La Cucina Stagionale

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How Do You Celebrate the 4th of July?

Happy Independence Day!  Summer has truly arrived with the celebration of our nation’s independence.  Everyone looks forward to picnics, parties, backyard barbeques and parades.  When I was growing up in Southern California, my family would celebrate the day with a trip to Mission Bay on our boat.  My father purchased a 23-foot motorboat when I was about 12 years-old and we would take it out in Mission and San Diego Bay on weekends and holidays.  We would cruise around the bay for a few hours, water ski and then haul out for the BBQ in the park.  Mission Bay had a very large picnic area with tables and BBQ’s dotted all over.  You had to get there early to get your spot on the 4th of July, because the fireworks would be set off over the bay (near SeaWorld) later that night and the park would get crowded.

Our celebration feasts were the usual American fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato or macaroni salad, chips, beer, soda and of course, corn on the cob.  My father was a corn-on-the cob junkie and we ate it as a snack in our house after dinner with lots of butter and salt.  No BBQ with Big Al was ever without corn-on-the-cob!  As it got dark, we would put away the picnic and settle in for the fireworks.  My brothers and I were always excited to see the fireworks show.  It was spectacular and seemed to go on for hours.  Once the show was over, we would pack up and drive home sunburned, wind blown, and happy.

I celebrated a little differently after I moved to San Francisco.  Sometimes it would be by going to a concert, or a street fair, or away for the holiday or by going to Crissy Field to hang out and wait for the fireworks over the Golden Gate Bridge.  And after moving here to the Oregon Coast, the celebration continued with different foods, different friends and fireworks over Yaquina Bay.   My most favorite recent memory of the 4th of July was when I was in Italy in 2010.  I was working at Alla Lanterna completing my culinary school internship.  I was in the kitchen that morning doing my usual job of prepping fish (gutting anchovies) with the chef & other cooks, when Chef Elide said to me in English: ‘Happy 4th of July, Patrizia’.  I thanked her and the other cooks asked what Americans ate on the 4th of July to which Chef Elide promptly answered (this time in Italian): “Americans eat turkey on this day.’  I started laughing and said, “no, that’s on Thanksgiving in November.  Americans eat hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, salads, watermelon and corn-on-the-cob to celebrate the 4th of July”.  That made them laugh as the only hot dogs the Italians eat are on top of pizza (I’m not joking), and hamburgers are just as foreign.  Their idea of BBQ is a spit-roasted pig dripping with fat and stuffed with herbs and its own entrails!

So, I was asked to explain the tradition of food on the 4th of July to my Chef & cooks.  They didn’t care about the history of the event; no, they wanted to know why Americans ate what they ate and where did the tradition come from.  I really didn’t have a historical answer for them; I just said (as they often said to me when I asked such a question) that it’s just what we do.  It’s a holiday to celebrate with family and friends outside, because it’s summer, and the foods that are chosen are easily transportable.  I told them about my experiences growing up with our boat, barbequing and watching the fireworks afterwards.

After I was finished with my explanation (which took a while in my Neanderthal Italian), Chef Elide asked me if I wanted a hot dog to celebrate as she knew where she could get some.  I thanked her and said “no, I don’t eat hot dogs anymore, but I would sure love some fritto misto (fried fish) instead.”  I got a laugh out of her and an order to Andrea, the fry cook, to make me fritto misto for lunch.  I wasn’t in my own country, but I had a great celebration that day anyway as I was with my new family and friends and I celebrated with food that I love…..what better way to commemorate a holiday?

I hope you do the same on this day as you honor our nation’s independence with family, friends and good food!  Buon Appetito!

Eating Saturated Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

I read on the internet that butter and other saturated fats have recently been found ‘not guilty’ of causing any of the crimes they have been accused of in the past!  Woohoo!  These quotes are from an article from The Boston Globe:

Decades after Americans began switching from whole milk to skim, from butter to olive oil, and from red meat to turkey breast — all in an effort to cut saturated fat — nutrition researchers have concluded that saturated fat might not be so bad for our hearts after all. A new study that received a lot of attention last week analyzed a trove of data from 27 clinical trials and 49 population studies and found no difference in heart disease rates among those who had the least amount of saturated fat compared to those who consumed the most.

People given fish oil supplements in clinical trials were no less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease than those who took placebos. Ditto for those who switched to olive oil — a monounsaturated fat shown to improve cholesterol levels — as well as for those who embraced polyunsaturated fats, like vegetable oil.

 

The research, published last Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that only trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils were linked to a moderately higher rate of heart disease, but these artificial fats have largely been taken out of the food supply and will likely be banned altogether by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“I think the evidence is really clear that the dietary guidelines shouldn’t be focusing on reducing saturated fat,” said study coauthor Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health. “There is no good evidence that low-fat dairy products are healthier than high-fat dairy.” His previous research found that those who ate butter, whole milk, and cheddar cheese had a lower diabetes risk than those who opted for skim milk and fat-free yogurt.

