Friday, March 12, 2010

Two for the price of one

Two for the Price of one
Well in today's crazy economy 2 for 1 sounds pretty good. Of coarse I,m referring to a particular spice / herb plant here. The leaves of this plant are better know as cilantro while the fruit or seeds are better known as coriander. Now even though it is the same plant there is a world of difference in taste. Before we get into all that lets take a short look at the history of this plant,

If you tried researching this you will see that it is not known 100% where this plant originated from. Best guess "according to the experts" say somewhere in the Mediterranean and southern European region. It does date back many years though and is even made mention of in early biblical days in the book of Exodus in the 16th chapter. Coriander seeds have also been discovered in Egyptian tombs which would indicate to be a valuable commodity in those days. It was around the 1600's that this plant made it's way into America. It was one of the first herbs grown by our colonist. Today it is being cultivated in many regions around the world. So is it a herb or spice? Well in my mind this particular plant gets the thumbs up on both counts. If you utilize the fresh leaves it's a herb, while the seeds are dried and used as a spice. So both terms are correct.

Ok so back to the taste difference's. Cilantro which are the leaves have a very pungent or strong flavor and it seems that folks will either love or hate the taste it produces. It is mainly served up as an herb or fresh in many eastern type dishes. When dried it tends to lose some of it's potent flavor.
The seeds commonly known as Coriander have a nutty spicy citrus flavor. These after being dried can be used whole or in a ground form and can be mixed with other spices to create a unique spice blends. This herb/spice plant is a member of the parsley family.

There are many recipes that call for coriander it's not just an ethenic food additive. Plus there is, as with all spices, a positive health benefit associated with coriander too. ( Also see "Health benefits without the work" )

Now there are also many cilantro recipes too. Both cilantro or coriander seeds have been and are still finding their way into american kitchens ,and that is a good thing. The only word of advise here though, is that even though they are harvested from the same plant they can not be interchanged in recipes. So whether you call it a cilantro or coriander plant is not that important. The great reward is the wide range of uses you receive from this one plant. Also for those of you who like to grow your own herbs/spices cilantro can be cultivated outside or in the home itself. Although it does prefer warmer climates it is an easy plant to grow.

So find a recipe that sounds fun and give it a whirl. Then while you are at your local grocery pick up the fresh cilantro in the produce section, or coriander seeds on the spice isle. What ever is needed for your new dining creation. You might find that you and your family may have a new favorite dish. You never know, but the fun is in the trying.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Don't overlook the obvious

Don't overlook the obvious

How many times has this happened to you? Work ran a bit late, traffic was unusually heavy on the way home, and of coarse everyone is counting on you for dinner. So what to do? Lets all go out ! Seems like a pretty cool solution until the questions and comments start. You know the ones... Where do we want to go, what do we feel like eating and everyone has a different idea right. Then there's the, well they're bit pricey or they always have a long waiting time and we're hungry now. Ok you can admit it you've been there right? Fast food just doesn't even sound like the answer heck you just had that for lunch. So what to do, where to go? Well that's when you think hey Cracker Barrel sounds perfect. We haven't eaten there in a while. They have a great menu which should suffice even the pickiest eater of the group.

There's always a nice down home atmosphere with friendly service too. That almost guarantees some quality dinning time with your family, which is a major plus. They have a convenient country store to browse with many of items you don't find in other stores or shops. The main dinning hall has a fireplace which is always stoked up in the winter time. Of coarse my favorite is the old artifacts on display in the entire building, it's like walking into a museum of sorts. A step out of the hustle and bustle world in which we find ourselves all to often. Good family or friends down time surrounded by an era of a less confusing times you might say. The overall view is relaxed and casual.

Cracker Barrel history is interesting in it's self. Getting it's start some years ago. Its founder based his idea that family time was important. Good meals and friendly service was the focal point of their mission for success. So maybe the next opportunity you get, your local Cracker Barrel will fit the bill for you and your family.

Oh yeah, they make a pretty good meatloaf and don't forget about the hash brown casserole. Your gonna love it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cream of Tartar

Cream of Tartar

Well here's another one of those food additives
that isn't anything like it's name. It's not a
cream or dairy product nor does it have anything
to do with it, and no it isn't for your fish
sticks either.

Cream of tartar is mainly used as a stabilizer in bake goods. It actually increase's the volume of egg whites for perfect meringue's and souffles. It is also used to improve texture in certain cakes and cookies. Cream of tartar creates a creamier texture in candy and frosting's too. Usually not much of this secret ingredient is needed to achieve these changes. Your recipe will indicate the amount needed in each application. Cream of Tartar is also a key ingredient in baking powder. It has a long shelf life too if kept in an air tight container. You can find this in the spice section of your local grocery store or at your favorite online spice outlet such as Basil and Things.

