Thursday, April 24, 2014

Olives, olives, and more olives!

You know a food has a deep history when it is steep in mythology. So it is with the olive. It is said that Athena, daughter of Zeus and Goddess of Wisdom, made a gift of the olive tree to the Greeks. Athena planted the tree on a rocky hill that is now called Acropolis. It is believed that the tree that grows there now comes from the roots of the original tree. 

The olive branch is a well known symbol of peace and is often seen in conjunction with the dove; hence the expression, "extending the olive branch."

Extending the olive branch

The unassuming olive tree may not impress anyone at first glance. It is small in stature and fairly nondescript. However, look closer and you will see a tree that can endure longer than most other trees. Some trees have lasted for hundreds of years and continue to bear fruit.  

Olive Tree
So sturdy is olive wood that is prized for its beauty and demands a hefty price from the buyer. 
Olive wood bowl with lid

Most of the olives we eat, those considered "table olives," are grown in Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and California.

Olives can't be eaten straight from the tree.  They are inherently bitter.  Table olives are all cured in some way, either using lye or brine or salt packing.  The process of curing takes the bitterness away and, depending on the type of olive, gives a unique olive flavor. Fermentation occurs during the curing process.

Enough cannot be said about the big nutrition packed in the tiny olive. They have a high level of monounsaturated fat, which is directly associated to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering the blood cholesterol (LDL). Research also indicates that olives and olive oils can help decrease blood pressure by actually changing the signal patterns of cell membrane. Most notable is the diverse range of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients unique to olives themselves. It is no surprise to find out that olives and olive leaves have been used in traditional herbal medicine to treat inflammatory problems, including allergies. Olive extracts have been shown to work as anti-histamines at the cellular level.

Here's a breakdown of the types of olives from throughout the world:

manzanilla: Spanish green olive, available unpitted and/or stuffed, lightly lye-cured then packed in salt and lactic acid brine.

picholine: French green olive, salt-brine cured, with subtle, lightly salty flavor, sometimes packed with citric acid as a preservative in the U.S.

kalamata: Greek black olive, harvested fully ripe, deep purple, almond-shaped, brine-cured, rich and fruity flavor

niçoise: French black olive, harvested fully ripe, small in size, rich, nutty, mellow flavor, high pit-to-meat ratio, often packed with herbs and stems intact

liguria: Italian black olive, salt-brine cured, with a vibrant flavor, sometimes packed with stems

ponentine: Italian black olive, salt-brine cured then packed in vinegar, mild in flavor

gaeta: Italian black olive, dry-salt cured, then rubbed with oil, wrinkled in appearance, mild flavor, often packed with rosemary and other herbs

lugano: Italian black olive, usually very salty, sometimes packed with olive leaves, popular at tastings

sevillano: Californian, salt-brine cured and preserved with lactic acid, very crisp.

Now that we have some sense of the part olives play in our history, let's consider how to make them a part of our culinary experience.  I'm sure we've all tasted olives stuffed with pimentos, and we've likely had a pizza with canned black olives at one time or another. We've all spied with our little eye those olives on the buffet table or salad bar.

Instead of the typical use of olives as an appetizer or a salty addition to our salad, we have decided to talk about tapenades today.  But first we need to know what a tapenade is and where it come from.  

The official definition of tapenade is, a Provençal paste or dip, made from black olives, capers, and anchovies.  Provencal means coming from Provence in South-eastern France.  

In today's culinary world, tapenades can be made with a variety of olives, combining ripe with green.  Tapenades are a salty, briny additional to any number of dishes from sandwiches, to a stuffing with goat cheese in cherry tomatoes, to a garnish on a cream of potato soup.

So let's get started on our tapenade.

Here's what you need:
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup pitted olive (I like to use a variety of different kind.  Use quality olives)
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Here's what you need to do
Place the garlic cloves into a blender or food processor; pulse to mince. Add the olives, capers, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil Blend until everything is finely chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

***Note: if you like you can easily add anchovies to the recipes.  Add to taste.

Have fun tapanading out there!!!

Now go out and make something good.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nuts, nuts, and more nuts....but no peanuts!

It is a misstatement to call a peanut a nut. In fact the ever popular peanut, because they don't grow on trees, fall in the category of legumes, like peas and beans. Legumes are edible seeds that grow in pods.

