food preparation

  • Kids of all ages have per­fected the art and tra­di­tion of egg dying for Easter.

    From waxy pen­cils to small tablets of color, not much has changed in the dec­o­ra­tion process. Or has it?

    The kitchen pantry is a stu­dio of nat­ural ingre­di­ents and inter­est­ing col­ors wait­ing to be used. Com­mon food items, and food waste in some cases, will trans­form an ordi­nary hard boiled egg into a beau­ti­ful show­piece.

    Nat­ural dying ele­ments have long been used in fab­rics and paper. Porous eggshells invite color no mat­ter the source.

    Red cab­bage and beets, brown, red or yel­low onion skins con­tribute to an array of egg color pos­si­bil­i­ties. So will cof­fee, tea, and dried spices.
  • Good news for fruit lovers after the Thanks­giv­ing feast. Apples and cit­rus fruits begin to dom­i­nate pro­duce stands and farmer’s mar­kets.

    No need for unwar­ranted com­par­isons. Both fruit fam­i­lies con­tribute to bev­er­ages, snacks or meals this time of year.

    Ver­sa­tile and dis­tinc­tive, each cat­e­gory seems to have end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties as new vari­eties become avail­able through­out the sea­son.

    Ambrosia, Hon­ey­crisp, Opal or Sweet Tango apples remind us that there is a favored choice for every taste pro­file. Sweet and crisp, choose the one that fits out of hand or bak­ing needs.

    Tiny Lady apples and other minia­ture vari­eties range from bril­liant red to golden yel­low with red blush. They run from sweet to tart in taste and are good for hand-​eating or cook­ing. They make for par­tic­u­larly good gar­nishes and fresh décor ingre­di­ents dur­ing win­ter months and upcom­ing hol­i­day celebrations.
  • It’s not that we hate cake. Most of us have enjoyed a deca­dent slice of choco­late, coconut or red vel­vet cel­e­bra­tory cake before.

    It tasted great as we toasted the bride and groom, grad­u­ate, retiree or anniver­sary couple.

    Birth­day cakes are a bit dif­fer­ent and very per­sonal. Young ones get tur­tles, trains and car­toon char­ac­ter cakes molded and dec­o­rated to their surprise.

    Teens fre­quently bake their own or one for their friend. They choose ice cream cakes, fun­fetti or Oreo cookie cake. Cup­cakes included for teens and sweet­ness is off the charts.

    Adults get the wide open cake range from car­rot with cream cheese frost­ing to molten choco­late lava and every­thing in-​between.

    Birth­day choices run the spec­trum with­out any guilt over bak­ery pur­chased cakes. Bundts and spe­cialty types go over the top on stun­ning designs. Where to place the can­dles might prob­lem­atic between the swirls, curls, rib­bons and fresh flower petals.

  • Cab­bages belong to the Bras­sica fam­ily of cole crops and are closely related to broc­coli, cau­li­flower and Brus­sels sprouts.

    This cru­cif­er­ous veg­etable is widely used around the world in prepa­ra­tions from raw to cooked, shred­ded to leafy rolls.

    While we most likely think of a com­mon cab­bage head as that large, green can­non­ball type, there are other vari­eties that make spe­cific appli­ca­tions and recipes stand out.

    Red Cab­bage – Sim­i­lar to green cab­bage, this has dark reddish-​purple leaves. The fla­vor is a lit­tle deeper and earth­ier. Pick heads that are tight and heavy for their size. It adds great color to slaws and cold sal­ads.

    Napa Cab­bage – Also called Chi­nese cab­bage, this oblong-​shaped cab­bage has wide, thick, crisp stems and frilly yellow-​green leaves. The fla­vor is sweeter and milder com­pared to heartier green cab­bage. Its soft tex­ture works great as a fill­ing for dumplings or as a del­i­cate fresh salad com­po­nent.

    Savoy Cab­bage – This attrac­tive cab­bage is round in shape but the leaves are deep green and crin­kled. The fla­vor is mild and earthy. The leaves are ten­der even when eaten raw. Heads should be com­pact and tight and will yield to light pres­sure due to the crin­kled leaves. Soups, sal­ads and stir fry dishes are all good savoy cab­bage methods.
  • Chan­nel surf­ing through the tele­vi­sion cook­ing shows usu­ally yields at least one good prac­ti­cal tip.

    If its not about learn­ing some­thing new, then it def­i­nitely serves up a friendly reminder.

    The use of fresh culi­nary herbs is one such recent prompt. Any recipe really comes alive with the power of fresh herbs.

    How­ever sub­tle or heavy-​handed in use, herbs have the magic to trans­form any appe­tizer, entrée or dessert. Con­sider their astound­ing sen­sory appeal. Visual, taste and smell. Inhale.