So where does this unique additive known as cream of tarter derive from ? Well actually it is an acidic type salt that is produced as a by product during the fermentation process of wine making. For all you chemist out there it is better known as potassium hydrogen tartrate. Tartanic acid is found in grapes and other types of tart fruits. Now without trying to sound like a science professor this is a rough explanation of how it is processed. After the wine has done it's thing and is removed from it's container, the residue left behind is collected. Then this residue goes through a filtered and purification process which then takes it's form as an odorless fine white powder. Ready to be utilized in many culinary applications.

Ok I see where you might still be hung up on the whole acid wine thing, Well that's ok because the truth is many of the foods we consume have some form of acidic or alkaline profile in there general make up. We just never really think about it because it is a food we are familiar with. So even though cream of tartar may sound rather harsh to us it really is fine for our consumption.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that cream of tarter also sidelines as a great cleaning agent too. Very Eco friendly for you and our environment. By just adding some common household ingredients with it you will be able to clean copper, brass, tile grout, fabrics and more. So whether your cooking or cleaning cream of tarter can do it all. Now that's one handy product wouldn't you say?

Friday, January 8, 2010

What The heck is a caper ?

What The heck is a caper ?

Have you ever wondered just what the heck is a caper? Well personally I have never eaten a caper but I see chefs using them on different cooking shows all the time. So I decided to investigate. You can find them in the grocery stores and other various food supply shops, usually in jars swimming in some type of liquid. Upon digging into my various search avenues I discovered that Capers are actually produced from a plant better know as Capparis spinosa in the Mediterranean region. When these buds or berries are a dark greenish color they are ready for picking. Then once harvested they are left to dry in the sun and afterwards placed in a very salty brine solution to pickle . Then they are distributed to stores everywhere.

After tasting them, I found the flavor they have a bit pungent in taste. This is what really makes them ideal as an accent flavor in so many different type's of sauces and recipes. Capers are very salty so always drain them and maybe even rinse
them before you use. Don't really want to use them in major abundance.

Now if you are into Mediterranean, Italian, Sicilian, French or even Greek food chances are you have shared a caper or two. Whether in a pasta salad, tartar sauce, or maybe a chicken or fish dish basted with a special sauce. Last but not least maybe as an olive substitute in your favorite martini mix. As you can see these little pea size berries do make their rounds.

One last thought here on trying capers. You will find that they come in a wide price range too. Much of this depends on the region they were grown, manufacturer and the distributor, as well as where you live and shop. So if your sauce or recipe calls for capers and your thinking maybe these really aren't my thing, or I forgot to pick them up. Try substituting a teaspoon of lemon juice in their place. Should work out to be a nice success too with a little twang added to the overall flavor. Your meal will still be a huge success.

So now that we have discovered the mysteries of the caper, maybe you'll try them and maybe you won't. Which that is ok but as for me.... think I'll pass.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, we know them best as the special gifts of the Magi. They presented these precious items to honor the baby Jesus long ago. All were given out of love, admiration and respect. These are the same fine qualities we still share today in gift giving. Now one might say that they were the very first Christmas gifts ever offered. We all know the story of the Nativity and of the three gifts mentioned. Of coarse gold is well known in today's world but what exactly are the other two?

Lets take a look so we can better relate when we read or hear the words Frankincense and Myrrh. Both are actually derived from resins of trees.
Frankincense is the product of the Boswellia sacra tree. This is a small deciduous tree which can have one or several trunks. The resin or sap is drawn from it and then dried. Since ancient times Frankincense was used in religious ceremonies. This spice is still used in today's society in everything from perfumes to medicinal needs and shows promise as a form of treatment in several medical conditions. Also used as incense and the aromatic aroma helps to reveal a tranquility with ones spirit and mind. To promote an inner harmony and peace within oneself.
Myrrh is derived from the Commiphora myrrha tree. This small and very thorny tree is a native to the Arabian peninsula. It was used in perfumes and incense. Myrrh was also used as an antiseptic and embalming oil for the dead. In some cultures it was also burned during their religious sacrifices. In modern times though myrrh is used as an antiseptic, in toothpaste and mouthwashes. It is also found as an ingredient in some healing salves that are designed to treat mild abrasions and minor skin ailments. Myrrh also shows promise in aiding in many different medical conditions.

Now in ancient times both of these spices were highly regarded as equal or even greater in value than gold. Many times these three different gifts are mentioned through out the bible. So what is the significance of these particular gifts given to baby Jesus in a manger so many years ago?

First the gift of gold was and is a symbol of status and royalty. Known to all nations and people and highly regarded as power and authority. This gift said He would be King.