On the other hand, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamias, pine nuts, almonds, etc. are considered tree nuts. Simply put, nuts are nuts because they grow on trees.

a variety of nuts
Nuts may be small in size, but they have a lengthy and powerful history to them.  There is archeological evidence from Israel that shows nuts to be a major part of the human diet dating back 780,000 years ago. Tools for cracking open the nuts along with remains of wild almonds, pistachios and water chestnuts were found. The tools were similar to stone tools called "nutting" stones found in the United States and Europe dating back 4,000 - 8,000 years ago. The oldest walnut remains were discovered in Iraq and are believed to be from 50,000 B.C.

Early Native Americans would place a nut in the depression of a stone, hit the nut with another stone, called a hammer stone, and then enjoy the meat of the nut. The nuts would also be ground down with a mortar and pestle to make flour or nut butter. The nuts were often cooked to make a broth, which was cooled and the congealed fat was taken off and used for later cooking. Nothing went to waste. The nut shells were used to fuel fire for cooking.

nutting stone
As a historical powerhouse, nuts also claim a large place in the world of nutrition because they are "nutrient-dense."  They contain complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  Nuts have trace minerals like magnesium, zinc, selenium and copper. Going even further, nuts (and seeds) have been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease.  Each type of nut holds it's own particular properties.  For more information on the nut(s) you prefer, here's a site that might be useful.

Here are some interesting fact about some of the nuts we are familiar with:

Walnuts were considered food of the Gods by the Greeks and Romans. They were ground to flour and used as a thickening agent, much like we use corn starch today. They were also used for oil and as a trading commodity. English ships throughout the Mediterranean carried walnuts to use in trade. This is where the name "English Walnut" began.

Pecan remains were found in an excavation in Texas dating back to 6100 B.C. The pecan is native only to North American and was found near river beds and was a food staple to natives. Early settlers understood the importance of pecans in their diet as well.

Macadamia nuts are often associated with Hawaii. However, they actually originated in Australia and were brought to Hawaii in the late 19th century. Today much of the world's supply of this delicate nut is grown on the islands.

Macadamia nuts
Almonds are believed to be one the first foods to be cultivated. Evidence of almonds has been found in Cyprus and Greece. The almond is native to the Middle East and Southern Asia.

Hazelnuts are also known as Filberts, Cobb nut or Spanish Nut.  Documentation found in China dating back to the year 2838 B.C. puts hazelnuts among the five sacred nourishments God bestowed on human beings.

Cashews are native to Brazil, but have been widely cultivated in India and Africa since the 16th century. Cashews always come to us shelled because there is a caustic oil that lay between the outer and inner shells of the nut. The outer layer and oil are burned off. Then the nut is roasted to remove the inner shell.

But let's not overlook all the other nut possibilities.  There are coconuts, pine nuts, pistachios, chestnuts...find out more about the variety of nuts here.

Okay, now that we can distinguish between legumes and nuts, let's talk about what we can do with nuts. Let's see, we can make oil, like walnut oil, macadamia oil, hazelnut oil, etc. It has become clear that there are alternatives to corn or vegetable oil.

We can also make butter out of nuts. So move over peanut butter (not really, because we really like peanut butter).  We are here to add another butter to the "what should we spread on our bread" question.  So this week's 2 Prickly Pear recipe is....

wait for it......

wait for it.....

We're making Almond Cashew Butter!!!  Hurray!  Huzzah!  YUMMY!!!

Cashew and Almond Nut Butter

Here's what you need:
1 cup roasted/salted cashews (can use unsalted if you like)***
1 cup roasted/salted almonds (can use unsalted if you like)***
Olive oil only if needed
Salt to taste (optional)

Here's what you need to do:

Put nuts in food processor.  Process nuts until they turn into butter.  This takes approximately 3-5 minutes.  Be patient when deciding if you need additional oil.  All nuts have oil in them but some have more than others.  The nuts will first become a powder, then it will look like a dough is forming, and finally they break down to a butter consistency.  At first it doesn't look like it will happen, but it will.  If you like a crunchy butter, you can add additional nuts at the end and process until it is the consistency you like.

***You can make butter out of any combination of nuts you like or just use your favorite nut all by itself.  You can also add flavorings if you like.  Honey is a good idea or maple syrup or anything you like.

