Jan 28, 2010

Free Download: Recipes from Brazil

The Culinary Institute of America never ceases to surprise--because they never cease to innovate. I just discovered the CIA's Center for Foods of the Americas (CFA). Based in San Antonio, the CFA is devoted to the preservation and dissemination of Latin American Cuisine. As they state on their website:
Latin America is a vast region that spans twenty-one countries and almost the entirety of the western hemisphere. Unfortunately, most people are largely unaware of the breadth, diversity, and healthful qualities of many Latin foods. Educating the public about the cuisines of Latin America lies at the heart of the CFA’s work. Our experts travel throughout Latin America capturing, documenting, and cataloging the ingredients, iconic dishes, regional cuisines, and street foods that define the foodways of Latin America. They also chronicle the evolution and reinterpretation of these traditional foods. Whether it’s the artisanal moles of Oaxaca, the flavor profiles of Peruvian ceviches, or the techniques used for making the rich Brazilian seafood stews of Bahia, preserving these traditions is essential as they provide important perspectives on culture and society.
 There's a lot going on at the CFA, including an annual symposium that focuses on the world heritage of Latin cuisine. A series of ongoing classes cover Peruvian cuisine; Classic Cuisines of Mexico from Puebla and Oaxaca; and Classic Cuisines of Mexico from Major Regions (regions include Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Morelos). In these classes you prepare important traditional dishes and learn about the particular cuisine's history.

And CFA's website is a goldmine of Latin American culinary info, recipes, videos and more. I found the discussion of the complexity of Mexican cuisine--starting with its pre-Columbian roots--to be fascinating.

And I was delighted to find this collection of Brazilian recipes available free for download as a PDF. Nice photos, and crystal-clear recipes for such famous specialties as the iconic Brazilian Feijoada and Acarajé (bean fritters), and goodies that are lesser known to Americans such as Pasteis de Bacalao (salted codfish savories), Vinagrete de Lula (marinated squid salad), or Pao de Queijo (tapioca cheese rolls). So go ahead and download the Culinary Institute of America's booklet, Brazil Recipes.

Jan 23, 2010

Dining with Louis XIV

Louis XIV Dining with Moliere (by Ingres)
I'll admit: I'm something of a history geek. While I've no desire to live in the past--I'm under no illusions that life was any better in earlier times--I certainly enjoy reading about the past. For that matter, I like to write about it (two of my books, Found Meals of the Lost Generation, and Wild Heart: A Life, are historic non-fiction).

And, yes, I definitely have favorite eras. Every once in a while I ponder where I'd go if I could get my hands on a time machine. Over the years I've mentally touched down in many centuries and locations, but invariably I come back to the same two: Paris in the 1920s, when it was home to a vibrant assortment of artists and writers from around the world; and the Court of Louis XIV.

I've had sort of a crush on Louis XIV since I was a kid. The young Louis, of course: he of the brilliant political mind, the magnificent visage, the fabulous physique. Louis the Grand. Louis the Warrior, Louis the Brave, Louis the Patron and Protector of the Arts...Louis the Rake.

So it was with fascination that I learned about the year-in-the-planning modern-day recreation of a dinner served at Versailles during the time of Louis XIV. This amazing event was held in celebration of an exhibit about the Sun King and his art collection currently at the Palace of Versailles. Entitled "Louis XIV: The Man and the King," the exhibit gathers 300 works of art commissioned during Louis's long 72-year reign; many have not been publicly seen since the French Revolution (1789). The exhibit ends on February 7.

Pheasant service from the recreated dinner

The dinner was sponsored by French champagne house Dom Pérignon (that company's owner, Moët Hennessy, is sponsoring the Versailles exhibit). Apparently the original Dom Pierre Pérignon--a winemaking Benedictine monk born in 1638--produced wines favored by Louis XIV. The dinner's chef: Michelin-starred Jean-François Piége, formerly of the Hôtel du Crillon in Paris, spent more than a year researching the dishes served at Court, developing the menu, planning the details, and executing the dinner. As he told a reporter, "We wanted to bring back the soul of the cuisine and its extravagance."

