Thursday, September 18, 2014

One Potato, Two Potato...

The humble and often taken for granted potato....most of us don'teven wonder about the part potatoes have played in history. It is too easy to think of the spud as an unattractive tuber. But let's face it, without potatoes we would have anything to twice bake, or scallop, or mash, bake, or....okay, that's an overstatement.  But the truth of the matter is that the potato not only makes great fries, it really heralded in the beginning of the what we would consider modern agriculture.  And no, we are not overstating there.

Coming in fourth just behind rice, wheat and maize (corn), potatoes rank as a major world crop.  It quietly grows in all areas of the world, but it was the Spanish is 1536 that came across them in Peru.  Spain invaded Peru looking for gold.  What they found instead was potatoes.  After conquering that country, the potato founds it's way to Europe.  And before the end of the 16th century Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland.  It took four decades for the potato to find it's way over the rest of Europe.  Over time it became evident that growing potatoes was easier than other staple crops, like wheat and oats.  But beyond that, and even more importantly, the nutritional value of potatoes was unmatched. Also notable is the fact that each acre of cultivated land could feed 10 people.

Legend has it that Raleigh made a gift of potato plants to Queen Elizabeth I.  Unfortunately, the cooks of the time did not know what to do with the plants or the potatoes.  So they threw out the tubors and cooked up the leaves and stems.  That was a problem because potato plants fall into the nightshade group.  When the Queen's guests ate the plants they became deathly ill.  From that day, potatoes were band from court and the cook was fired.  

The heroic potato was not to be denied it's place.  They came to North America in 1621, when two large chests containing potatoes and other vegetables were sent to the Governor of Virginia at Jamestown.  From there the first potato patches were established in 1719.  We can thank the Scotch-Irish immigrants for the potato becoming a staple crop and eventually altering agriculture as it was known.  

While Idaho is the largest producer of potatoes in the US, it wasn't until 1836 that missionaries moved west in an effort to teach native tribes to grow crops instead of relying on hunting and gathering.  In 1872, the Russet Burbank variety of potato was developed and Idaho flourished as the potato state.

Back in Europe in the 1800's the Irish working class lived largely dependent on potatoes. When the potato famine hit in the 1840's, many families where poverty-stricken and were forced to immigrate out of Ireland.  The famine meant the death of one million people who died of starvation or decease.  Another one million people left Ireland for Canada or the US. Even today, Ireland has not recovered it's population due to the potato famine.  It was a devastating event in that countries history.  

Over time, the blight of the potato plants was contained and remedied.  And today, potatoes have a notable and important place in our culinary experience.  In case you were wondering just how big a place that is, here are some statistics about potatoes grown around the world.  (Remember, a metric ton is 2204.62 lbs)

Top Potato Producers
in 2011
(million metric tons)
 People's Republic of China88.4
 United States19.4
World Total374.4

And if you need still more persuasion of the power of the spud, then here's some nutritional facts.  In one medium sized potato, with skin, there is:
  • Potassium, 620 milligrams or 18% of the recommended daily value (DV).  Potatoes rank highest for potassium of the 20 most frequently consumed foods.
  • Vitamin C, 45% of DV, which out ranks tomatoes and sweet potatoes.
  • Fiber, 2 grams or 8T of the DV per serving.
  • B6, 10% of the DV per serving.
  • Iron, 6% of DV.  
Now, if you still don't believe in the importance of the potato in our culture, then I give Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.  These two are an icon for children and adults, alike.  And in case you are not up on your Mr. Potato Head history, The Mr. Potato Head doll was born in 1952. Does anyone remember the original toy?  It had parts that you stuck right on a real potato!

The original Mr. Potato Head

In 1953, Mrs. Potato head was introduced.  And According to Playskool, Inc., the two honeymooned in Boise, Idaho and have 12 children. In 1987, Mr. Potato Head gave up his pipe to set a good example for children.

And, finally, as our last bit of proof that potatoes matter in the food supply, you should know that Americans consume about 140 pounds of potatoes per person per year!  If you are impressed with that, you'll be interested in knowing that Europeans beat that by about twice as much!!

So whether you are french frying them, mashing them, baking them with a dollop of sour cream, scalloping them, au gratening them, serving them boiled with butter and salt and pepper, the potato holds its value as a commodity known around the world and is an easy dish to present to everyone.