Second the gift of frankincense is thought to have stimulating, warming and calming properties. It was used as a means of meditation and self awareness. This gift said He would enlighten us and open our eyes to the truth.

Finally the gift of myrrh which seems to be a bitter sweet gift when compared to the other two. Although myrrh was used in incense and perfumes in those days. Its most notable use of biblical times was that of an embalming oil. This gift said one day his earthly life would end because He was born to die for the world. Myrrh was one of the burial spices used in His burial preparations.

So I think the very first Christmas gift wasn't Gold, Frankincense or Myrrh it was the true gift of life through a baby in the manger for all mankind to receive and embrace.

Wishing everyone a blessed Christmas.

Christmas dinner past and present

Christmas is a time of giving, caring and fond memories new and old. Still the other cool thing about Christmas is the eats. Come on admit it you love to indulge in great tasting foods and desserts during this time of the year. Heck without Christmas treats most of us wouldn't have a new years resolution to aim for. Something like maybe dropping a few holiday pounds before beach weather is on us. Oh yeah you know where we're coming from and there's nothing wrong with that train of thought. The truth is that Christmas dinner and desserts are just about as big of a part of this holiday as gift giving is. When you think about it; sharing our well prepared foods with loved one's and friends is giving a gift too. There is a lot of love, time, effort and thought that goes into a fine Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Then you also have those great homemade sweet treats like cookies, cakes, pies and more. Man you have to love this holiday.

So did you know that Christmas has always been about the food and sharing time with family and friends since it's most earliest years. Back in the colonial days Christmas dinner was the main focus. They would have had either goose, ham, turkey, beef or venison for the main course. If you lived closer to the coast you might enjoy oysters, fish, or mincemeat pies. Now the desserts were more then likely some type of pudding or custard, fruit pies and of coarse the infamous Christmas fruit cake. Egg nog was a very popular drink also but unlike today it was served up hot. There was also a good supply of alcoholic beverages too. Fruit wines, rum punch, old fashion brandy and other alcoholic beverages were all part of the holiday.

So like today there is really no one main "must have dish" on your table for a Christmas dinner. Location, preferences and diversity of people make Christmas dinner unique in every household. There is one thing to take to table though this Christmas and that is a word of thanks. Thanks for the one who has worked so hard to prepare the fine meal your about to enjoy, and for the precious time shared together at this holiday season. Now that's Christmas

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

a new holiday tradition

Well this is the time of year where many family traditions have originated. Handed down from one generation to the next. It's why so many children, teenagers and adults alike look forward to the holiday season. Now we all have at least one or maybe several that always bring back a special moment that we shared with a favorite loved one or friend. Of coarse there is always a new joy of sharing it with that special someone in your family who is brand new to this type of grand treatment. To watch their reactions of excitement and joy, and how knowing you are passing on the torch so to say. These traditions can be anything from a special dessert to grandpa's homemade dressing or those special movies, parades, songs or a social function you might enjoy at this time of the year. Maybe just knowing that you will be able to share the holiday season with your family once again. No matter what your special tradition maybe our main goal is remembering the day, those we share it with and being thankful for what we have been blessed with.

With all of that in mind maybe a new tradition could or should be added to our holiday season. We all know or maybe are even feeling the effects of our struggling economic situation in our country this year. Due to many company closings, lay offs and cutbacks many once thriving citizens are finding themselves in a financial failure of their own. Our homeless rate is now advancing at a speed in which we have not experienced in our country since the great depression. Many of these folks were solid citizens in our nation for many years and many have been forced now to trying to survive on the streets. This also includes whole families too. The growing number of children now living on the streets is terrible. Sure these unfortunate people try receive local help, work, food and a place to stay or sleep but that is also a problem. These organizations and churches that are geared toward helping the homeless can only do so much. As with anything funds are slim for them too.

So what we should do this and every holiday season is try to donate a little, food, money or personal time to help those that are so much in need, Where hope for them is a fleeing dream. This doesn't have to be a huge type of contribution either. Drop off a few can goods at your local church or food drive, or contact your local coalition for the homeless and see what you might can do. There are many ways and places to give a little bit, but a little bit means that maybe a child is not going hungry tonight.

This is the season for giving thanks and for brotherly love, something that is becoming a dwindling commodity in our nation. If we all do just a small thing it will result in a major blessing to so many that are in need. It's amazing to what extremes we will go to help abandoned animals in this country but yet people seem to ignore the homeless problem.

So on Thanksgiving as you are preparing your turkey remembering to baste often so that it is tender and moist. Take time to give thanks for all you and your family have been blessed with for you never know how fast things can change. Have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving and holiday season.