    Coin­ci­dence to the tele­vi­sion watch­ing week­end was atten­dance at a din­ner party of a really fan­tas­tic home cook. Full dis­clo­sure, she is an indus­try pro­fes­sional who knows her way around good food, excep­tional restau­rants and many signed cook books.

  • Thanks­giv­ing left­overs are a bet for at least one good sand­wich or warm plate of com­fort post hol­i­day feast.

    If soups, sal­ads and sides don’t lend a cer­tain kitchen inspi­ra­tion to the day after foods, rethink the approach.

    A few sim­ple fresh ingre­di­ents will ignite a spark to the dol­drums of those glass dishes stacked in the fridge.

    Intro­duce gin­ger root, cilantro, edamame and shi­take mush­rooms for a boost of fla­vor to any bowl of Asian noo­dles or rice dish. Spice it up with chili pep­per paste (kochu­jang) or chili pep­per flakes (kochukaru).

    Fresh herbs like basil, mint and Ital­ian pars­ley boost taste buds with a dif­fer­ent take to cold sal­ads. Tar­ragon or baby dill move things in an alto­gether new direc­tion.

    Peas, arti­choke hearts and fen­nel bulbs and fronds add more than just bright green­ery. Allow the dis­tinc­tive tex­tures and extra­or­di­nary fla­vors to sur­prise the palette. It’s not grandma’s turkey salad if wal­nuts, apple chunks and curry pow­der get folded in to the mix.

  • Car­ni­val sea­son always cul­mi­nates on Fat Tues­day, the day before Ash Wednes­day, the first day of Lent.

    Peo­ple lucky enough to visit New Orleans the week lead­ing up to Mardi Gras will enjoy a feast of foods and sig­na­ture bev­er­ages.

    Influ­ence comes largely from Cre­ole and Cajun cuisines. Clas­sic crowd pleasers include gumbo, jam­bal­aya and étouf­fée.

    Loca­tion aside, plan a cel­e­bra­tion dur­ing the days of Car­ni­val. High­light slow cooked, fla­vor rich meals that can feed a large table.

    Build­ing depth in dishes is easy when it comes to mas­ter­ing the all pow­er­ful Miropoix. Three veg­etable basics — car­rots, cel­ery and onions com­prise this start to many fine dishes.
  • Few hum­ble ingre­di­ents pro­vide such com­fort and sus­te­nance as greens and beans.

    By beans, we nat­u­rally mean legumes– that class of veg­eta­bles that include lentils, peas and beans of all types.

    Can­nellini, Ital­ian, chick peas (gar­banzo), black, white, navy, north­ern, lima, fava, Adzuki and but­ter top the list of pow­er­house beans.

    Legumes are typ­i­cally low in fat, con­tain­ing no cho­les­terol, and are high in folate, potas­sium, iron and mag­ne­sium. A good source of pro­tein, legumes can be a healthy alter­na­tive to meat.

    Due to their blend of fiber, pro­tein and nutri­ents, legumes aid in blood sugar reg­u­la­tion more than almost any other food group, a key qual­ity for dia­bet­ics and those con­cerned with main­tain­ing sta­ble insulin response.
  • Every­one loves pie, right? No argu­ment there. The only thing that might come close to sur­pass­ing pie is to have an indi­vid­ual hand pie all to one’s self.

    We’re not talk­ing about those gar­den vari­ety, store bought, waxed paper wrapped, card­board crust, sug­ary coated, fake fill­ing small pies. Nope.

    Instead, the bar is set high for ten­der, flaky pie crusts, ready for portable, lovely cre­ations burst­ing with local ingre­di­ents.

    Crisp, cool evenings war­rant get­ting back into the kitchen with the folks we love to hang out with. Hand pies are the stuff that mem­o­ries are made of when we include friends, fam­ily mem­bers and even cowork­ers if one is so inclined.

    It really doesn’t mat­ter if scratch bak­ing skills are not per­fected. There are plenty of “secret recipes and tips” avail­able to make the process less daunting.
  • “Back to school”. Three words that push fam­i­lies into tem­po­rary mad­ness.

    New back­pack, book and sup­ply pur­chases tax fam­ily bud­gets. Clothes shop­ping adds another bur­den on already stressed out par­ents.

    The last demand for launch­ing kids back to school might be the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant one in terms of A+ per­for­mance.

    Appeal­ing break­fast and lunch meals are impor­tant for get­ting stu­dents on track to a good year of learn­ing. How we approach these meals has a broad range of tac­tics.

    Past gen­er­a­tions of school kids (ages 612) ate what was put in front of them. The “take it or leave it” mes­sage was enforced to the baby boomers.

    Today’s young peo­ple are far more exposed to a vari­ety of foods with vary­ing degrees of nutri­tional value. Many life-​long food habits are formed dur­ing these crit­i­cal years.
  • Nearly six years ago, meal kits com­pa­nies took the food scene by storm in the United States.