So, saturated fat, like eggs, are once again OK to eat (our grandmother’s knew this) and if they don’t make us fat what does?  How about excessive amounts of SUGAR! 

According to another article from The Huffington Post and Christiane Northrup, MD:

Fat is not the enemy when it comes to cardiovascular disease, weight gain, brain health, and so many other issues. It turns out that sugar — in all its many guises — is the real culprit for making you fat. What it also means is that because sugar causes inflammation throughout the body, it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease — and just about everything else!

We’ve all been sold a bill of goods about so-called healthy low-fat foods like cookies and muffins. When you begin to read labels, you’ll quickly see how much sugar is added to just about everything, especially to low-fat foods. When the fat is removed, so is the flavor. To make it more palatable, sugar, sugar substitutes, and salt are added in its place. And as you continue to read labels, I think you’ll be surprised by how much sugar is also in so-called healthy foods, like yogurt, tomato sauce, many fruit juices — even some salad dressings.

I can tell you without a doubt, it’s the sugar that so many of us struggle with, not the fat. Think about it. It’s NOT the burger with cheese and bacon that’s the issue. It’s the ketchup, the bun, and the fries. These are all carbs that instantly raise your blood sugar, because they are higher on the glycemic index than plain old table sugar. This is what I mean by sugar in all its guises.

Foods with little fat and loaded with sugar don’t leave you satiated after a meal — at least not for long. We need the fat to feel sated. Without it, we crave more sugary foods — until we learn to switch to or at least incorporate better food choices. It’s like being on a blood sugar roller coaster. Your body is subjected to the blood sugar highs and lows, and you literally NEED the sugar to feel OK when you’re in one of the lows.

So let’s not kid ourselves anymore about what’s really making us fat. Sugar is the leading culprit today in causing inflammation. Here are some specific stats from anarticle printed in February 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], which are worth sharing: [2]

  • Sugar is connected to an increased risk of heart attack and dementia, as well as other inflammatory diseases, such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver problems, arthritis, reduction in beneficial HDL cholesterol, increase in triglycerides, and cancer.
  • Those with the highest sugar intake had a 400 percent higher risk of heart attack than those with the lowest intake of sugar. Note the current recommendation by the American Heart Association: One’s daily intake of sugar should be only 5-7.5 percent of one’s total caloric intake.
  • It takes only one 20-ounce soda to increase your risk of heart attack by 30 percent.
  • If you consume 20 percent of your calories from sugar, your risk of heart attack doubles.

These statistics were determined after adjusting for independent risk factors for heart attack, such as smoking, high blood pressure, alcohol intake, and other factors.

If that’s not bad enough, it is sugar, not fat, that creates abdominal fat.

Did you know that the average American consumes 132 pounds of sugar a year? [3] And the rise in sugar intake in recent years has played a key role in the increase in the cellular inflammation — and the soaring obesity and diabetes rates?

I couldn’t have said it better myself!  I always tell my students in the cooking classes that I teach that whole foods, not low fat food are better for us because in order to provide the mouth feel, taste, texture or whatever is needed to replicate the whole food, ‘stuff’ is added (usually in the form of sugar) to low-fat foods that are not good for us.  I only use whole dairy products, and I am an avid user of saturated and healthy monounsaturated fats for cooking.  That means butter, ghee, lard, duck and chicken fat, beef tallow, coconut oil and olive oil.  I sparingly use sesame, peanut, sunflower and grape seed oils and I look for the ones that are organic, unrefined and expeller pressed.  Any other oil can be toxic because of the way it was processed/refined.  And canola oil is a GMO no matter if it’s organic or not, so it is never even considered.

The closer we stay to the natural state of a food item, then the better it is for us.  Too much processing and refining strips away vital nutrients we need for our health and man made replacements are really no comparison to the real thing.  Sure, I occasionally eat fast or processed food, but I don’t make a habit of it, and who doesn’t love a Marie Callender’s pot pie?  Smile   I can honestly say, however, that 95% of my pantry contains only whole foods while the remaining 5% is refined or processed.  I am certainly not going to grind my own grains for flour, or mill my own rice, or make my own baking soda or powder, but I am conscientious of what I buy and I make sure it is as additive free as possible (with exception to the occasion frozen pot pie—I just avoid reading the ingredients label).  We don’t need all of that excess ‘stuff’ in our food and the only way to keep from ingesting it is to make our own.   So, yes, I do make my own pot pie and many other dishes that can be found in the frozen food section.  It takes a little longer, but is so worth it in the end.  And now I don’t have to feel bad about eating saturated fats as I now know, and so do you, it’s not fat that makes one fat!  Buon Appetito!

