobsters were once so plentiful that after a storm they would wash ashore in deep piles? They were gathered by hand until the mid-19th century when lobstermen started using baited, one-way traps with a color-coded marker buoy to mark cages. Cages are of plastic-coated galvanized steel or wood. A lobster fisherman may tend as many as 2,000 traps!

Once caught, lobsters are graded as soft shell (or shedders), hard-shell, or old-shell, soft shell lobsters have paper-thin shells and a poor meat-to-shell ratio, but the meat is very sweet. Hard-shell lobsters with firm shells, have more but with less sweet meat, so they command a higher price. Meanwhile, old-shell lobsters, which have not shed since the previous season have a coarser flavor. Culls are lobsters which have lost one of their claws.

spiny-lobster

Spiny lobsters (langouste or rock lobsters) – Although they superficially resemble true lobsters in terms of overall shape and having a hard exoskeleton, they are distinguished from true lobsters by their lack of claws. They are found throughout all warm seas, especially in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Bahamas.

squat lobster

Squat lobsters – These are flattened crustaceans which a long tail curled beneath their bodies. More than 900 species exist throughout the world’s oceans. They are plentiful off Baja, California, Mexico, South America and New Zealand. Flesh from these animals is often commercially sold in restaurants as “langostino” or sometimes dishonestly called “lobster” when incorporated in seafood dishes. As well as being used for human consumption, there is demand for squat lobster meat to use as feed in fish farms and shrimp or prawn farms. This is in part because they contain a pigment that helps to color the meat of farmed salmon and trout.

crayfish

Crayfish (crawfish, crawdads) – Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters. Some species are found in brooks and streams where there is running fresh water, while others thrive in swamps, ditches, and rice paddies. Generally only the tail portion is eaten, except at crayfish boils, where the entire body is served. Like all crustaceans, crayfish are not kosher because they are aquatic animals that do not have both fins and scales. Crayfish are also commonly sold and used as bait.

History

In Colonial times, lobster was fed to pigs and goats and only eaten by prisoners, indentured servants or paupers. In North America, the American lobster did not achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for it. American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and until well into the 20th century, it was not viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food.

Preparation

Native Americans ate lobsters after wrapping them in seaweed and baking them over hot rocks. We usually boil or steam lobsters today. The most common way of killing lobsters is by placing them live in boiling water or to split the lobster or sever the body in half lengthwise. Lobsters may also be killed immediately before boiling by a stab into the brain, in the belief that this will stop suffering. The boiling method is illegal in some places, such as in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy, where offenders face fines up to €495. When a lobster is cooked, its shell’s color changes from blue to orange because the heat from cooking breaks down a protein which suppresses the orange hue of another chemical which is also present in the shell.

Resources

Encyclopedia of Life

www.lobsters.com

www.nationalgeographic.com

www.woodmans.com