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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hot Cross Buns! A wonderful Easter Tradition

It's easy to see why these spiced buns mark the start of Easter. Religious symbolism aside, their light texture and gentle sweetness make for a perfect spring breakfast. Follow Our step-by-step recipe and welcome the morning sunshine into your kitchen. The symbolism of the hot cross bun has fueled much debate over the years. Stories abound: one is that in Tudor times the English church, in a fit of anti-Popish pique, tried to ban them, but in light of their continued popularity, Elizabeth I relented and allowed them to be eaten during religious festivals. Others believe the bun is of pagan origin, its cross representing the four quarters of the moon or a sign to ward off sickness. In recent years, some schools have courted controversy by taking the buns off their menus in an act of political correctness. But despite historical and religious ructions, the scent of spice and sugar wafting from baking buns remains redolent of harmony and abundance, the mixture of fruit and peel in the dough adding a little luxury.I thought we'd give you some hot tips on how to make great Hot Cross Buns - plus throw in a recipe for you.

Throughout the whole bun making process, try to keep everything warm.

1) Preparing yeast liquid The liquid for reactivating yeast should be "warm", "tepid", or at "blood heat". Approximately 37 C. The correct temperature can be achieved by pouring cold water or milk and boiling water into a measuring jug in equal quantities.

2) Measuring dry ingredients and mixing In cold weather use a warm bowl. Measure all dry ingredients into the bowl. Cut or rub in butter .

If desired melt butter or use oil, add with yeast liquid. When mixing, the consistency of dough should not be sticky. An easy guide - turn dough out onto a lightly floured bench, knead 2-3 minutes. If it sticks to your fingers and bench, give a light dusting of flour. If dough is too dry a little warm liquid could be kneaded in. If dough is too stiff it will be difficult to knead, slow to rise and produce hard, dry buns. If dough is too sticky, buns will not hold their shape while cooking.

3) Kneading In cold weather, pour boiling water on your bench, dry well, with flour, before tipping out dough. Kneading is the alternate stretching and folding of the dough which strengthens the gluten - elastic like protein particles in the flour which makes the dough springy so it is able to stretch to surround the bubbles of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast. The kneading process takes about 10 minutes. The dough should feel smooth, springy, elastic and have a "satin" look about it.

4) First rising in bowl Put dough back into a lightly greased bowl, turn over once to grease top. Cover loosely. Put in a warm place. Avoid dry or direct heat. Allow dough to double in size. The time it takes is not important as it will vary according to temperature. From 1-2 hours or in winter up to 3 hours. Dough should have a round, plump appearance. If sufficiently risen, the imprint of fingertips will remain on top of dough.

5) Shaping dough Knead dough for 1-2 minutes. Shape into buns 4 cups flour will produce 16 - 75g buns. Place buns on a lightly greased, warm oven tray.

6) Proving Yeast is a fungus type of mico-organism which grow best in a warm, humid environment. Allow buns to double in size before cooking. In a warm place it should only take about 30-40 minutes, but it could take up to 1 hour. If under-proved, they will be small and hard.

Moist, warm places for proving:

The Oven: preheat on lowest temperature. Turn off. Sit bowl or tray on a rack over a pan of boiling water. Shut oven door and don't peak for at least an hour. Electric frypan: pour in a little boiling water, add lemon juice to prevent pan discolouring. Set to lowest heat. Sit bowl or tray on a cake rack over water. Place on lid, close vent.

Hot water cupboard: tends to be too dry for buns - a skin forms which inhibits proving. Ideal for bread if the tin is enclosed in a large plastic bag or cover loosely with plastic wrap.

7) Cooking Buns should be cooked in a very hot oven. Melted butter and sweet glazes are applied when cooked.

A point to remember: yeast is alive - feed and keep it warm but most importantly don't rush it and it will reward you well. Happy cooking.


1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup boiling water

1 teaspoon muscavado or brown sugar

1 level tablespoon yeast

4 cups white flour

2 tablespoons muscavado or brown sugar - extra

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup mixed fruit

1 tablespoon mixed spice

1 egg - lightly beaten

Pour milk and water into a bowl. Stir in sugar, sprinkle over yeast. Set aside for approx. 5 minutes or until yeast mixture is nice and frothy. Using a larger bowl, mix together flours, extra sugar and salt. Rub in butter, add fruit and spice. Make a well in the center, pour in yeast liquid plus egg, mix thoroughly, dough should be slightly sticky - a little more warm liquid may need to be added. It could be up to an extra 1/4 cup. Turn onto a lightly floured bench Knead for 10 minutes. Return dough to a warm, greased bowl, leave in a warm place to double in bulk. Approx. 1 hour. Punch dough down, turn onto a lightly floured bench, knead 2-3 minutes. To shape buns: Divide dough into 16 pieces. Shape into balls. Place onto a lightly greased tray, one finger width apart. Return to a warm place to double in bulk. Approx. 1 hour. At this stage carefully place on crosses. Bake at 220degC for 8-10 minutes. Brush hot buns with glaze. Deliciously Sticky !!

Sticky glaze: Mix 2 tablespoons muscavado or brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon with 1/4 cup boiling water. To create a syrup, microwave for 2-3 minutes.

