Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Preparing a Pineapple

Pineapples (Ananas comosus - hence the French call them (confusingly) ananas - in Spanish they are piña) from the Ivory Coast are selling at the moment for £1 or US2$ each in the UK. They should yield about 2 1/4 lbs ( 1 Kg in the civilised world) of juicy Vitamin C rich fruit.

Many folks feel daunted by preparing one.

1. Elect a nice firm fruit, if the leaves come off with a light tug showung a nice white base - with the effort say, you need to pull a ripe apple off the tree it's ready to eat.

2. If not ripe simply leave it on a sunny window ledge for a day or two.

3. You need a good strong sharp kitchen knife 10" 12" long and a chopping board.

4. Simply top and tail the fruit. You can amuse the kids by leaving the top in a saucer / bowl of water and it will continue to grow if left in a sunny position and can eventually be potted on when it starts showing roots.

5. Cut into 8 equal pieces with 4 straight strong strokes.

6. Taking each piece, with a single straight cut, remove the central stringy core - you can use this if you are going to make a smoothie.

7. Using the point of the knife cut the rind off each piece.

8. Segment into traingular shaped pieces.

Eat raw, with ice cream, cream, yoghurt, mix into a smoothie. we love sticking two wings into a corn muffin to make "angel wings" - if you eat one more you'll turn into a fairy.

Many folks use slices with ham, sweet and sour chicken, and (ugh) on pizza. (sick on a bun)

Because Pineapples contain a proteolytic enzyme bromelian, the juice can be used as a marinade and tenderizer for meat, it is for this reason that you cannot put it in gelatin jellies, they simply won't set.

This information sheet from Kew Botanical gardens, London will tell you more about Pineqpples than you probably want to know, their history, naming, agriculture etc.

—Post by Zizania

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tea For The Weekend Wind-down

It's Friday afternoon. Your work week has felt more like a work week and a half. You've been hopped-up on caffeine for the last five days just to get everything done. You need to wind down, and fast, or else your weekend could be a bust.

As Winnie-the-Pooh would say, tapping his noggin in deep thought, "What to do? What to do?"

"What to do" might well be to make yourself a hot cup of Adagio Tea's Decaf Spice. This wonderful, aromatic, soothing blend of oriental spices almost seems to replace the blood in your veins, mystically relaxing you from the inside out. I've come to think of it as "meditation in a cup" because lingering over this tea has the same effect on me as meditation.

Not too spicy, not too strong, and not a bit astringent, this tea satisfied even me...a die-hard coffee drinker. It holds up well to the addition of milk (or plain soymilk) and honey; tea drinkers who normally add sugar to their tea will find that for Decaf Spice they'll want to use honey instead.

My favorite bedtime concoction uses:
  • 12 ounces of boiling water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Decaf Spice tea leaves
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla soymilk
  • 1 teaspoon honey

To make:

  1. Steep the tea leaves (in an infuser) for 5 minutes. No more. No less.
  2. Pour the vanilla soymilk and honey into a small cup and microwave for 45 to 60 seconds to get the combination warm and frothy. (Do this while the tea steeps to save a little time.)
  3. Remove the infuser from your mug.
  4. Stir the soymilk-and-honey mixture into the tea, and enjoy.

Heating the soymilk and honey gets the two to blend together better, helps keep the tea warm longer, and really brings out the richness of the tea. If you have to have a small munchie with your tea, a simple shortbread cookie (vanilla shortbread, if you can find it) goes well with it.

Some Adagio customers have commented on the review board that they put this tea into the same category as chai. Having had both chai products and Decaf Spice, I'm not convinced of the similarity between the two, and think that Decaf Spice is actually better than any chai product I've come across to date.

Adagio also offers a caffeinated version of this tea, called Oriental Spice, which is just as good and works just as nicely with the "recipe" above. The beauty of ordering from Adagio is that they offer sample sizes of each tea for about $2 a tin; depending on the ratio of tea leaves per ounce of water that you prefer to use, a single sample-size tin will yield 5 to 10 cups. If you turn out to love it, then you can invest in a larger size.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Make Your Own Chow Mein--No Sweat!

Shrimp-Tofu Chow Mein with Shiitake Mushrooms and Haricot Vert—or any variation on the Chow Mein Theme You Like

Tonight I made shrimp-tofu chow mein. No biggy, it's noodles, and I've made noodles kajillions of times in all their variations. But the Cantonese style was new for me. I'm always hoping to learn more about Chinese cuisine. Trouble is, it's INFINTELY COMPLEX. Safer to say, learn Szechwan, or Cantonese than to tackle all of thousands of years of culinary evolution.