Courageous Cooking

When Bruce & I lived in San Francisco, we would go to a Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood on Sunday mornings for dim sum.  We had to go early as the place would fill up quickly with hungry diners waiting to eat those delightful little dishes.  We had our favorites, of course, and were always willing to try something new on occasion.  Once we moved to the Oregon coast, our weekly dim sum breakfast tradition became a memory as there are no restaurants that serve it here in the same way.  I always felt that making those dumplings myself would be too hard or too much trouble, so I didn’t bother with trying, or I should say I lacked the courage to try.  Whenever Bruce & I traveled anywhere on vacation, we would always look for a dim sum  restaurant to go to, but were so often disappointed by the lack of flavor and/or quality we were used to.

Late last year, I discovered a wonderful video class website called Craftsy.  They have all kinds of DIY classes you can take and cooking is one of them!  Top notch chefs teach the classes and you can view them again and again as often as you like as your access never expires.  One of the classes offered is an Asian dumpling class taught by Andrea Nguyen, a well know Asian food chef and author.  I bought the class and watched the videos and realized that dim sum is really no more difficult to make than ravioli which I have been making for over 30 years!  I was so excited that I immediately bought Andrea’s book Asian Dumplings to learn more.  I went to see Mai at Mai’s Asian Market here in Newport and bought all the ingredients I needed to make my first batch of dumplings.  Mai is a godsend here in our little town.  She has just about anything and everything you would need for any kind of Asian, Indian, or Middle Eastern dish and I love her for that.

I started out by making Korean Mandu, a dumpling that is filled with tofu and kimchee and served with a tangy dipping sauce. The dough is a simple one of flour and water; however, I added rice flour to mine to make it extra chewy, used shrimp instead of tofu in the filling and they turned out delicious!  The shape of this dumpling is called ‘big hug’, but it also looks like an Italian tortelloni.

Korean_dumplings_cookedKorean_dumplings_raw

The next dumpling I made was Shanghai Soup dumplings, which are Bruce’s absolute favorite. They are filled with pork and a gelatinized soup that melts during steaming, so when you bite into it, you get a mouthful of soup along with the rest of the filling.  They are served with Chinese black vinegar and finely shredded fresh ginger.  The shape of this dumpling is called ‘closed satchel’ because it looks like a purse.

Shanghai dumplings_rawShanghai_dumplings_steamed

I was on a roll now.  I made shrimp dumplings next and upped the game by using wheat and tapioca starches instead of flour for the wrapper.  This dumpling is pure white and turns translucent when it is steamed.  I had always thought these dumplings were made with rice flour and making them could not be achieved at home, but I was wrong as they were so easy to make and delicious to eat!.  This type of shape is called the ‘pleated crescent’.

har_gow

My final dumpling was Japanese pot stickers or Gyoza.  Like Chinese pot stickers, they are fried, steamed and fried again to obtain a crispy bottom.  My mom made Gyoza when I was growing up with wonton wrappers, so I was familiar with making and eating them.  I made my own extra chewy dough with rice and wheat flours again. This shape is called the ‘pea pod’ and they were yummy!

Cooked Pot Stickers bottomPot Sticker up close

Since my exploration into Asian dumplings, I have made others too numerous to mention here.  All have been easy to make and all have been delicious.  The sky is the limit on the fillings just like ravioli or other stuffed Italian pastas.  I have realized through this exploration that the only thing that gets in my way is myself.  I left San Francisco for the Oregon coast in 1997 and have been pining for dim sum ever since.  Almost 17 years later, I discovered that I can make my own with as good or even better results as the beloved restaurant I used to frequent and I can have them whenever I want.  I thank Craftsy and Andrea Nguyen for showing me how easy it is to make my own Asian dumplings and I hope I have inspired you to go and make something you’ve been wanting to try, but just haven’t had the the courage to do so. Courage is all you need to master cooking any type of dish or cuisine.  Once you try it, you realize, like me, that it’s easy, fun and good to eat.  A presto!

For the Love of Food

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with food; good food.  I grew up in a house where my mother cooked from scratch, so I was exposed to whole foods at an early age.  My knowledge and experience grew exponentially when I moved to San Francisco in the early 80’s to go to college.  There I was exposed to a whole world (literally) of food options: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Russian, Polish, Italian, French, Ethiopian, Persian, Indian and that was just in my neighborhood! I quickly discovered flavor combinations I had never had or even thought were possible.  Salty fish sauce, spicy Thai basil, chiles that were so hot they made me cry, earthy cumin and coriander seed, tangy sumac and tamarind, and bitter greens such as dandelion and arugula made me realize that I could spend the rest of my life cooking different flavor combinations and never cook them all—what a wonderful challenge!