Crosses: Rub 1 tablespoon chilled butter into 1/4 cup flour then mix to a soft dough, using 2 tablespoons cold water. Divide into 6 portions then roll each into a long string the thickness of your cross. Cut into appropriate lengths and place carefully onto risen buns just before they go into the oven.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Baked Bean 101

Here is a fantastic article, I cannot describe this any better nor would I try. Baked Beans are such a wonderful earthy homey dish they deserve a re look as a family classic. Here is Cook’s Illustrated break down of the most consistent issues arising from homemade Baked Beans.

Cook’s Illustrated, October 1996, Vol. 22, Page 14-15
By Mark Zanger (Reference)

You cannot cook these beans quickly. It is a long, slow process. The simpler the recipe, the better the results.

Salt pork: the fatter, the better – not the meatier type! Remove rind.

Bacon: meaty, smoke flavor - freeze slightly to allow slicing & dicing.

Dice salt pork and bacon, then fry to render fat

Small white beans, not Great Northern, and omit overnight soaking.

Food Science

Beans on Acid -- Legumes and Levels of Ph

Have you ever cooked beans for hours and found they failed to soften? Chalky and tough-skinned, they might as well be raw. A few phone calls to experts and some research pointed me to the prime suspect: acid. Food scientists universally agree that high acidity can interfere with the softening of the cellulose-based bean cells, causing them to remain hard no matter how long they cook.

Alkalinity, on the other hand, has the opposite effect on legumes. Alkalines make the bean starches more soluble and thus cause the beans to cook faster. (Older bean recipes often included a pinch of baking soda for its alkalinity, but because baking soda has been shown to destroy valuable nutrients, few contemporary recipes suggest this shortcut.) The effect of acids and alkalines on beans certainly explained the warnings I found in some recipes against the use of too much vinegar. Still, while it all sounded good in theory, it made little practical sense to me. Molasses is acidic, but it didn't seem to affect the cooking of the beans in most of my tests. What I really wanted to know were the following: At what pH level would there be a negative impact on the beans? Could a splash of vinegar spoil the pot, or would it take a whole bottle? How could I relate pH levels to the everyday ingredients I might use to flavor beans?

It was time to put some beans to the acid test. I cooked four batches of small white beans in water altered with vinegar to reach pH levels of 3, 5, 7, and 9. I brought them to a boil, reduced the heat to a low simmer, and tested the beans every 30 minutes for texture and doneness. The beans cooked at a pH of 3 (the most acidic) remained crunchy and tough-skinned despite being allowed to cook 30 minutes longer than the other three batches. The beans cooked at pHs of 5, 7, and 9 showed few differences, although the 9 pH batch finished a few minutes ahead of the 7 pH batch and about 20 minutes ahead of the 5 pH batch.

Acidity, then, must be relatively high to have any significant impact on beans. I had to add a whole cup of vinegar to the pot -- much more than would be reasonable in most recipes -- to reach a pH of 3.

How does my Boston baked beans recipe fit into this scenario? The combined ingredients -- just before baking -- had a pH of 4.8. The beans might cook a little faster with the acidic molasses and mustard reserved until the end, but the flavor would lack the depth developed through slow cooking -- a trade-off I wasn't willing to make. If in making this recipe you are plagued with crunchy beans, you may have extremely hard water or a stale batch of beans. Hard water, recognizable by mineral deposits in pots and plumbing and greenish rings around the drains in porcelain tubs and sinks, contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. Calcium, for reasons not yet fully understood, toughens cellulose. Your safest bet would be to use bottled water.

Stale beans are

impossible to

detect until cooked,

but it's too late by

then -- they will

never soften.


Molasses = Acidity (+ vinegar, mustard)
The pH level is a measure of acidity vs. alkalinity.
A pH (3) Acidic > undercooked, hard beans.
A pH (9) Alkaline > beans exploded, mushy, overcooked.
Bean cell walls made of cellulose, hemicellulose & pectin. In presence of acidic element, hemicellulose doesn’t break down as readily as beans cook, leading to hard beans. In alkaline environment, pectin dissolves weakening cell walls leading to mushy results

Baking soda (alkaline), added to recipe, does significantly decrease cooking time by almost 1/2 > overcooked beans exploded, starchy, lacked flavor.

By omitting acidic ingredients until the end of cooking > beans cooked quickly but beans light in color, have less flavor, not worth time-savings in long run.

Avoid stale beans, if possible, by buying them from a store, which moves their supply and replaces them often. The recipe, which I have used over the years, turned out hard as a rock beans the last time I cooked it. I thought it was the salt and began to attempt recipe revision. The error in my thinking was that I had done that recipe many times successfully so the salt content alone could not possibly be the reason for the failure. The acidity also could not have been the problem for the same reason. The problem was, “Stale beans are impossible to detect until cooked, but it's too late by then -- they will never soften.” So stop blaming the salt; blame the stale beans. And always start with the freshest beans you can find to prevent this from happening to you.