There you have it!  Your own nut butter without all the stuff you don't like from process/store bought.  And it's easy!

Now, go out and make something good. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Milanese, named for the city of Milan, Italy

Have you ever been to Italy, more specifically Milan, Italy? Milan is located in northern Italy 

Add caption
We haven't been to Milan, but we do know about cooking in the style of Milan.  It is known as Milanese. In Italian this is called cotoletta alla milanese which is named after the city of Milan. 
cotoletta alla milanese
In Portugual, this dish includes beef, and is called bife a milanesa
bife a milanesa
In Austria a similar dish made with pork is called wiener schnitzel.  A specialty of Pam's (Prickly Pear 2)
wiener schnitzel
In Argentina, Spain, Paraguay, and Uruguay milanesa is served with fried or mashed potatoes. This is called milanesa con papas fritas.
milanesa con papas fritas
In Chile, milanese is served with melted cheese between a layer of beef and ham which is called escapola

In Mexico and the southern United States, milanese is eaten often in a torta (sandwich style). This sandwich is made with thick fried tortilla and is called milanesa memela napolitana. In Nuevo Leon, in North Eastern Mexico, it is usually served with french fires, refried beans, rice and lettuce salad. 

milanesa memela napolitana

And in the childhood home the 2 Prickly Pears often ate pork chops breaded from crushed saltine crackers and fried in butter. We didn't have a fancy name for them. We simply called them breaded pork chop. We surely didn't know we were cooking in the style of Milan! We can still smell them cooking!!

breaded pork chops
Milanese basically means cooking with butter instead of cooking oil. The use of butter adds a distinctive flavor to the cuisine; namely, a richness. When uses this culinary style, it is implied that the main ingredient is coated or dipped in eggs and breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese and then sautéed in butter. Major ingredient in this cuisine is fish, but veal, chicken, and sometimes pork are also common for an entrée.

Now it's time to get cooking.  Today's Recipe is Fish alla Milanese.  This is an easy, extremely tasty way to make lovely fish.  Find a good, firm white fish, like cod or haddock.  Catfish works well, if it is very fresh.  That's our fish for today.

Fish alla Milanese with Lemon Butter Sauce

What you need for the Lemon Butter Sauce:
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon minced shallots
2 Tablespoons white wine
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 lb cold butter cut in 1/4 inch pieces
1 pinch of salt

What you need to do:
Add garlic, shallots, wine and lemon juice to small pan.  Cook over medium heat until mixture is reduced by half.  Turn burner on low and slowly add butter, whisking continuously until all butter is melted.  Strain mixture.  Pour in small bowls for serving or pour directly over your fish.

What you need for the Milanese:
1 lb fish filet 
2 eggs whisked
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon organic seasoning salt.
4-6 Tablespoons butter

What you need to do:
Cut the fish filet in serving size pieces, if needed.  Whisk eggs in first bowl. Put flour in second bowl. Mix bread crumbs and seasoning salt in third bowl.  First dredge your filets in the flour, then coat with egg.  Make sure the entire filet is coated with egg.  Then dredge filet in bread crumbs.  Press the bread crumbs on each filet coating complete.

Melt butter in saute pan over medium heat.  Make sure the butter only melts, but doesn't turn brown.  Check heat as necessary.  Place coated fish filets in pan and brown both sides.  remember to make sure your heat is only hot enough to brown the filets.  Fish is done when it is flaky. Place filets on wrack or paper toweling to drain.

Place fish on serving plate and pour the lemon butter sauce on each piece.  If you prefer, serve the sauce in small bowls and your guests can take as much or as little as they like.

Any one can cook the style of Milan, Italy.  Pick the kind of entre you like and go for it.  It is not difficult and well worth trusting this method of cooking.

Now go out and make something good!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

You Say Potato, We say Latkes!!

Potatoes are such a versatile and delicious food. We would like to talk about them today because they are the basis of Latkes. don't know about latkes?! Well, then you came to the right place.

Latkes are potato pancakes. The history of latkes is very interesting. It turns out that this traditional Jewish dish is often served during Hanukkah, which is the eight day festival of light. According to the Hanukkah story, the Jewish Temple was seized by the Syrian-Greeks in 168 B.C.E. The temple was then dedicated to the worship of Zeus. Eventually through revolt the Jews regained control of the temple. In order to rededicate the temple to God, they had to light the Temple's menorah for eight days. Unfortunately, they discovered that they only had one day's worth of oil. They lit the menorah and to their happy surprise the oil lasted the full eight days. To commemorate this miracle, each year Jews light the Hanukkah menorahs and eat fried food such as latkes. 