In those years since I lived in and moved away from San Francisco, I have been introduced to Turkish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Afghanistan, Lebanese, Moroccan, Mongolian, Tibetan and a myriad of other cuisines.  I have also learned that Italian food, my heritage cuisine, is not quite what my family or the rest America thinks it is.  My paternal grandfather emigrated from a small town east of Naples called Benevento.  It’s known for an anise liqueur called Strega which means witch in Italian.  Anyway, my grandfather came to America with recipes that he enjoyed in his hometown.  However, many ingredients were not available in his new home in northeast Pennsylvania, so he had to improvise.  The recipes that he gave to my mother who moved, shortly after she and my father were married, to San Bernardino, California were recreated with the ingredients my mother had available to her in her new home, which were not necessarily the same as what my grandfather used.  So to make a long story short, the Italian food I grew up with is vastly different from what my grandfather ate in his homeland, what he ate in Pennsylvania and what I ate during my travels throughout Italy.  It wasn’t necessarily better, it was just different.

I had the opportunity to study the food history of Italy while I was in culinary school.  We had a professor, Stefano Bentley, who taught us for an hour or two, once or twice per week, about the various regions—not even a tip of the iceberg of knowledge.  I found that class to be fascinating, so many factors influence a dish, besides season and availability of ingredients, such as religious beliefs, superstitions, taboos, traditions, changes in social class, etc.  I learned that there really is no such thing as standardized Italian food in Italy.  Here, yes, because we treat food as a product for profit instead of what it really is: nourishment for our minds, bodies and souls.  A famous chef perfectly stated what American restaurants are really about: ‘you take some food, fix it up, and then sell it for a profit.’  No server here in America would take away the cheese from you if you were trying to put it on a seafood dish, where they will do that in Italy because you don’t eat cheese with fish—period—end of subject.  There are some chefs here that are taking their food a bit more seriously and not allowing substitutions or a bazillion choices which we Americans love so much.

If I, as a chef, decide that white balsamic vinaigrette will perfectly compliment the fresh picked greens and ripe peach salad I am going to serve you in July, you can bet I will say no to ranch dressing on the side. I want the food I serve to my clients to taste like I meant it to taste.  Now that doesn’t mean that I am a food Nazi; I am more than happy to work with my clients to create food that fits their taste preferences and any dietary requirements they have whether I like it or not, but there are limits to everything. I once made a vegan tiramisu for a client for her birthday because she’s a vegan and wanted tiramisu for dessert.  Yes, it was terrible and no it really wasn’t tiramisu, but she was happy and that made me happy, but I most certainly would have said no to ranch dressing.  I would say no to ranch dressing for just about anything except maybe hot wings and celery sticks; it is pretty good with those two items.  Smile

So, back to my grandfather’s recipes which became my mother’s and then mine.  I decided that I really didn’t like her version of tomato sauce, so I made my own to suit my taste preferences.  I didn’t like her version of lasagne, so have made several variations of my own for the same reason.  I love the meatball, braciole and sausage recipes, so they are as is even today; I don’t mess with them.  Where it makes sense, I do my best to stay as true to the tradition and authenticity of all recipes be they Italian or any other culture, because that is how you learn about that culture—through its food.  Changing my mother’s recipes didn’t change the authenticity, because they were never authentic to begin with.

The same famous chef also stated that while there is no standardized Italian food, there is an standardized Italian expectation that the dish must be made with the best food that is available to you at the time you are making it, and I don’t think that expectation is solely Italian either.  It means if you can’t afford or don’t like ricotta cheese, find a different good quality cheese that you can afford and like to make your lasagne. Make your own tomato sauce and don’t buy one in a jar, because that stuff is what’s expensive.  Good tomato sauce can be inexpensively, quickly and easily made with a can of tomatoes crushed in your hands, some onion, garlic, fresh or dried herbs, salt and pepper.  It will not contain anything you can’t pronounce and will taste better than anything out of a jar.  Put some pride in what you are making as that is what you are ingesting into your body.  Food should never be considered a product or just something to take away the huger pangs; it is life!

Food touches all of our emotions, hopes, desires, dreams and nightmares.  It brings happy and unhappy memories; the smell reminds us of places we’ve been to and want to revisit.  It reminds us of parents, relatives, friends, favorite servers, favorite chefs, restaurants, bars, diners, drive-in’s and dives (just checking to see if you are still with me here).  Food that we love and hate makes us who we are.  I had a friend once who refused to eat capers because a jar of them fell on her head once when she was a child—OK.  I don’t like certain textures, like tapioca, and you can’t pay me enough to ever eat it—just don’t ask me to explain to you why I don’t like it.  I’m sure everyone has their likes and dislikes of various foods and when you really stop to think about it, unless you are eating something really heinous like fermented whale blubber (sorry, but that has to be heinous), the reason you probably don’t like it is more emotional than anything else.