This would seem to discourage using the pressure cooker to cook beans. I would still like to try that method. To date I haven’t.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How to fix an overspiced dishes

You're making your favorite chili when you taste it and realize that the jalapenos you used this time were way hotter than you expected. Not to worry, there are a number of fixes to foods being too hot. The first thing to always do is taste your chile peppers. Peppers will fluxuate in the amount of heat they have and the only way too really know for sure how hot they are is to taste them. If they seem a little hotter than normal you can cut down on the amount you use and you can also make sure that you remove all of the inner membranes and seeds. This is where the majority of the heat lies in a pepper. Failing that, don't fear, all is not lost. Of course you could just add more of everything else if you want, but what if you don't want 3 gallons of chili or 1 gallon of salsa? There are still a number of options open to you. There are really three things that will help counteract the heat of chilies. They are sugar, acids, and dairy products. That said, you have a whole arsenal in your kitchen to combat spicy foods. Try adding a can of crushed pineapple to your chili. It will virtually disappear, leaving very little traces of itself while helping to counteract the heat. Give that super spicy salsa a few squirts of lime juice to help tame it, or, if appropriate add some dairy, in the form of sour cream or yogurt into a spicy sauce. At the table, offer sour cream and cheese to help counteract the heat or offer chopped cilantro which also seems to have a cooling effect on the mouth. Also remember that milk or dairy based drinks are the best way to cool a burning mouth. Highly sweetened, non carbonated drinks are second best. Stay away from water as all it does is spread the heat around in your mouth while doing very little to counteract it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hashbrown patties, plain and simple

Good old fashioned restaurant-style hash browns. Perfect with hot pepper sauce and ketchup!
Prep Time: 20 Min Cook Time: 15 Min Ready In:35 Min


  • 2 medium russet potatoes, shredded
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup oil for frying, or as needed
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse shredded potatoes until water is clear, then drain and squeeze dry. Place shreds in a bowl, and mix in the onion, flour and egg until evenly distributed.
  2. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is sizzling hot, place potatoes into the pan in a 1/2 inch thick layer. Cover the whole bottom of the pan, or make separate piles like pancakes. Cook until nicely browned on the bottom, then flip over and brown on the other side. It should take at least 5 minutes per side. If you are cooking them in one big piece, it can be cut into quarters for easier flipping.
  3. Remove from pan, and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving Calories: 183 | Total Fat: 6.9g | Cholesterol: 53mg

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Food Handler Certification Program

Food Handler chef The danger zone

  • the Danger Zone is the temperature range between 4°C and 60°C

    Keep food out of the Danger Zone. Bacteria will multiply quickly in the Danger Zone. Bacteria grow extremely well at body temperature, 37.1°C.

  • keep hot food hot (60°C or above)

    Have a probe thermometer available to check the temperature of the food on the steam table and on the stove. Cover food to keep the heat in and to prevent contamination.
  • keep cold food cold (4°C or below)

    Provide a reliable thermometer to ensure proper operation of the refrigerator. Place food in the refrigerator so that air can circulate around it freely to maintain proper temperature.
  • do not allow hazardous food to be in the Danger Zone longer than 2 hours when preparing food

    Move hazardous food through the Danger Zone as quickly as possible.

  • cool food quickly using shallow pans or an ice bath

    Do not allow food to cool to room temperature before chilling in a refrigerator.

    Pan or Ice Bath

  • quickly reheat food to at least the original cooking temperature.

    See page 34 for a list of cooking and reheating temperatures. Whole chickens must be cooked to 82°C but can be reheated to 74°C.

  • if hazardous food is displayed for sale at room temperature for any length of time, the food must not be eaten and properly disposed of

    Pathogenic bacteria will not multiply fast enough to cause food poisoning outside the Danger Zone but will multiply fast enough in the Danger Zone.
  • How to Reduce Fat and Sugar and Increase Fiber

    Most baked goods are high in fat and often in sugar, but it's possible to create nutritious, low-calorie baked goods just as tasty as their normal counterparts. Everything that tastes good must be unhealthy - or does it? Generally yes, at least when it comes to baked goods, but it is possible to lower the amount of calories and use more nutritious ingredients.

    Reduce Fat

    • Most baking margarine and shortenings are high in trans-fat (this depends on where you live - in many European countries the trans-fat content is negligible). Normal margarine can be used in baking if they contain at least 70% fat.
    • Often fat can be replaced with canola oil, which is trans-fat free. As oil is 100% fat and margarine is usually 80% fat, so the amount of fat and liquids may need to be adjusted slightly.
    • You can often substitute some of the fat with a nut butter. Almond and cashew butter are delicious and healthy options with a milder taste than peanut butter.
    • Apple puree can substitute for most or even all of the fat in many recipes. Prune puree works well for chocolate cakes and cookies. Obviously fat substitutes and oil cannot be used if the recipe requires creaming the margarine with sugar.
    • Pie crusts tend to be high in fat, but the calories can be reduced by using low-fat sour cream or mashed potatoes for moistness.

    Reduce Sugar

    • The amount of sugar can often be lowered by 1/3 or even as much as 1/2, or some of it replaced with stevia or other sweeteners. Sometimes the texture may suffer, though, so experiment in advance before conducting a party!
    • Brown sugar is rich in nutrients (the darker the better), making it a healthier choice. Its characteristic flavor goes well in most baked goods.
    • Liquid alternatives include honey, molasses and agave syrup - just remember to adjust the total amount of other liquids accordingly. Agave syrup is mostly fructose and has a very low glycemic index.

    Increase Fiber

    • Some of the wheat flour can often be replaced with more nutritious and fiber-rich alternatives, like graham/whole-wheat flour, spelt flour, oat flour, quinoa flour or the earthy buckwheat flour. Note that this may result in a denser texture. In cookies and pie crusts all wheat flour can usually be replaced with other flours.
    • Psyllium husk, sold in the bakery departments of well-equipped grocery stores, is rich in fiber. It is also used to improve the texture of gluten-free baked goods.
    • Uncooked oatmeal, oat or wheat bran, other cereals and seeds add fiber and flavor to breads and rolls.
    • Grated carrots are great in breads and cakes, but grated beetroot and zucchini can be used too. Some people even report great results from using mashed beans in brownies.