So Cantonese--mellow, savory, subtle. Think oyster sauce. To make chow mein, which, by the way, look like spaghetti noodles (Marco Polo must have brought some back from his trip to Asia), you cook the noodles then cool them off with cold water so they won't grow.

Then, stir-fry your veggies, tofu, etc. in some oil and oyster sauce and soy sauce (equal parts--don't need much). Add in your shrimp (or chicken or pork--cut in strips to make it cook fast) and toss until cooked (only a couple of minutes). Make a light gravy with chicken stock (1 cup), more oyster sauce and more soy sauce (about 1 tbs. each), and a little corn starch to thicken. Cook only until thickened (about a minute). Before serving, zap the cold noodles in the microwave to warm them. Lastly, pour the veggie-sauce mixture onto the noodles and serve.

About what veggies to use: Never, and I mean NEVER use those nasty canned Chinese veggies you find in the ethnic section of the grocery store. I'm talking about baby corn, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Good Chinese restaurants do not use canned veggies. ICK! Any veggie that's not mushy is a good substitute: snow peas, green beans, onions, broccoli, peas, carrots, asparagus, mung bean sprouts, mushrooms of any kind (especially shiitake), etc.

About what meats to use: Shrimp, pork, chicken, beef, lamb--any will do nicely. But be sure to cut the meat in long, thin strips so that it cooks quickly. Short, chunky bits tend to get too dry inside before they are cooked through. Meat bits should be in bite sizes too--so that you can lift it with chopsticks--with no cutting--and pop it into your mouth. Cutting well is a way of showing consideration for your diners. Anyway, my fave is shrimp. I keep several bags of good frozen shrimp in the freezer at all times. I use half as much shrimp as most recipes call for (half a pound instead of a pound) and add a package of drained, cubed tofu. (Any way to incorporate more tofu into our diet is a GOOD way. Soy and other bean products can save the world. I do mean this.) Believe it or not, frozen shrimp are "fresher" than never-frozen shrimp. Plus they are handy, and you can get the kind that's deveined, shelled and ready-to-go. Frozen raw shrimp is good too because it absorbs the flavor of whatever it's cooked with. Your choice.

You can also use rice instead of noodles if you are on a wheat-free diet. A chow mein stir-fry is so easy, it really doesn't matter what starch you use--no intimidating and slavish adherence to recipe needed. Just remember oil to coat the pan, oyster sauce and soy sauce in equal parts and stir to cook only. Then make a little gravy and you are finished! Too easy and YUMMY YUMMY!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Spinach-Bacon-Tomato Poached Eggs

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most elegant--and surprisingly delightful. This morning, I walked out the back door and picked some of my hubby's organic spinach--enough to sauté. Then, I tossed it in with a little butter and a little dab of bacon fat--yes, bacon fat--just a touch. Added in chopped tomato and sautéed briefly just to wilt. Voila--the base for poached eggs.

Then, I chopped a couple of pieces of bacon and sprinkled that on the eggs. Beautiful with a touch of freshly ground pepper.

The taste was like a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich, with no bread, and no fuss. Served with fresh strawberries.

Williams-Sonoma has a lovely egg poacher, which is simply a shallow covered pot with four holes and four tefloned egg-poacher cups. Pour water in the base and when it boils, lightly spritz each cup with Pam. Add one egg per cup (four total) and poach for four minutes. Remove immediately to shallow bowls.

The photo above is not mine, but it's close. My spinach-tomato sauté was wiltier. The poached egg atop the sauté is a perfect round shape. On top of the poached eggs is crumbled bacon, and on top of that is a sprinkling of black pepper. Perfection--and quick to make.

When making bacon, fry up an entire package at one time (it's too messy to do here and there). Drain on paper towels, and freeze. You can use a couple of pieces at a time to flavor baked chicken, salad, eggs, green beans, etc. Frozen bacon lasts a long time that way and is indistinguishable from fresh bacon.

Poached egg variations can be endless. One of our family's faves is to take leftover small, round Belgian waffles (which I make in big batches and also freeze--waffles and other breads freeze beautifully, just as bacon does) as the base, then a poached egg, then hollandaise sauce. TO DIE FOR! Top with finely chopped ham, Canadian bacon, bacon, or tofu crumbles (veggie burger crumbles would be good too).