Jewish folk lore says that latkes serve another purpose. It is to teach that we cannot live by miracles alone. Miracles are wonderful things, but we cannot wait for miracles to happen. We have to work towards our goals and feed our bodies and nourish our souls to have fulfilling lives.

Because potatoes are actually a New World food and weren't really around in ancient times, it is believed that latkes were made from grated cheese and egg, and then fried. The use of potatoes in latkes became popularity in Eastern Europe during the mid 1800's. Because of crop failures in Poland and the Ukraine, potatoes were planted because they were cheap and easy to grow. While there are those who honor the ancient tradition, one can find potato latkes in restaurants and deli's everywhere these days. One cannot discount the rich heritage of the humble potato and the delicious latkes that come from recipes that are over 100 years old.

The name latke is of Yiddish origin and may be from Germany or Russia. As Jews immigrated to the United States, lucky for us, so did the tradition of preparing potato latkes.

Russet Potatoes
Typically, latkes are made with grated raw potatoes, eggs, flour or bread crumbs and salt. Sometimes a bit of onion is added. While people are loyal to their favorite potato, in making latkes russets are often used  because they have a high starch content. The mixture is allowed to sit for a while so all the starch and egg can bind everything together. Once ready for frying, the batter is shaped into small patties. The patties are fried in hot oil until they are golden brown on each side. They can be drained on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Latke's are best served hot with applesauce and sour cream.....YUMMY!!!!

Although tradition runs deep in latke preparations, all recipes of any food run the risk of innovation. New recipes for latkes include grated carrots, zucchini, ginger, sweet or savory spices.

Lest you think the idea of potatoes in pancakes is dedicated solely to only one culture, we are here to give you the scoop on similar dishes from other cultures.

To the north-east of England (County Durham) , there is a popular food called tattie fish. It doesn't have fish in it at all. It is a pancake that is deep fried and resembles a fried piece of fish. It consists of shredded potato, flour, eggs, and onions. Sometimes tomato or cheese is added.
Tattie Fish
Boxty is a popular dish from Ireland.  It is similar to latkes, but uses more starch in the batter.

The Swedes have what is called raggmunk. These have wheat flour, milk, egg and shredded potatoes fried like pancakes. The word "ragg" means crispy and "munk" translates as donutpan. Raggmunks are enjoyed with lingonberry jam.

Raggmunk with Lingonberry Jam
Czech potato pancakes are call bramborak and are made from grated potatoes with egg, breadcrumbs or flour, seasoning of garlic, salt, pepper, marjoram and sometimes ground caraway seeds.

Clearly the potato finds an honored place on tables all around the world.  Our recipe today is for the classic potato latke served in the Hanukkah tradition.

Okay, enough chit chat.  Let's get to making Latkes.

Latkes with Applesauce and Creme Fraiche

Here's what you need:
2 lbs russet potatoes*
1/2 cup chopped onion**
1/3 - 1/2 cup flour or bread crumbs ***
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
Grape Seed Oil for frying

Here's what you need to do:
Peel potatoes.  Using a food processor or a hand grater, grate potatoes.  Put them in cold water so they don't discolor.  When all ingredients are ready to mix, drain grated potatoes. Get as much water out of them as possible.  It is easiest to use a cheese cloth or just squeeze them out by hand.

Mix all ingredients together.  Let the mixture set for about 15 minutes.  (*** you may need more or less flour depending on how the batter holds together.)  Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in frying pan.  Measure out about 2 Tablespoons of batter for each latke.  Place batter in pan to form a pancake.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  Fry each pancake until brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Drain latkes on paper towel or rack to drain excess oil. Serve immediately.  (Latkes loose their crunch when cool.)  

Serve with applesauce and sour cream or creme fraiche.

*You can use left over mashed potatoes, too.
**If you like chives, they can be used in the place of chopped onion.

Latkes are meant to be enjoyed by all lovers of potatoes.  So give them a try.  Stick with the traditional recipe or jazz it up your way.  They are easy and very tasty.

Now go out and make something good.