    • Most people do not need to avoid eggs (unless they want to do it for ethical reasons), but it may be warranted due to allergies and for some people with high cholesterol. Besides commercial egg re-placers options include soy flour, mashed bananas, corn starch and soaked flax seed, if the recipe doesn't require beating the eggs.

    Naturally Low-fat Baked Goods

    The choice of baked goods makes a big difference. Cinnamon buns and angel food cake are fairly low in fat, but cookies, donuts, puff pastry and phyllo dough are much heavier in fat and calories. A few small pastries may exceed the recommended daily intake of calories! Yeast-leavened dough makes for pies and pastries much lower in calories than traditional crusts.

    Butter cream, cream cheese frosting and most other icings are high in fat and sugar. Consider topping baked goods with fruit and berries instead, perhaps with some vanilla sauce. Cheesecakes can be lightened with yogurt, quark or tofu. Fresh ricotta is fairly low in fat.

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    Kitchen Disaster fixes

    Everyone has had a disaster in the kitchen at one time or another. Even the most experienced cook can be distracted and add too much salt, forget to set the timer, or omit a crucial ingredient. This advice will help you fix disasters and prevent them from happening in the first place.

      Make sure you never measure seasonings right over the pot or bowl. It's just too easy for your hand to slip, the cat to run under your legs, or someone to startle you. If it's already happened, we used to think that adding a raw cut up potato added to the soup would absorb much of the additional salt, but recent research has disproven this. Really the only way to diminish the salt is to add more of the other ingredients to the soup; in other words, add more of every ingredient except the salt. This is also the only way to fix recipes when you've added too much hot sauce, Tabasco, cayenne pepper, or chilies.
      If the shell sticks to your hard cooked eggs, try putting the eggs in a bowl of very cold water. Then gently tap the eggs against the side of the bowl under the water. Water will seep in through the cracks and loosen the shell from the egg. The peel should come off more easily in a few minutes.
      When the cake breaks when you remove it from the pan or cookies are crumbling, turn your disaster into a trifle or parfait. Just layer the pieces with sweetened whipped cream and some fresh fruit in a glass bowl or individual glasses and chill until serving time.
      If your vegetables have been overcooked and are limp and olive green, just whizz them in the blender or food processor with a little bit of cream or butter. Pureed veggies are very trendy right now and no one will be the wiser. You can also add more cream and turn the veggies into a cream soup.
      If your cheesecake cracks on top, top it with a fruit topping, chocolate sauce, sour cream or whipped cream. So that doesn't happen next time, put a pan full of water on the rack below your cheesecake while it's baking in the oven. Also run a knife around the crust to loosen it from the pan when you remove it from the oven. Sometimes cheesecakes will just crack and there's nothing you can do about it!
      Remove the pan from the heat immediately! Don't stir. Place the bottom of the pan into a sink full of cold water to stop the cooking. Don't stir the sauce! Pour the top 3/4 of it into a new pan, leaving the burned part behind. Taste the sauce. It might still be okay, but if you detect any burned flavor, you'll have to throw it away and start over.
      Pour the gravy through a sieve into another saucepan. Don't press the gravy through - just let it drip through the sieve.
      When you're making cooked candy and it just won't set, add a few tablespoons of cream, return it to the heat, bring it to a boil and cook to the correct temperature as specified in the recipe. Cooked candies are simply concentrated sugar solutions. Removing more liquid by boiling is the only way to fix this problem.
      When faced with runny frosting, your first thought is to add tons more confectioner's sugar. But if the frosting is really runny, you probably don't have enough sugar to fix it. Divide the frosting in half and add confectioner's sugar to half of it. You'll have a better chance of thickening it this way.
      If you are separating eggs and a bit of yolk gets into the white, take a piece of egg shell to scoop out the yolk. This works much better than using a spoon or your fingers. When you are separating large numbers of eggs, crack each one over a small bowl, separate the yolk from the white, then pour the white into a larger bowl with the others. This will prevent contaminating the whole bowl with one broken yolk.
      Make sure to grease the cake pan using shortening or butter that is UNSALTED. Salted shortening will make the cake stick. Try returning the cake to the oven for 3-4 minutes until the pan is hot. Then place the hot pan on top of a wet kitchen towel for about a minute. Or you can spin the cake pan on a stove burner for a few seconds to heat the bottom.
      • Read the recipe before you begin cooking.
      • Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand.
      • Get in the habit of setting a timer five minutes less than the recipe suggests. And carry the timer with you if you leave the kitchen!
      • Never measure any ingredient over the mixing bowl or saucepan.
      • Test your oven accuracy using an oven thermometer.

    Spice and Herb combinations

    How many of us have spice racks with jars of spices we bought years ago and never used, whose sole purpose is to collect the dust in your kitchen? Now is the time to dust them off (or replace them) and start adding flavor to your dishes. The correct spice or herb (whether it is fresh or dried) for any food is the one that tastes right for you. When you're at a loss about what to add to a dish, try something from the list below.