Today we offer you a slow cooker version of Hasselback potatoes.  These potatoes are great for the busy family who can set up the slow cooker and come home to a great potato dish.

Nicki's Hasselback Potatoes in the Crockpot!

What you need:

3 large potatoes
Olive Oil
3 cloves a garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons Butter
4 slices of Bacon diced and fried
1 cup shredded cheese
Salt and Pepper

What you need to do:

Scrub your potatoes very well.  Take two chop sticks and place a potato between them.  Cut your potato in 1/4 inch slices without slicing all the way through.  See below:

Line aluminum foil inside your slow cooker and place your sliced potatoes inside.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  See below:

Set your slow cooker on high and leave it for four hours.  In the meantime, melt butter and add minced garlic.  Saute garlic in butter for a few minutes.  When you can pierce the potato with a knife easily, turn the slow cooker on low.  Pour the garlic butter over the potatoes, along with the bacon and shredded cheese.  Allow to cook for another 30 minutes.

If you want a crispy Hasselback potato, place the potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, turn the oven off and sprinkle your potatoes with the garlic butter, bacon and cheese.  Put back in oven for 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Time to enjoy!!!

There are countless recipes for potatoes and you don't have to look very far to find them.  Here's just one of many sites that might be helpful.

Now go out and make something good!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who made the salad?

I challenge anyone to say they don’t like some kind of salad. But who decided a salad should be a salad.  And when did a lettuce salad turn into other variety of salads.

Like so many of our topics it is hard to pin point the origin but like many times we can date it back to the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.  We know the ancient Egyptians ate fresh vegetable so it makes sense they ate some sort of veggie salad.  Greek doctors believed lettuce had healing properties so… Greek Salad!  Romans believed salads to have therapeutic value.

Of course the Italians took salad to a new level.  Commonly call Antipasto which means "before the meal".  As with many Italian dishes the presentation of a salad is important. Antipasto, if done right will invoke a relaxing atmosphere with good conversation and a glass of wine to make it complete.  Well who doesn't like that? It is best to keep the selection on the plate simple, but it can be difficult when you choices are artichoke hearts, tomatoes, variety of cheeses in the world to select from, deli meats, olives, breads…oh my, the options are endless.  But try to keep the selections to about 3 or 4.  Remember it is meant to be a small delight before the main course.

As explorers discovered new lands, new vegetables found themselves in a variety of new salads.  In time certain areas became known for a salad created in their culture.

Italy – Caesar Salad

Greece – Greek Salad

Rome – Columella Salad

Egypt – Cucumber salad

However, it wasn't until the the 19th century when the United States popularized salads and salad dressings.  In 1976 the term “salad bar” came into existence and by the second half of the 20th century many countries sold salads in the grocery store and fast food restaurants along with many restaurants having a salad bar.

Some of the most common salads are green salad, which is also called a garden salad made up with a variety of green leafy lettuce. Many times eaten when someone is on a “diet” because of its low calorie count.

Vegetable salad which is made with a variety of veggies but excludes lettuce.  Many times it includes a meat of some sort and cheeses.  Caprese salad, seven layered salad

Bound salads are salads that contain a thick dressing to hold them together.  A common sauce contains mayonnaise.  The most common bound salad is a potato salad. But a few others are pasta, chicken, egg and tuna.  Many times these salads can be used in a sandwich….MMMM, chicken salad sandwich! Ham salad, Waldorf salad

Main Course Salads are also known as “Entré Salads.  These are their own meal which normally contains a protein such as fish, beef or the ever popular chicken.  The meat can be fired, grilled ir deep fried and served on the salad hot or cold.  Greek Salad, Caesar Salad, Chef Salad,  Cobb Salad,  Taco Salad are examples.

Fruit salad  are self explanatory, but remember tomatoes are a fruit so you are already creating a fruit salad when you are making your veggie, green or main salad.  Keep your fruit salads fun and add veggies in with it.  But who doesn’t like a good melon salad when melons come into season?  So refreshing to have one with a great BBQ.