    They looked to be the major dis­rup­tors in how peo­ple choose to pro­cure, pre­pare and eat food.

    As Amer­i­can food cul­ture evolves, what we eat, when we eat and how we eat are all open to per­sonal inter­pre­ta­tion.

    The crowded space of meal kit com­pa­nies is fac­ing fierce com­pe­ti­tion as meal sub­scribers are select­ing from vast options for con­ve­nience, value and vari­ety.

    Gro­cery indus­try “brick and mor­tar” spend­ing rep­re­sents about $650 bil­lion, with a “B”, dol­lars in the U.S. The expe­ri­ence of daily pro­vi­sions can be frus­trat­ing at best with lots of energy devoted to meal plan­ning, gro­cery shop­ping and finally preparation.
  • Sum­mer is fad­ing fast. Vaca­tion days in the rear view mir­ror bring a dif­fer­ent focus with some new rou­tines shap­ing our plates. Before com­pletely let­ting go of sum­mer, how about tak­ing one last bite?

    The best of late har­vest sum­mer fruits and veg­eta­bles are ready for the final soirée. Act quickly, as the win­dow is clos­ing on the late bloomers.

    That glo­ri­ous camp includes heir­loom toma­toes, egg­plants (in all shapes, sizes and color), sum­mer and early fall squashes (zuc­chini, eight ball, spaghetti and but­ter­nut), and even some squash blos­soms still on the stem.

    Last of sum­mer basil makes for pesto for pasta, pizza or bruschetta. Use the toma­toes for tomato and herb salad or Cap­rese with a bal­samic driz­zle. Both are fresh, light and the per­fect com­pli­ment to any Sep­tem­ber din­ner party.

    Off the vine pep­per choices, make us dream of sump­tu­ous stuffed bells, chile rel­lenos and roasted Ana­heim, poblano, Hatch and jalapeños. South of the bor­der delec­tables go far beyond salsa. Pep­per pop­pers keep things lively for al fresco appetizers.
  • Zuc­chini and other sum­mer squash vari­eties seem to be every­where. What are we wait­ing for such a squash sur­plus at our fin­ger­tips?

    If pasta noo­dles are on the table at least once a week, this is the best sea­son to go for a light­ened up ver­sion with noo­dles cen­ter­plate.

    Alfredo, mari­nara and pesto clas­sics make for irre­sistible sauces on top of squash noo­dles.

    Grain free squash cut in either wide rib­bons or curly or flat thin noo­dles beckon to kitchen enthu­si­asts to explore all options. A sim­ple dressed up top­per of mint, basil, gar­lic and lemon juice keeps life sim­ple.

    Asian noo­dle bowls are a world apart from Italy. Pad Thai, lo mein, stir fries and broth­ier dishes meant to be slurped give way to robust flavors.
  • Food his­to­ri­ans credit Por­tugese cooks for the tasty spread we’ve come to know as mar­malade.

    Orig­i­nally made of quince (marmelo is the fruit’s Por­tugese name), the sweet/​tart gel like paste is used in desserts, breads and cakes.

    Quince are a rel­a­tively unusual fruit in that they are rarely, if ever, eaten raw. Mak­ing them into a jelly/​preserve/​compote allows them to be savored well past their sea­son.

    In Brazil, most marme­los are boiled, sweet­ened and then reduced to a thick jelly-​like paste called marme­lada.

    Quince are very tart and tan­nic, mak­ing them almost impos­si­ble to eat in their nat­ural state. Dur­ing cook­ing, their tan­nins mel­low and change color, giv­ing cooked quince a lovely pink-​to-​reddish hue.
  • Since Jan­u­ary holds title to National Oat­meal Month, now is the per­fect time to exper­i­ment with this favored morn­ing grain.

    Oats have long been a part of the world’s diet for hun­gry humans and their ani­mal coun­ter­parts.

    The health ben­e­fits of oats are well doc­u­mented. From low­er­ing LDL lev­els (bad cho­les­terol) to weight con­trol and heart wise affects, there are many plus ups to enjoy­ing oats.

    Tra­di­tional think­ing puts a bowl of hot oat­meal smack cen­ter of the break­fast table. Bright “oats ideas” quick to fol­low are oat­meal cook­ies, gra­nola, muffins and breads.

    Before we leave the break­fast table and morn­ing rou­tine, it should be noted that healthy oats are right at home incor­po­rated into soups, pilafs, meat­balls, entrees and desserts.

    Whether one is a Quaker Oats oat­meal eater, or a fan of Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats, there is a place at the table for all Jan­u­ary oats.