    For Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal and Chicken dishes:

    Anise, Fresh Basil or dried, Cardamom pods or powder, Celery flakes, salt or seeds, Chervil, Fresh or Chili powder, Cinnamon stick or ground, Whole or ground cloves, Fresh or Seed Coriander, Curry powder, Fresh Dill weed or seed, Fennel seed, Fresh Garlic cloves, powder or salt, Fresh and powdered Ginger, Mace, Fresh or dried Marjoram, Fresh or dried Mint, Fresh or dried Oregano, Paprika, Fresh or dried Parsley, Pepper ground or whole, Fresh or dried Rosemary, Saffron, Sesame seed, Fresh or dried Tarragon Ground Turmeric and Fresh or dried Thyme.

    For Pot Roasts, Stews, Casseroles and Soups:

    Allspice, Basil, Bay leaves, Caraway seed, Chili powder, Celery fresh or seed, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin seed, Dill, Fennel seed or leaves, Fresh Garlic, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Fresh or dried Sage, Savory and Tarragon

    For Ham, Meat loaves, Meat Balls and Corned Beef:

    Allspice, Bay leaves, Caraway seed and Ground Nutmeg.

    For Sauces, Dip Sauces, Eggs, Spread, Salads, Salad Dressings, French Dressings and Pickles:

    Basil, Caraway seed, Cardamom pods or powder, Celery flakes, salt or seed, Chervil, Chives, Cumin powder, Curry powder, Dill seed or weed, Fennel seed, Fresh Garlic, flakes or powder, Marjoram, Fresh or dried Mint, Mustard dried or seed, Fresh or dried Oregano, Paprika, Whole or ground Pepper, Fresh Red Pepper, flakes or dried, Fresh or dried Rosemary, Dried Savory, Fresh or dried Tarragon, Fresh or Thyme and Ground Turmeric.

    For Vegetables, Carrots, Beets and Potatoes:

    Anise, Chervil, Chives, Cloves, Curry Powder, Garlic, Parsley, Sage and Thyme.

    Baked foods, Bread, Cookies, Cakes, Pastries and Fondue:

    Allspice, Celery flakes or salt, Dill seed, Mace, Nutmeg, Parsley, Poppy seed, Saffron, Sage, Savory, Sesame seed and Thyme.

    For Oriental Dishes:
    Annatto seed or powder, Fresh Chilies, Chili powder, Chinese Parsley, Five Spiced powder, Garlic, Ginger, and Red pepper.

    For Mexican Dishes:

    Cilantro, Fresh Chilies, Cumin, Chili powder, and red pepper.

    For Indian Dishes:

    Cardamom pods, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin, Curry powder, Root Ginger and Turmeric.

    For Cajun dishes:
    Fresh Chilies and chili powder.

    For Marinades:

    Basil leaves, Bay leaves, Chili powder, Curry powder, Garlic, Parsley and Oregano.

    For Rice, Fish and Seafood:

    Curry powder, Mace, Mint, Marjoram and Saffron.

    For Relishes:

    Celery and Turmeric.

    For Stuffing:
    Caraway seed, Celery flakes or salt, Parsley flakes and Sage.

    For Gravies:

    Bay leaves and sage.

    For Cheese Dishes:

    Tarragon and Oregano.

    For Fruit Salad:

    Cardamom and Mint.

    For Pasta Dishes:
    Basil leaves, Oregano and Marjoram.

    For Sauerkraut, Eggnog and Quiches:

    Ground Nutmeg

    For Desserts and Beverages:

    Fresh Mint leaves

    Useful Information:

    Make sure to crush dried herbs before using, to get the full flavor.Start to use 1/4 teaspoon of most dried spices and herbs in every 4 servings.If altering fresh herbs to dried, use three times more of the fresh herbs.


    Here is an additional list that is a little more spice specific

    An ingredient in many baked goods as well as "Jerk" sauces.
    Anise Seed:
    Mild licorice flavor, used in cookies, or candies.
    Arrowroot Powder:
    Use as a thickener in puddings, pies, soups, sauces, and gravies.
    used in Italian and Mediterranean cooking, especially good with tomatoes.
    Bay Leaves:
    Perfect use in stews, sauces, soups, and marinades.
    Caraway Seeds:
    Great in baked goods and with fruits.
    Cardamom, ground:
    A wonderful addition to Indian dishes.
    Cardamom, whole:
    Dry roast the whole cardamom seeds for more flavor in your recipe.
    Cayenne Pepper:
    Wonderful heat for any Mexican dish.
    Chervil Leaf:
    Similar to parsley, a mild flavor for any meat, soup or vegetable dish.
    Used in Mexican cooking & salsas; may also be used in Indian dishes.
    Cloves, ground:
    Popular in desserts, syrups, and sweet vegetable dishes.
    Coriander seed, ground:
    Citrusy, sweet & tart flavor to be used at the end when cooking.
    Cream of Tartar:
    Adds consistency and stability to any cookie or cake.
    Cumin Seed, ground:
    Wonderful with tomato dishes, chili, salsa & Indian dishes.
    Dill Weed:
    Great in dressings and sauces and on potatoes.
    Ginger, crystallized:
    Sliced ginger partially dried in a sugar syrup solution. For sweets.
    Ginger, ground:
    A sharp, aromatic spice is used in many sweet baked goods and curries.
    A grass with citric oils, very popular in Thai cooking.
    Like oregano & from the mint family, it has a sweeter and subtler taste.
    Nutmeg, ground:
    A sweet, nutty spice is used in custards, pastries, and vegetables.
    Oregano, Greek:
    A must for Italian cooking, Greek oregano has a mild, delicate flavor.
    Oregano, Mexican:
    Slightly stronger than Greek and less sweet, used in Spanish cooking.
    Paprika, hot:
    Mixed with cayenne, these red peppers make the Hungarians famous.
    Paprika, sweet:
    This sweet, milder Paprika will add radiant color to any dish.
    This versatile herb can be used as a garnish or with anything other than sweets.
    Poppy Seeds:
    Used in baked goods, breads & to flavor noodles.
    Rosemary, ground:
    Use ground in sauces or stocks to avoid the "needle" look.
    Saffron, whole threads:
    Use for saffron rice and Indian dishes.
    Well known for use in stuffings.
    Salt, Kosher:
    Coarser than regular granulated, easier to control in cooking.
    Strong, peppery taste, good with veggies & stuffing.
    Sesame Seeds:
    Used mostly for baking breads & rolls, nice for stir-frys.
    A popular tea flavoring, used in sauces and veggie dishes.
    Aromatic herb used to flavor vinegar, dressings, breads. Great with potatoes!
    Thyme, ground:
    Great for Greek & Italian cooking, use ground for sauces & soups.
    Thyme, whole leaf:
    Versatile in flavoring veggies, pizza, stews & herb blends.
    Used as a natural yellow coloring for soups, sauces, rice, curry, & tofu scramble.