Dessert salads normally do not contain leafy green and are typically sweet in nature.   If you have fruit, jello, whipping cream and marshmallows you have the makings of a fruit salad.  Some common ones are ambrosia, snickers, fruit triffle, cranberry, strawberry pretzel,

If that wasn’t enough to pick from, here are more options for you.
Bean salad
Broccoli slaw
Candle salad
Chinese chicken salad
Congealed salad
Cookie salad
Crab Louie salad
Çoban salatası (Turkish Salad)
Dressed herring
Eggplant salad
Gỏi ngó sen - a Vietnamese salad
Israeli salad
Macaroni salad
Niçoise salad
Salad Olivier
Shopska salad
Somen salad
Som tam
Thai salads
Watergate salad

So today we invite you to make salad.  Our recipe is for Thai Salad.

Thai Salad
This time we are going to do the recipe a little different.   I think everyone knows what to put in a salad.  It really comes down to what you like in them, which is what I did with this one.  The big difference with this salad is to use a few certain ingredients...
Kale - chopped in to small pieces
Cashews - Chopped in to smaller pieces
Sesame Seeds sprinkled on the stop.

After that you can go crazy with whatever veggies you like.
Green Onions
Red Onions

But here is the trick.  If you are like me, you hate a salad that has been sitting in dressing and it become wilted.  Ish!   I always plate my salads by layering the ingredients one at a time so everyone gets all the ingredients.  It always makes me sad when the salad bowl reaches me and I get the last piece of lettuce no one wanted with  a lonely tomato.  I'm already for a great tasting salad and it is just me and a piece of lettuce sitting in the corner!

Salad Dressing
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
3 Garlic Cloves
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Water
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Honey
2-3 Tablespoons Duck Sauce

Place all ingredient in a food processor and mix until blended.   After I plate the salad that's when I put the dressing on the individual salads or serve in a small bowl on the side.

So there you have it.  Salad!   I know you like one of them on the list!

Now, go out and make something!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Everybody say CHEESE! Part 2 of 2

So, do you like your cheese sharp and smelly? Or do you like your cheese smooth and mild? Or maybe your tastes lie somewhere in the middle? Maybe you like blue or white or orange.

If you have a taste for cheese, there is a cheese to match your taste! Today we will look at the large variety of taste possibilities when it comes to cheese. So let's get started.

Let's face it, there are not too many foods that can smell like old gym socks and get away with it. But cheese is one of those foods. In fact, for some the smellier the better. Here are a few of the strongest smelling and tasting cheese in the world:
  • Pont l'Eveque is a French delicacy, very tasty and possibly one of the smelliest. It dates back to the 13th Century. This isn't the type of cheese you leave unwrapped in the refrigerator.
  • Camembert de Normandy is a soft cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk. After maturing for weeks, it is normally eaten with a spoon. This seriously smelly cheese is loved the world over.
  • Epoisees is so smelly it has been banned on public transit all over France. It is understood that if this cheese starts to smell too strong, like someone who hasn't showered in a month, you should throw it away because it is no longer edible.
  • Stinking Bishop come from Britain. Originally made by monks, the smell of this cheese is in the rind. Once removed a soft delicious cheese is revealed and enjoyed.
  • Roquefort is one of the most revered of the smelly cheeses. It is from raw sheep's milk and matured in caves. It is known as the "king" of cheeses.
  • Limburger is a German contribution to our list and is often considered the most popular of the smelly cheeses. This German delicacy is quite tasty, if you can manage to get past the smell.
  • Blue Stilton is known by some as the "King of English cheeses." The older this cheese matures the softer and smellier it becomes. This is the cheese for you if you subscribe to "the smellier, the better" approach to cheese.
Blue Stilton Cheese
At the risk of being indelicate, these cheese are likely where the expression "who cut the cheese" came from.  

For those of you who prefer not to have your nose completely offended, we offer you other options.  Namely, those cheese that are mild in taste and smell.