My grandfather came to this country in 1917 with no money and only the clothes on his back. When he died, he had a wife, a house, six children and a vegetable garden.  He fed his family as well as he could every day.  Despite the fact that my father grew up poor, he loved good food and could recognize it easily. He clearly passed that love along to me, and I do my best to pass it to every person I cook for and now to you.  So go now and make something homemade from your pantry, garden if you are lucky enough to have one, or local coop.  Do it today or tomorrow and do it for the love of food.  Buon Appetito!

cucina bene; mangia bene (milk: the raw and the cooked)

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a post and I apologize.  I’ve been really busy and believe it or not, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block.  You’d think that a chef, with so much food around all the time, would not have any trouble finding a topic to write about.  Well, I finally came up with one: raw milk.  Bruce & I are raw milk consumers; we’ve been supporting a farmer in Yachats: Triple D Ranch for over a year now.  Raw milk is hard to come by.  In order to get it, one must sign a waiver that indemnifies the farmer if you get sick from consuming it.  You must buy a ‘herd share’ or what I like to say ‘an udder’.  You pay an initial price for the amount of milk you want every week (we get 1 1/2 gallons) and then you pay a monthly price for the milk.  This is how the farmer stays out of trouble with the USDA which really cracks down on raw milk farmers.

People have been drinking and preserving all kinds of milk for thousands of years, and up until the 1800’s, with the introduction of pasteurization, the milk was raw.  It’s funny how our ancestors were able to consume all kinds of raw milk products without making themselves sick.  Anyway, this post is not about the political issues revolving around raw milk; it is about the delicious foods that can be made with it.

The first is cheese.  I’ve been making my own mozzarella for a couple of years with mixed results using pasteurized milk, but when I use raw milk the end product is amazing!  It has a yellowish hue to it because of the butterfat and it tastes incredible.

A version of mozzarella that I am really into at the moment is Burrata or ‘Buttered’ in Italian.  It is a type of mozzarella that has a creamy center that oozes out when its cut.  Both mozzarella and burrata are ‘pasta filata’ type cheeses.  Pasta Filata translates into ‘spun paste’.  Both cheeses, along with provolone and a few others are spun, stretched, and/or pulled during the cheese making process.  Most of these cheeses are made with cow or water buffalo milk commercially, but can be made with other types of milk at home.

burrata_uncutburrata_cutburrata_tomatoes

Whole milk ricotta is another cheese I’ve been making with the raw milk.  Ricotta means ‘recooked’ in Italian and is usually made with whey from other cheese productions.  I like to make it with whole milk because it has a richer taste and can be eaten as a dessert or for breakfast with a little fruit and honey drizzled over it.  Of course, when making ricotta, the milk must be brought to a very high temperature to form the curds, so it is naturally pasteurized during the process.  When I was in Italy during my culinary training, I was able to buy sheep’s milk ricotta from a local vendor at the Saturday market in Parma which is the best ricotta on the planet!  I ate it for breakfast as described above and it was amazing.

Ricotta

I made my own cultured butter this week by leaving some cream out to ferment (yes, that is what ‘cultured’ means when you see it on a label) overnight.  I put it in a mason jar and shook it until the buttermilk separated from the butter—it’s great exercise too.  I pressed out as much of the buttermilk as possible and then put the butter in a container and refrigerated it—easy and tasty.  The buttermilk can be drunk as is (it won’t look or taste like the commercial stuff), or it can be used to make cream cheese, crème fraiche or sour cream.

butter

My last raw milk adventure is kefir (pronounced ke-feer).  Kefir is a yogurt type of drink that is made with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) much like kombucha.  Kefir originated in Russia and is getting a lot of attention these days for it’s health benefits.  The kefir that is available commercially is made with a culture as opposed to the grains, so it doesn’t contain the same enzymes or vitamins as the homemade kind using a SCOBY.  The grains must be acquired from someone who has them and fortunately, there are many sources available locally or via the internet.  I acquired mine from a family in Grants Pass that states their kefir grains come from Russia and have been in their family for years.  Once you start making kefir, the grains must be cared for (just like a pet) and if properly cared for, they will proliferate just like a kombucha SCOBY.   I made kombucha for over 2 years, but didn’t care as well for my SCOBY towards the end so it died.  I hope to do better with my kefir SCOBY.

kefir grains

So, you can see that having a source for raw milk is a great way to make your own dairy products.  Raw milk contains the natural bacteria to protect itself from spoiling during the fermentation process while using pasteurized milk creates a bigger risk for spoilage.  This is because the necessary bacteria and enzymes for proper fermentation have been killed during the pasteurization process.  I’ve had pasteurized milk I was trying to turn into mozzarella never develop because it was basically dead.  I am currently in the process of making cottage cheese (it takes 24-48 hours for the raw milk to develop curds) so will post again on the results along with the other dairy products I’ve made.    A presto!

the gift of the holidays

The holiday season is upon us once again along with the bombardment of holiday marketing and advertising.  It used to be that you only received ads on radio, TV and in the mail.  Now, you also receive ads on the free apps you  have on your smartphone or tablet, in your email inbox, on webpages you are browsing, and via text messages on your cell.  It’s non-stop.  I counted over 100 emails alone in my inbox for Black Friday and Cyber Monday!  I used to get that many emails per day when I worked for Corporate America; I never thought I would continue to reach those kinds of numbers with junk email!