    • Store spices in a cool, dark place. Humidity, light and heat will cause herbs and spices to lose their flavor more quickly. Although the most convenient place for your spice rack may be above your stove, moving your spices to a different location may keep them fresh longer.
    • As a general rule, herbs and ground spices will retain their best flavors for a year. Whole spices may last for 3 to 5 years. Proper storage should result in longer freshness times.
    • Because the refrigerator is a rather humid environment, storing herbs and spices there is not recommended. To keep larger quantities of spices fresh, store them in the freezer in tightly sealed containers.


    • For long-cooking dishes, add herbs and spices an hour or less before serving. Cooking spices for too long may result in overly strong flavors.
    • Use restraint! In general, teaspoon of spice is enough for 4 servings.
    • Do not use dried herbs in the same quantity as fresh. In most cases, use the amount in dried as is called for fresh.
    • Seasoning food is an art, not a science. Experimenting with herbs and spices can be fun and educational, and while you may occasionally be eating a less than perfect dish, you may also end up creating that recipe that will become a classic in your household.

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    BEEF & GUINNESS STEW for St. Patricks Day

    Guinness, Ireland's famous black stout, has been brewed in Dublin since 1759. It has a very special place in Irish life. In Dublin Tenement Life: An Oral History, publican John O'Dwyer recalls the importance of stout in the lives of the poorest tenement dwellers in Dublin: They had nothing. They lived for pints. Drink was the main diet. It was food... they used to call the pint the 'liquid food'.

    Nowadays the 'liquid food' is used increasingly in cooking. It is a tasty addition to stews and casseroles, helping to tenderize the meat and imparting its distinctive malty flavor to any dish. This recipe makes a wonderful gusty stew which tastes even better a day or two after it is made.

    Yield: 6-8 servings

    * 2 lb lean stewing beef
    * 3 tablespoons oil
    * 2 tablespoons flour
    * salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne
    * 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
    * 1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)
    * 2 tablespoons tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
    * 1 1/4 cups Guinness
    * 2 cups carrots, cut into chunks
    * sprig of thyme


    Trim the meat of any fat or gristle, cut into cubes of 2 inches (5cm) and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture. Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic and tomato puree to the pan, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole, and pour some of the Guinness into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan. Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add the carrots and the thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if necessary. Cover with the lid of the casserole and simmer very gently until the meat is tender - 2 to 3 hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in a low oven at 300 degrees F. Taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Eggplant Recipies

    is a vegetable long prized for its beauty as well as its unique taste and texture. Eggplants belong to the plant family of Solanaceae, also commonly known as nightshades, and are kin to the tomato, bell pepper and potato. Eggplants grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height.

    One of the most popular varieties of eggplant in North America looks like a pear-shaped egg, a characteristic from which its name is derived. The skin is glossy and deep purple in color, while the flesh is cream colored and spongy in consistency. Contained within the flesh are seeds arranged in a conical pattern.

    In addition to this variety, eggplant is also available in a cornucopia of other colors including lavender, jade green, orange, and yellow-white, as well as in sizes and shapes that range from that of a small tomato to a large zucchini.

    While the different varieties do vary slightly in taste and texture, one can generally describe the eggplant as having a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture. In many recipes, eggplant fulfills the role of being a complementary ingredient that balances the surrounding flavors of the other more pronounced ingredients.

    Many of the below recipes are common eggplant recipes made in Leonidio. Try them out and explore the world of eggplants!

    Eggplant Patties - Melitzanokeftethes

    12 large eggplants, 3 eggs, pepper, salt, oregano, fresh mint leaves, bread crumbs, 1/4 cup cheese, garlic, onion, flour

    Peel the eggplant and boil them. Slice them in a grinder / processor. Add the eggs, pepper, salt, mint leaves finely chopped, cheese, garlic and onion. Add some bread crumbs and a little flour to get some solid texture to the mixture. Form in round balls then pat into a patty shape. Slightly flour the outsides and fry the patties in a frying pan to get color.