Extravagance, of course, is key when speaking of any aspect of the Sun King's life--and that certainly applies to his culinary life. Dinner, taken late at night, consisted of many courses or "services." Each course contained from two to eight dishes. Plates were made of solid gold, and Louis sat facing the ladies and gentlemen of his Court, who watched him eating. By the time Louis toddled off to bed, he'd sampled or eaten 20 to 30 dishes; no wonder he lost that youthful figure!

Here's the menu from the recreated dinner.

FIRST SERVICE: Les Hors d’œuvre
  • Royal ballotine of pheasant
  • Petit pâté en croûte à la bourgeoise
  • Fresh deep-sea oysters
  • Lobster aspic chaud-froid
  • Les Potages
  • Beef madrilène with gold leaf spangles
  • Pureed chestnut soup with truffles from the Court of Italy
  • Bisque of shellfish from our coasts with a boletus infusion
  • Pumpkin soup, fresh from the royal vegetable garden 
  • Scallops with oyster liquor
  • Wild duck cromesquis à la Villeroy
  • Hare stew
  • Roast beef, carrots and smoked eel
  • Wild salmon au sel 
THIRD SERVICE: Les Entremets
  • Green and fresh herb salad in gold leaf
  • Rice salad à la royale
  • Morel soufflé
  • Iced cheese
  • Hard-boiled egg 
  • Fruit
  • Edible candle 
The black-tie dinner, which took place last October at Versailles, celebrated the 300th anniversary of Dom Pérignon (the company, not the person). The 30 guests included Louis-Alphonse, the Duc d’Anjou, who would be the current French king--Louis XX--if the monarchy still existed. Chamber music played throughout, just as it did in the time of Louis. Servers and footmen wore the luxurious livery of the Ancien Regime. The dinner itself took place in the Antechamber of the Grand Couvert (where Louis himself dined), and strolling throughout the King’s Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors and the Salons of Venus, Mercury and Mars was encouraged.

Oh, how I wish I could have been there!

To learn more details about this dinner, read this article in the UK's Telegraph.

Jan 19, 2010

20 Foods You Should Be Eating

On the heels of the recent New York Times article about the 11 foods you should be eating (but aren't), the UK's TimesOnline has come up with a list of 20 "superfoods [that] could help you to live a healthier, flat-bellied and longer life." Written by Amanda Ursell, it's a pretty good list--although to the average American one or two things might seem a bit suspect (Baked Beans on Toast? Really?)

Here's the list, complete with British spelling:

  1. Baked beans: Great for soluble fibre (the type that helps to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels), baked beans also give you 6g of protein per average serving; about the same as in a medium-size egg. Have them on toast, with a baked potato or, if you absolutely must, straight from the can.
  2. Green tea: Swap a couple of cups of your builder’s brew a day for green tea. Especially rich in polyphenols, green tea antioxidants have antibacterial and antithrombotic roles, and regulate the immune system. The lazy man’s solution to boosting antioxidants, which may also help to fight tooth decay.
  3. Oily fish: Fling fresh sardines under the grill, or have them from a can; either way, like mackerel, salmon and anchovies, they are great for omega-3 oils, which seem to make platelets in the blood less likely to clump together and cause a clot.
  4. Parsley: Chew on some after a meal and this herb, which is rich in chlorophyl, can help to keep your breath fresh and mop up pongy odours; vital if out on the town after eating. Also good for vitamin C, a vital antioxidant that helps to protect sperm from free-radical attack.
  5. Apples: With an astonishing 150 supernutrients packed into each apple you eat, this easy-to-transport, easy-to-eat, no-waste fruit is especially good for quercetin, an antioxidant that appears from laboratory research to help to kill off viruses such as herpes, which causes cold sores. Quercetin sits just under the skin so never peel your apples before eating.
  6. Grapefruit: It is said that eating a grapefruit before each meal helps you to cut calorie intake in the meal itself, possibly because it slightly lowers blood sugar and makes participants feel more satisfied. Grapefruits also give you glucaric acid, a supernutrient known to lower “bad”, artery-clogging cholesterol.
  7. Tomatoes: This vegetable is packed with the red pigment lycopene, the main antioxidant in the prostate gland. Studies reveal that men eating tomatoes (or tomato products such as purée, juice and soup) ten or more times a week have a 35 per cent reduced risk of developing prostate cancer.
  8. Pomegranates: You don’t need to fiddle around with fresh pomegranates. Israeli scientists found that men drinking only a couple of gulps (100ml) of this powerful juice each day for 12 months helped to reverse artery damage. This may be down to the fruit’s increasing production of paraoxonase, a cholesterol-breaking enzyme.
  9. New potatoes: A baked potato gives you fast-release energy, making it a great post-workout, muscle-refuelling food. If you are not an exercise nut, new potatoes are a better option. They provide slow-release energy to keep blood sugar levels and appetite under control between normal meals.
  10. Oats: Have them in muesli or porridge, Oatibix or oatmeal. Full of the soluble fibre called beta glucan, which lowers “bad” cholesterol, they also give us silica, a trace mineral believed to be vital for good- quality skin, metrosexual or otherwise.
  11. Poached eggs: Eggs give us lecithin, which is turned into choline once eaten, a vital component of transmitters in our brains involved in memory. This brain-boosting food is also fabulously filling — eat two for breakfast (poached or boiled, not fried) and, according to research, you will eat 400 calories less during the rest of the day.
  12. Frozen peas: The ultimate convenience food, frozen peas lock in the B vitamins needed for a healthy nervous system, plus soluble fibre to help to fill you up and keep cholesterol under control. A 140g portion gives you 16mg of immune-boosting vitamin C, about as much as you will get in a satsuma.
  13. Prunes: Blend them with milk and yoghurt to make an antioxidant-rich, free-radical- zapping drink that also gives ferulic acid, a supernutrient associated with bowel health. The special sugars in prunes will also help to keep you regular and potentially help to resist bowel cancer.
  14. Dark chocolate: The dark varieties (above 70 per cent cocoa solids) are rich in antioxidants. Studies have shown that flavanol-packed cocoa acts in an “aspirin-like” way to stop blood cells clumping together.
  15. Frozen berries: An easy way to increase potential brain- boosting, anti-ageing antioxidants to help to keep you ahead of the game on the work front. Throw them into smoothies or defrost and mix with yoghurt for breakfast.
  16. Olives: Put on home-made pizzas or eaten as a bar snack, olives are good for monounsaturated fats, phenolics and vitamin E, which are all important for artery health and long life.
  17. Almonds: Ditch cholesterol-raising snacks such as biscuits and cakes and trade them in for a fistful of almonds. Research shows that this will help you to feel full and cut back on artery-clogging fats.
  18. Chillies: These are sure to raise your metabolism: the hotter you can stand, the more their effect. Expect a 15 per cent increase in calories burnt for about two hours after eating a hot chilli sauce.
  19. Wholewheat pasta: The ultimate filling — and so easy to cook. The wholewheat variety has a lower glycaemic index than plain and releases energy slowly. Good for sportsmen who need muscles packed with energy.
  20. Turmeric: As used liberally in Gordon Ramsay’s recipes, this is a great source of curcumin, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory effects and may help to fight bowel cancer. For Indian takeaways, choose healthy dishes such as tandoori chicken and chicken tikka, which provide turmeric but don’t have loads of fat.

Jan 14, 2010

Video: Rehydrating Beans, Chilies, and Fruits

Winter's a great time for making soups, stews, and chili, isn't it? I know I've whipped up at least one simmering pot of soup each week since early December. Great for dinner the first night, and then a few lunches until it's all gone. Yum! A friend in Montana sent me some Buffalo butt that I'm looking forward to transforming into a hearty stew soon. And chili: well, any time of the year is good for a hearty chili; in winter it warms you up, and in summer it cools you down. Not sure how or why, but it works.

At any rate, if you're in a soup/stew/chili frame of mind, it pays to know the correct method for reconstituting dried beans and chilies, which so often play a role in these dishes. Take a gander at this video from the Culinary Institute of America. You'll also learn how to rehydrate fruit in the proper way.