Anyway, my point is that despite all the advertising and marketing suggestions I’ve received, I am still of the mind set that giving thoughtful and meaningful gifts to friends and family is the best way to honor them and the holiday.  I don’t need a diamond necklace embedded in a box of chocolates, or the latest video game that creates loud noises and lots of carnage, or the latest smartphone or tablet, or a big flat screen TV or any of the myriad of other products that have been thrown at me since before Thanksgiving.  However, it’s all too easy to become spellbound by the ads and rush down to the local chain store, grab that item off the shelf (or out of someone’s hand), and pull out your credit card before you have time to really think about what you are doing.

I like the idea of giving a homemade or local gift.  I can’t imagine that something that was mass produced and cheaply made will send the same message to the recipient.  This year, I am making different kinds of bark to give as gifts.  Bark, you say?  Yes, chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate with pistachios, with ginger, and with peppermint.  It’s easy to make, pretty to look at and delicious.  Here’s a peppermint bark recipe to try:

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/peppermint_bark/

We have an organization here called Buy Local Lincoln County that promotes spending locally.  The message is simple: spend your dollars on things you need and want locally to help support the small businesses in the area.  Sure, sometimes you have to buy something on the internet or at a big chain, but not always.  I go to my local resource first for things I need—it makes me feel good to support their business.  This is the time of year when the local businesses need our support the most so they too can enjoy the holidays with their friends and families—we are all connected!

I hope this inspires everyone to think, before they buy, about what they are buying, where they are buying it and who it is for.  Our economy is still recovering and this is the time to shop thoughtfully, meaningfully and locally.  And if you have the time, make some bark–for yourself or someone else.  Who knows, it might become an annual tradition!

MP900049558

Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy holiday season from Bruce & me!  A presto!

kcup 1230 am radio program for july 2, 2012 cheftalk: mike leboss from ME Fitness

Mike LeBoss owns ME Fitness in Newport and is very knowledgeable about how nutrition plays a big role in meeting and maintaining fitness goals.  Listen as we discuss what nutrition is and how it impacts the body as well as why water is important.

To download this podcast to your computer’s hard drive, simply right click on the link below and choose ‘save target as’ or ‘save link as’

Chef Talk with Pati D’Eliseo 7.2.12

cucina bene;mangia bene (do you feel with your mouth?)

So I was watching this food show on TV the other night and someone commented that the food has a nice ‘mouthfeel’ and I started thinking about what that really means and why it influences the foods we like and dislike.  The definition, according to Wikipedia, is as follows:

Mouthfeel is a product’s physical and chemical interaction in the mouth. It is a concept used in many areas related to the testing and evaluating of foodstuffs, such as wine-tasting and rheology. It is evaluated from initial perception on the palate, to first bite, through mastication to swallowing and aftertaste. In wine-tasting, for example, mouthfeel is usually used with a modifier (big, sweet, tannic, chewy, etc.) to the general sensation of the wine in the mouth. Some people, however, use the traditional term, "texture".

I am very sensitive to texture in foods.  Take bananas for example: I love them when they are are young and still green and cannot eat them when they are old and brown as the texture is different.  I can’t eat mealy apples or pears and I don’t like tapioca because of the texture.  It’s interesting how different cultures have different tolerances for mouthfeel.  When I was in Italy, no one ate pasta that was overcooked or vegetables that were undercooked.  If a vegetable was still crunchy or had any texture other than mushy baby food, it was considered inedible as was pasta that was too soft.  Yet, fish is nearly always served whole with the bones, skin, fins and head still attached which would never be tolerated here in America because of the potential negative mouthfeel.  Whenever I ask if there is any whole fish available at a fish market or grocery store, I’m always looked at like I have horns growing out of my head…..why would I want a whole fish with all the bones, skin, fins and head still attached?  Pasta here is almost always overcooked because America’s concept of ‘al dente’ is much different and no one would ever consider overcooking a vegetable to make it mushy—yuk!