    2 large (about 1.2kg) eggplants, Coarse cooking salt, 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil,2 tablespoons olive oil (extra), 1 large onion, chopped, 2 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 kg minced lamb, 425g can tomatoes,2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/2 cup (125ml) dry red wine, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 ground cinnamon, Salt, pepper,1/4-cup (20g) grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

    Cheese Sauce (Béchamel): 125g butter, 2/3 cup (100g) plain flour, 1 liter (4 cups) milk,1/2-cup (40g) grated Parmesan cheese, 2 eggs

    Cut eggplants into 5mm slices, sprinkle with salt, stand 20 minutes. Rinse eggplant under cold water; drain, pat dry with absorbent paper. Place eggplant slices in single layer on lightly greased oven trays. Brush with oil, grill on both sides until lightly browned; drain on absorbent paper.

    Heat extra oil in pan; add onion and garlic, cook, stirring, until onion is soft. Add mince, cook, stirring, until mince is browned. Add undrained crushed tomatoes, paste, wine, parsley, sugar and cinnamon with salt and pepper to taste, simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

    Grease ovenproof dish (2.5 liter / 10 cup capacity). Line dish with one-third of the eggplant, top with half the meat sauce, then half the remaining eggplant, remaining meat sauce and remaining eggplant. Spread cheese sauce (béchamel) over eggplant, sprinkle with cheese and nutmeg. Bake, uncovered, in moderate oven about 45 minutes or until lightly browned.

    Cheese Sauce (Béchamel): Melt butter in pan, stir in flour, stir over heat until bubbling. Remove from heat, gradually stir in milk, and stir over heat until mixture boils and thins. Remove from heat, stir in cheese, cool slightly, sit in eggs; mix until smooth.

    Serves 6, Recipe can be made a day ahead, Storage: Covered, in refrigerator

    Option: My mother's recipe is a bit different. She puts a layer of fried potatoes on the bottom to keep it solid.

    Eggplant in a Stew - (Melitzanes me kreas)

    1 kilo meat (beef, lamb or goat), 10 medium sized tsakonikes eggplants, 2 medium sized onions, 3 ripe fresh tomatoes finely chopped, 1 tablespoon tomato-paste, 1or2 cloves garlic, parsley to taste, salt & pepper to taste.

    Cut the meat into small cubes. Put 1/2 cup oil in a large stew pot, add the onion and lightly brown it with the meat. Once lightly browned, add a little white wine. Add the tomato and the tomato-paste which is diluted in a little water. Add salt and pepper to desired taste. Allow the meat to cook well. Wash the eggplants and cut them in small pieces, then let them sit in salt water for a few minutes. After a while, remove the eggplants from the water and rinse them in clean water, squeezing out excess water once rinsed. Sauté the eggplants in a pan so that they get a little soft. Place the eggplants on paper-towel to remove excess oil. Add to pot with meat to slowly cook. Make sure the heat on the stove is at a low temperature so the food does not stick to the bottom of the pot.

    Bulgur with Fried Eggplant and Herbs - Politiko Pligouri me Melitzanes

    (Taken from The Greek Vegetarian - Diane Kochilas)

    The origin of this meal is actually from the Greeks of Constantinople.

    2/3-cup bulgur wheat (cracked wheat), 1 1/3 cups water, 1 large eggplant, or 2 small ones (about 1 pound total), Salt, 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped, 1/2 cup finely chopped dill, 1/4 cup shopped fresh mint leaves, 1 to 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice, Salt to taste Yield: 4 servings

    Place the bulgur in a medium-sized bowl and add the water. Toss it a little and let it sit, covered with a cloth, for 2 to 3 hours, until all the water is absorbed. (You can hasten this process by following package directions and adding boiling water to the bulgur instead. Whatever method you choose, the ratio of water to bulgur should always be 2:1, to ensure that the grain stays toothsome and fluffy.)

    Wash and pat dry the eggplant. Trim the stem and bottom. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, and cut each half into four or five strips. Cut each strip into small cubes, a little less than an inch square. Place them in a colander, sprinkle with 1 to 2 teaspoons salt. Place a weight (such as a pot cover) over the eggplant and let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and drain well, squeezing to remove excess liquid, and pat dry.

    Heat half the oil in a large skillet and add the diced eggplant (you may have to do this in tow batches). Stir-fry the eggplant continuously until it is coated with the oil and begins to soften. Add the garlic and continue to fry until the eggplant is very soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and toss together with the bulgur.

    Add the dill and mint to the bulgur salad and toss to combine. Season with lemon juice and salt and serve.

    Veal with Eggplant and Olives

    1 large eggplant, coarse cooking salt, 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil, 1 tablespoon olive oil, extra, 1kg diced veal, 2 medium onions, chopped, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 4 cloves garlic(crushed), 2 bay leaves, 2x425g cans tomatoes, 1/4 cup (60ml) tomato paste, 1/2 cup (125ml) water, 1 3/4 cups (430ml) dry red wine, 1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice, 1/2 cup(90g) pitted black olives(quartered), 1/2 cup(90g) pimiento-stuffed green olives(quarterd), 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, salt, pepper

    1. Cut eggplant into 2.5 cm pieces, sprinkle with salt, stand 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant under cold water, drain, pat dry with absorbent paper.