Jan 12, 2010

11 Fabulously healthy (and often overlooked) foods

This list of foods that are great for your health---and often overlooked---has an interesting history.

Originally written by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., it was published in Men's Health in early 2008 as "The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating." In June 2008 Tara Parker-Pope wrote a story for the Well section of the New York Times based on Bowden' article, but asked him to update the list to reflect foods easily obtained from the average grocery store (unlike, say, goji berries). Bowden complied: guava, goji berries and purslane were out; sardines, canned pumpkin, frozen blueberries, and turmeric were in (somewhere along the line the list expanded from 10 to 11 foods). The resultant story was so popular that it ended up on the Times's list of its most-viewed 2009 stories. The Times ran it again this past week.

Here's the updated list of "overlooked" foods that you might consider adding to your diet (for more details, read the NYT story):
  1. Beets
  2. Cabbage
  3. Swiss Chard
  4. Cinnamon
  5. Pomegranate Juice
  6. Dried Plums
  7. Pumpkin Seeds
  8. Sardines
  9. Turmeric
  10. Frozen Blueberries
  11. Canned Pumpkin

    Jan 5, 2010

    National Pie Day: January 23

    Did you know about an organization called the American Pie Council? I learned of them this morning upon receiving their press release about the upcoming National Pie Day (I’d never heard of National Pie Day, either). But I’m a sucker for a home-made berry pie---the best ones I've ever had have been at Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero, California---so I ambled over to the Pie Council's website and took a look around.

     According to the website, the American Pie Council (APC) is “the only organization dedicated to preserving America’s pie heritage and promoting America’s love affair with pies.” The APC sponsors many national pie-related events, including the Great American Pie Festival, the National Pie Championships, and, of course, National Pie Day.

    The APC’s message for this year’s National Pie Day is rather compelling:
    "As the nation steers through a series of challenges, the American Pie Council (APC) recognizes that we still have much to be grateful for and many to say thank you to: men and women who defend our nation, friends and neighbors who volunteer time to worthy causes, and family members who are always there for us.  So to help say 'thank you' the best way they know how, the APC and its associate members have decided to highlight National Pie Day (January 23rd) by helping people across the nation recall the simple pleasure of presenting a pie as a gesture of kindness."
    To help you do just that, APC commercial members have posted award-winning recipes on the site (one that appeals to me is called “Ginger, You’re a Peach Pie”). In addition, some retailers throughout the country are offering discounts (download a PDF listing participating retailers). So you can either bake a fabulous pie or get a discount for a store-bought pie, and then go gift someone who deserves such delicious bounty.

    A few interesting facts I picked up on the site:
    • Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians.
    • The early pies were predominately meat pies. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the twelfth century. The crust of the pie was referred to as "coffyn". There was actually more crust than filling. Often these pies were made using fowl and the legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles. Fruit pies or tarts (pasties) were probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I.
    • If you lined up the number of pies sold at U. S. grocery stores in one year, they would circle the globe—and then some.
    • Nearly one out of five Americans (19%) prefer Apple pie, followed by pumpkin (13%), pecan (12%), banana cream (10%) and cherry (9%). 
     The Culinary Gadabout Suggests:
    Want to bake your own pies? This book is all you need...

    From the Amazon review: At 640 pages and nearly two inches thick, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie, the big book with the shortest possible title, is difficult to read in bed. It's hard to hold up. It weighs on the stomach. But bed is where you will want to take it, night after night, following author Richard Haedrich's lead through fruit pies, berry pies, nut pies, custard pies, turnovers, ice cream pies, and more. Headrich has the most reassuring voice in food literature, and his lifelong passion--the making and baking of all manner of pies--soon begins to fit the reader like new skin.

    The first 60 pages are given over to general directions (for example, Haedrich is a firm believer in reading a recipe through to completion before lifting a finger; he rolls his dough on wax paper) and the making and shaping of crust. You will find everything you need to know about creating terrific pie crusts including a friendly pat on the back and the sage advice that great crust comes with experience. This is all but permission to bake several pies a week for the rest of your life. The 300 some recipes in Pie will help you on your way. There are 21 crust recipes alone, everything from that perfect flaky crust to Choco-Nut Press-In Pie Crust.