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Meats are another food where there is sensitivity to mouthfeel.  I’ve found that the majority of people I cook beef for like it medium to well-done as opposed to rare.  The texture of beef changes dramatically the longer it is cooked.  Rare or medium rare beef is still soft, juicy and easy to chew while medium to well-done beef, no matter what the quality, is always chewier and drier.  The same goes for chicken breasts vs. chicken thighs or drumsticks.  Breast meat is virtually tasteless, very dry and has an almost cloying mouthfeel, while the dark meat is much more moist and flavorful and has a smooth mouthfeel.  Most other cultures prefer the dark meat of a chicken.  I remember being asked by a French travel writer last year, during a cooking demonstration in Lincoln City, where the rest of the chicken was as he was only seeing chicken breasts and those ‘tender’ things.  He said in France, the breast is not the preferred cut of the chicken, it’s the thighs and the back because they have the most flavor and are not dry and tasteless (his words).  In many Asian countries, chicken feet are eaten with wild abandon while here in America, one does not see chicken feet as a choice in a conventional grocery store.  Why, because of the ‘mouthfeel’—no one wants to feel those bony feet in their mouth.

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I often hear how many people dislike oysters because they are slimy.  ‘Slimy’ is a mouthfeel not a taste.  Oysters taste like the sea and with a squeeze of lemon or Tabasco are delicious.  I love oysters both raw and cooked and I have learned to get past the ‘sliminess’.  It’s interesting how a texture in a food can trigger your brain to tell you that you don’t want/like to eat that food despite the taste.  Bruce has a problem with raw tomatoes.  He likes the flavor, but can’t get past the seeds and the flesh.  He can, however, eat sun-dried and cooked tomatoes with no trouble.  So is mouthfeel a psychological thing?  Mind over matter?  If we like the flavor of something but can’t get past the texture does it mean our brain is getting in the way of us enjoying something?rawtomatoes

Mouthfeel is not always something we think about when we determine we don’t like something, yet it plays a big role in the foods we choose to eat.  I’ve heard other terms used (and used myself) such as mushy, mealy, grainy, coarse, spongy, gelatinous, viscous, crunchy and chewy.  In many cases, these same words can be used in a positive way to describe foods.  Panna cotta is gelatinous, red wine can be chewy, fried foods must be crunchy (no one wants mushy or greasy fried food), and cake is spongy.  The next time you eat something and decide that you don’t like it, think about why.  Is it the flavor or is it the mouthfeel?  I think you’ll be surprised at how much the way things feel in your mouth influences your likes and dislikes.  I will leave you with an in-season appetizer recipe that has a great mouthfeel and taste….buon appetitio!

http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Seared-Prosciutto-Wrapped-Asparagus

cucina bene; mangia bene (where’s the beet?)

I love beets!  Yes, it’s true.  Bruce once gave me a bouquet of various types of beets and greens from the farmers’ market as an anniversary gift; I was very happy.  Beets originated in the Mediterranean and are thought to have been cultivated since the second millennium BC.  Beets were, at that time, mostly cultivated for the greens while the root was used for medicinal purposes.  It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the root was brought into mainstream cuisine by the French.  Most beets today are canned or grown for sugar or animal feed.  The beets that you find at the grocery store are huge, old, and practically tasteless so no wonder most people don’t eat them….too much trouble to cook and they don’t really taste that good……Sad smile

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However, beets that you find at the farmers’ markets that still have the greens attached are doubly delicious.  Here’s a quick and easy way to make them: take a bunch of beets, remove and wash the greens and set aside.  Wash the beetroots and wrap them whole and unpeeled in foil and bake at 350 F for 40 minutes to an hour or until tender when pierced with a fork.  Remove the beets and let cool.  Meanwhile, tear up the greens into bite sized pieces and put in a roasting pan.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and roast for 30 to 40 minutes in the same oven at 350 F.  When the beets are cool enough to hand, peel them, slice into quarters or eighths (depending on size), and toss with a little olive oil and some balsamic vinegar.  Serve with the greens when they are finished and top with a little goat cheese and chopped walnuts……..you’ve just made a delicious and nutritious salad with a bunch of beets!  Keep in mind that if the greens are not good on the bunch of beets, you can substitute with Swiss Chard (silverbeet) or anther leafy green.

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Beets are full of antioxidants in both the greens and the root, which is why it’s very important to buy beets with the greens still attached.  Another great way to enjoy beets is in a roasted vegetable medley as in the following recipe:

http://patid.wordpress.com/about/roasted-vegetables/

Beets can also be used for coloring purposes such as in soups, risottos, and pasta.  The beets turn these dishes (along with your hands, countertop, cutting board, etc.…..) a beautiful deep pink or purple color.  Jamie Oliver, in his Naked Chef cookbook, has an awesome recipe for beet tagliatelle served with pesto and mussels.  The color combo is as fantastic as the flavor.

Of course there are the more famous dishes with beets such as borscht which is an Eastern European soup made with beets.  My mother’s family was Polish and we would eat mostly pickled (canned) beets served plain or with sour cream and dill.  My mom would save the juice and make pickled hardboiled eggs from it…..they were pretty with pink whites and the the yellow yolk.

It’s easy to make your own pickled beets with the following recipe (this does not use a pressure cooker or water bath so the beets need to be eaten with a weeks time; they are so good you’ll find all kinds of uses for them I’m sure).