    2. Heat oil in large pan, add eggplant, cook until lightly browned, remove eggplant from pan.

    3. Heat extra oil in same pan, add veal in batches, cook until browned all over, remove veal from pan.

    4. Add onions to same pan, cook stirring, until soft. Return veal to pan, add spices, garlic and bay leaves, cook, stirring, 1 minute.

    5. Add undrained crushed tomatoes, paste, water and wine, stir until combined, simmer, covered, over low heat 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add eggplant, simmer, covered, 20 minutes or until eggplant and veal are tender. Add juice, olives, parsley and sugar with salt and pepper to taste, simmer until heated through.

    Serves 4 to 6.

    Stuffed Eggplant

    In the Middle East, vegetables are often stuffed with meat, rice and herbs and eggplants are no exception. In fact, eggplant is the consumed vegetable in the Middle East! The basic recipe is okay but adding garlic to taste and a bit of cinnamon helps a lot. We also serve with sliced lemons to be squeezed over the stuffed veggie. This is very good when given a bit of life. A nice sprinkle of flat leaf parsley is a nice finishing touch.


    • 4 eggplants
    • 1 cup of uncooked rice
    • 1/2 lb. ground beef or lamb
    • 1 16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 1 oz. can tomato sauce
    • olive oil
    • water


    Wash eggplants and remove the tops. This is best done like you are removing the top of a pumpkin. Do not discard the tops.

    In a medium mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients into a mixture. This is best done with the hands.

    Stuff the eggplants with the meat mixture. Be sure to not over stuff; the rice needs room to expand. Place stem back onto eggplants.

    Pour olive oil into bottom of large dutch oven. Place eggplants upright and fill with water to cover half of the eggplant.

    Cover and allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until meat is done and rice is tender.

    Mushrooms 101

    Seneca, first century Roman philosopher hated mushrooms. Emperor Claudius was poisoned by them. The Normans praised their aphrodisiac qualities and the ancient Egyptians decreed them to be food for royalty alone. These days truffles, porcini, morels, crimini, ceps, portabella, black Chinese, yellow chantarelles, cinammon caps, hon-shimeji and their cousins are no longer seen as either the food of gods or of devils. Mushrooms no longer conjure images of the Spirits with hallucinogenic psilocybe but instead conjure visions of one of the most intriguing and subtle of all gastronomic treats. A mushroom is a healthy wholesome and altogether delicious treat.

    Here are some easy methods for cooking mushrooms. Fresh mushrooms are truly a cook's best friend. Whether you need just a little something to dress things up or add a whole new dimension of flavor, your answer is mushrooms.

    Basic Preparation: There is no need to peel mushrooms. The only trimming they may need is the stem end, if it's dry, or the tough stem portion of Shiitakes or the root of the Portabella. All other mushroom stems may be prepared along with the caps.

    Mushrooms can be sliced thick or thin, cut in quarters, coarsely or finely chopped using a sharp knife. For slicing or chopping large quantities, use a food processor with the slicing or wing blade attachment.

    If a recipe calls for just caps, twist stems loose or separate them from the caps with the tip of a knife.

    Sautéing: (The most popular way to cook mushrooms) For each eight ounces of mushrooms, melt one tablespoon butter or heat one tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Add mushrooms. Cook and stir until golden and the released juices have evaporated, about five minutes. Don't overcrowd the skillet or the mushrooms will steam rather than brown.

    Microwaving: Mushrooms cook extremely well in the microwave. Simply clean and cook as follows: Put eight ounces thickly sliced mushrooms in a microwaveable bowl (no oil or butter needed); cover and cook on HIGH (100% power) for two to three minutes stirring once.

    Roasting: Place mushrooms in a shallow baking pan, Toss with a little oil and roast in a 450 F oven, stirring occasionally until brown, about 20 minutes. Use about one tablespoon of oil for each eight ounces of mushrooms.

    Grilling or Broiling: (Preferred for larger capped mushrooms like Portabellas and Shiitakes) Lightly brush caps and stems with oil to keep them moist, and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil 4 to 6 inches from heat source for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, brushing again once or twice.

    Seasoning: Mushrooms are very similar to meats and other vegetables. Virtually any and all seasonings go well with mushrooms. If serving as a side dish, use seasonings compatible with the main dish.

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Garlic Chicken on the Grill

    Barbecue are one of the time-honored traditions of the summer season. Getting together with friends and family to relax outdoors and enjoy freshly grilled food with delightfully cool beverages, falls somewhere just short of paradise. With all the local warm weather as of late, I felt it time to shovel out the small path to the grill and formally fire up barbecue season. For this weeks I went with Chicken breasts grilled with a marinade of lemon or lime juice, garlic, and chili powder, along with oregano.

    Serves 4.


    • 4 boneless chicken breast halves
    • 1 cup purchased salsa or picante sauce
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano, crumbled
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder


    Flatten chicken breasts; place each chicken breast between sheets or plastic wrap or food storage bags and pound gently with flat side of meat mallet until about 1/4-inch thick.

    Cut each flattened chicken breast into strips about 1-inch in width. Place chicken strips in a glass baking dish or nonreactive shallow container.

    Combine remaining ingredients: pour over chicken until just covered, reserve the remaining for basting to avoid cross contamination. Cover and chill chicken in marinade for 1 to 2 hours.

    Thread chicken onto metal skewers or well-soaked wooden skewers. Grill over hot coals for 6 to 8 minutes, turning a few times and basting with remaining marinade. Serve with additional salsa, if desired.