    Books like Pie don't happen overnight, or even over a year of nights. Haedrich didn't apply his considerable food writing skill to a subject he simply pulled off the shelf. While the tone may be easy going, there's nothing casual here about either the task or the accomplishment. Pie represents a considerable chunk of one man's life wedged between the covers of a book. The tens of thousands of bits and pieces of valuable information, quotes, lines of poetry, not to mention the recipes and careful instruction comes from years and years of both accumulation and winnowing down to the very best.

    Buy Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

    Jan 2, 2010

    Diet Tips for 2010 from...Hershey?

    Hershey sent me a press release just before the year ended geared to diet and health. At first I scoffed, but the more I read the better it sounded. Here's the story:

    Bob Greene is a noted exercise physiologist. His first book, a New York Times best-seller published in 1996 and co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was Make the Connection: Ten Steps To A Better Body--And A Better Life. His most recent book, also a best-seller, was published last November: The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes.

    Greene is the founder of Best Life, an umbrella organization designed to help people achieve their own personal best life. Among other things, Best Life bestows a "seal of approval" on foods that are both easily available and offer healthy benefits. One of those products is Hershey's Extra Dark Chocolate, available in most supermarkets nationwide and less expensive than more boutique brands.

    Naturally, the Hershey Company is pleased about all of this and is now running a campaign that highlights Best Life, Bob Greene, Greene's "Best Life Diet" plan, and--of course, Hershey's extra dark chocolate. But that's a good thing. The diet makes sense, and we all know dark chocolate is good for you in moderation. Let me stress those two important words: in moderation. If you sit down and gobble up an entire bar of chocolate, you are doing your body no favor.

    The Best Life Diet is a three-phased plan developed by Greene that helps people to live healthy lifestyles. To keep living your best life in 2010, Greene recommends three easy-to-follow steps as a part of the Best Life Diet:
    1. Change Habits: Making a few key adjustments to your routine can mean big results, both in terms of health and weight-loss. The dietary changes include eating three meals, a snack or two, and a treat, and curtailing eating and drinking at least two hours before bedtime. On the exercise front, aim to gradually add minutes to your regular workouts and keep up your intensity – it doesn’t matter if you’re walking or working out at the gym.

    2. Manage Hunger and Control Portions: Use Bob’s 10-point hunger scale to differentiate true hunger from emotional eating. Ideally, you should start a meal when you’re just beginning to get hungry, but not ravenous (a three or four on the hunger scale) and finish the meal when you’re at a five (you’re fairly satisfied, but could eat a little more) or six (perfectly comfortable and satisfied).

      In Phase Two, you’ll also be zeroing in on portion sizes of all foods, including treats. Enjoying your favorite treats is key to sticking with a healthy-eating plan. The key is to keep a lid on portions. The number of calories you can spend on treats depends on how many total calories you can eat to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. (The more total calories you can eat, the more treat calories you can have. For instance, on 1,700 calories per day, you can have 150 treat calories, about three Hershey’s Extra Dark tasting squares.)

    3. Fine-Tune Your Diet: Include a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Colors are a good indicator of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that each food contains. Also, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds help maintain a well-rounded and wholesome diet. 
    You can download a PDF that offers a more detailed look at these three steps. Also, visit Hershey's for recipes that incorporate dark chocolate into a healthy diet (e.g., Chocolate Ginger Spice Muffins, Baked Pears with Chocolate Sauce, Chocolate-Banana Sherbet, etc.).

    Hershey's dark chocolate has its critics. Check out this post on Starling Fitness; it offers a jaundiced view of Bob Greene teaming up with Hershey, and points out that 3 squares of the chocolate are stated on the packaging to be 210 calories, not 150.

    On the other hand, a 2008 study by Yale University Prevention Research Center, using Hershey’s Extra Dark Chocolate, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; it found that consuming 75g of the chocolate lowered blood pressure and improved endothelial function in 45 participants two hours after consumption.

    My advice, which I usually follow (except for occasional mouth-stuffing blips): exercise daily, eat lots of veggies and fruits, and enjoy anything else you want as long as you do it in moderation.