Pickled Beets:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup vinegar (I like to use Champagne or Apple Cider)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2 cups sliced, cooked beets

Method:

Combine all ingredients except beets in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Add beets and return to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, let cool, and refrigerate for 8 hours before serving.  Keep in a covered glass container in the refrigerator.

I like my pickled beets a little hot, so I add a small pinch of habanero flakes to the mix.  Habanero is a very sweet (and hot) chile and the flavor goes really well with the earthy taste of the beets.

I hope these recipes have inspired you to try or to eat more beets…time for me to go make some pickled beets for myself!  Buon Appetito!

cucina bene; mangia bene (pugs can’t scratch)

I have a 3 1/2 year old pug named Tojo.  I’ve written about him before; he’s the fruit loving pug.  Pugs are interesting dogs; they are very loyal, are obsessed with food, and they can’t scratch.  They can’t scratch because they have square bodies which means their height is the same as their length and their legs can’t reach their bodies like other dogs.  Pugs are one of the oldest breeds of dogs and were once the royal companions of the Chinese Emperors; they were bred to fit perfectly on a royal lap and to look like the Chinese depiction of the lion.  My pug comes from a line of show dogs, so he is perfectly proportioned and perfectly square…..…..too bad for him.  Sad smile

What does this have to do with food you might ask?  Well it doesn’t , but what does relate is the way that humans feel the need to continuously manipulate foods to remove the ‘undesirable traits’.  Take steak for example.  It is nearly impossible today, unless you are lucky enough to have a real butcher shop in your vicinity, to buy a bone-in steak or buy one that is more than 1-inch thick.  Why, because bones are not desirable; you don’t eat them so why buy a steak that contains one?  The problem is that most steaks that should come with bones are pretty tasteless without them.  It is the bone and the fat that gives the steak that delicious flavor.  Another example is fish; again, unless you live in an area with some ethnic fish markets, it is highly unlikely you will ever find whole fish for sale.  Occasionally, here, we can buy whole trout, or salmon (mostly without the head), but very rarely anything else.  Why, because of the bones and who wants to look a dead fish in the eye??!!  Yet again, bones and skin (and the head) are what give the fish flavor.  When I was in Italy last year, I only ate whole fish because that is what the restaurant I worked in served.  They thought it very strange that we Americans sell pieces of fish & not the whole thing….how did we know it was fresh if we could not see the whole fish?  Good question!!!

Pescheria Brunelli outside Hotel Window

I was asked a few months ago by a French man, at a demo I did at the Culinary Center in Lincoln City, where the rest of the chicken was…….his question threw me a bit: what did he mean?  He asked why was it that he could only find the breast wherever he went?  The breast, according to this man, is the worst part of the chicken and needed to be attached to the rest of the bird in order for it to have any chance at all of tasting good—and he was very serious.   I didn’t have a very good answer for him, unfortunately.  My question is how did this happen?  When did we decide to give up flavor for convenience and be OK with it?  When did chicken breasts become preferred over a whole chicken?  We buy whole chickens from Walker Farms of Siletz and I cut them up into portions and freeze them for later meals.  Or I roast or grill the whole bird and we eat it over a few days.  Either way, the meat is delicious and much better tasting than the skinless, boneless stuff in the Styrofoam packages at the grocery store.

I visited a ranch in Tuscany that raised Chianina cattle during a culinary school field trip last spring.  Chianina are an ancient and huge breed of animal that is used to produce the very famous bistecca alla fiorentina or Florentine Steak.  That steak usually weighs 2-3 lbs. and is at least 1 1/2 -2 inches thick and it has a huge bone in it.  No Italian would ever think of ordering or buying a steak for bistecca alla fiorentina without the bone.

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We have done the same things to our fruits and vegetables.  The preference is looks and shelf life over flavor and nutrition.  I recently bought some peaches for a cobbler I was making for a client.  I shopped the local grocery store and found white peaches; they looked beautiful, but they were as hard as rocks.  I bought the ones that felt softer hoping they would be ripe by the time I needed to use them.  They were, slightly, but they had no flavor at all—at least they didn’t taste like a peach.

This is why I always try to buy fresh food (when I can) from as local a source as possible.  Sure, peaches are in season now, but where did those nasty white peaches I bought come from?  They came from California and shame on me for buying them.  I should have bought frozen peaches instead since I couldn’t go to the farmers’ market to get local fresh peaches—-I really did have a choice as we all do.

I will leave you with the recipe for an Americanized version of bistecca alla fiorentina from Giulano Hazan (yes, he’s related to Marcella).

http://giulianohazan.com/blog/grilled-ribeye-italian-style/

My pug may not be able to scratch, but he knows a good steak when he smells one: one with a bone!   Buon Appetito!

 

 

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