    Ardent pro­po­nents have cre­ated cold oats jars that are make ahead ready. These grab and go meals are a time saver for crazy morn­ing rou­tines. These jam jar jew­els boast lay­ers of oats, fresh fruits, chopped nuts, seeds (chia or flax) honey or maple syrup, along with yogurt or almond milk. Oat Cui­sine– Food carts and trendy break­fast spots from coast to coast are rein­vent­ing clas­sic oats.

    Unex­pected ingre­di­ents and cre­ative meth­ods (from brulees to frit­ters) have made oat­meal hip.
  • Pre­sented with any one of many beau­ti­fully grown fresh fruit or veg­etable items, a few quick ques­tions spring to mind.

    How does it taste? What can we make? How do we treat it? How much should we buy?

    It’s amaz­ing how the sight of a fra­grantly ripe melon or aro­matic peach will be per­ceived among any group of indi­vid­u­als. So many choices, all dif­fer­ent, and none of them wrong.

    Slice for the plate or a salad, blend for smoothie, sor­bet or ices, grill for a sum­mer side or bake into a break­fast or dessert treat. Pref­er­ences depend on the mind and heart of the cook.

    Inspi­ra­tion is gen­er­ated from cook­books, fam­ily tra­di­tions, cul­ture, food mag­a­zine arti­cles, and now, the abun­dance of irre­sistible social media posts.
  • Humans have been pick­ling and pre­serv­ing food for nearly 5000 years.

    Queen Cleopa­tra attrib­uted her good health and remark­able looks to her indul­gent diet of pick­les.

    The United States gov­ern­ment rationed pick­les in the 1940’s, dur­ing World War II. Forty per­cent of the nation’s pro­duc­tion went to our armed forces.

    Aunt Bee (the fic­tional tele­vi­sion char­ac­ter of the 1960’s Andy Grif­fith Show) entered her home­made pick­les in a local con­test, cre­at­ing angst in the fam­ily over her “kerosene cucum­bers”.

    Over cen­turies, the love affair for pick­led foods has only grown stronger. Cur­rent pickle trends move well past a cucum­bers only rule. A wave of “DIY” pick­les of fruits and veg­eta­bles in acidic baths or brines keeps us inter­ested.

    Sweet, sour, salty, spicy or hot cre­ative and com­plex com­bi­na­tions make us pickle happy. Cus­tomized blends of vine­gars, salts and spices are the for­mula to win­ning secret recipes.

  • With Spring just a cou­ple of weeks away, the taste for spring veg­eta­bles gets ampli­fied. Work­ing those veg­gies on to the plate is easy when we put them on pizza.

    Aspara­gus, arugula, leeks, arti­choke hearts and mush­rooms are very strong top­ping con­tenders for spring piz­zas pies.

    Other choices may take some finess­ing and more care­ful han­dling. Fen­nel comes to mind. This spring bulb with fronds has the power to intim­i­date.

    Even so, with just the right cheese part­ner and some grilling with onions, this one becomes a win­ner for any Fri­day night.

    Roasted egg­plant is another fan­tas­tic spring pizza top­per. Lay­er­ing the egg­plant slices with loads of roasted gar­lic, feta cheese and pine nuts keeps it true to its Mediter­ranean roots.
  • A sym­bol of pros­per­ity and abun­dance, exquis­ite pome­gran­ates have long been cher­ished for their beauty, ben­e­fits and unique taste.

    The ruby red bulbs are dif­fi­cult to resist as they begin to appear in our fall mar­ket­place.

    In North Amer­ica, pome­gran­ates have tra­di­tion­ally only been avail­able from around Octo­ber through Jan­u­ary.

    Con­sumer demand has called on sup­pli­ers to import fruit from the south­ern hemi­sphere dur­ing the off-​season. This means, pom arils (the edi­ble inter­nal seed) has become a year-​round jewel for sal­ads, dips, baked goods and out of hand eat­ing.

    The delight­ful, sweet-​tart crunchy seeds perk up nearly any plate with their sassy color and burst of tangy juice. This is real party food for adults, turn­ing the ordi­nary in to a fes­tive occasion.

  • Doesn’t it seem like we all know some­one who has recently had or is about to have a surgery of some kind?

    Besides “Get Well” card greet­ings, feel­ing bet­ter and quick recov­ery depends on the right post surgery meals.

    Eat­ing the right foods after surgery can pro­mote faster heal­ing and min­i­mize the swelling, bruis­ing and the inflam­ma­tion that often accom­pany any type of sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure.

    Cer­tain foods can also min­i­mize diges­tive upset caused by antibi­otics and pre­vent con­sti­pa­tion caused by pain med­i­cines. Prop­erly fuel­ing the body sup­plies the energy needed to get back to nor­mal rou­tines.

    Whole, unprocessed foods are the best way to approach post op meals. Lean pro­teins, fiber filled foods and fer­mented dairy (pro­bi­otics) assist in get­ting things on track diges­tively and heal­ing wise.