Brie Cheese

  • Brie is a creamy, soft and mild flavored cheese.  It has a very short aging time, less than a month.  Served at room temperature or baked it is eaten on crackers or bread.
  • Mozzarella is a very traditional cheese for cooking because it melts easily with a soft texture. Be sure to use fresh mozzarella on your pizza as it makes all the difference.
  • Bel Paese is a semi-soft cheese with a mild flavor and can be used as a substitute for mozzarella.
  • Havarti is a semi-soft cheese from Denmark and is made from cow's milk.  It has mild and buttery taste and can be found in flavors that include herbs and garlic.
  • Queso Fresco is a white mild cheese from Mexico by way of Spanish influence.  It has a crumbly texture and is commonly used in taquitos and enchiladas.
  • Meunster is a semi-soft cheese from the US, with a mild to pungent taste depending on how long it is aged.  It is a good melting cheese and is popular in grilled cheese and cheeseburgers.  It is distinguished by it's orange colored rind.
Please don't consider these mild cheese as wimpy in comparison to the previously mentioned smelly cheeses.  Their more delicate tastes are wonderfully paired with fruit and wines and provide a luscious cheese experience.

You might be wondering how it is that some cheese is hard and other are soft.  We wondered that, too.  Simply put, soft cheese is unripened cheese made from milk proteins and acids (like lemon juice).  Really soft cheeses include cream cheese, cottage cheese, and ricotta. Semi-soft cheeses include include mozzarella, gouda, Monterey jack.

Fresh Mozzarella
Hard cheeses have been ripened, or aged, made from milk protein with enzymes called rennet and culture acids.  It is also true that aging depletes the moisture in cheese leaving it harder.  These cheeses are ripened by bacteria or mold.  Hard cheeses include parmesan, romano, and asiago.  Semi-hard cheeses include swiss, colby, and cheddar.

And if you are interested in cheeses that have an extra little something to them, many of the semi-soft and semi-hard cheeses give you so many more options.  For example, some of the best cheese tastes are those that are smoked.  Gouda, provolone,and mozzarella are wonderful examples.  Be careful though, because sometimes cheaper cheeses are given a simple artificial smoked flavor additive.  Make sure you are getting a quality cheese and you won't be disappointed.

Smoked Gouda
Besides smoked cheese there are an endless supply of cheeses that have great herbs and spices added to them before the aging process begins.  Maybe the most common is Pepper Jack cheese.  It has an added dose of jalapeno peppers that give it an extra kick.  It is great for melting on your burger or for adding to your Chili Con Queso.  More about that later.

Pepper Jack Cheese
We've all heard of blue cheese.  This cheese is made from either cow, sheep, or goat's milk. It is aged with cultures of the mold Penicillium.  It has the characteristic blue, green or black veins of of mold throughout.  As with so many things there is a legendary story behind the first blue cheese.  It is believed that a drunken cheese maker left behind a half-eaten loaf of bread in a moist cheese cave.  When he came back, he discovered that the mold covered the bread and changed it into blue cheese.  Whether accurate or not, the story of cheeses being aged in damp caves is accurate.  Such an environment is a happy home for molds that are not harmful to consume.  So if you are a blue cheese love, then we are happy for the mold that not only makes cheese blue, but also contributed to what we all know as penicillin.

Blue cheese
As with all things food related, we could go on for many pages of days about food.  There is so much to know and so many cheeses to taste.  You would be hard pressed to find a city or town that doesn't have some sort of cheese shop.  Go there and sample something new and different.  You may like it or you may love it, or you may love it, or maybe it won't be your cup of tea.  Either way, there are too many cheeses out there that are waiting for you.  Find a few that you like and serve them up with some lovely pears or grapes.  Open a bottle of wine and break some crusty bread and enjoy one of the most delightful culinary moments.  In case you want a bit more information about selecting cheese, here's a helpful link from The American Cheese Society.

We leave you today and your adventures in cheese with a recipe for Chili Con Queso.  This is a cheese dip that is smooth and filled with mild green chilies.  If you like to jazz this recipe up for your personal tastes, feel free to add some jalapeno peppers, or habenaro  peppers to give it a little more heat. 

Green Chili and Garlic Con Queso

Here's what you need:
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can green chili's drained
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 ounces cream cheese
1 cup Mexican cheese blend (or any sort of cheese you like)

Here's what you need to do:
Melt butter in sauce pan.   Add chopped onions and minced garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent.  Do not brown.  Add chili's and saute for another minute.  Add flour and mix thoroughly.  Add milk and stir until mixture thickens.  If it gets too thick, add a bit more milk.  Do not let mixture boil.  Add cream cheese and stir until cheese is melted and mixture is creamy.  Take pan off heat and stir in cheese.  Stir until all the cheese is melted.  Pour in a serving bowl and serve with tortilla chips.

It's time to be daring and taste cheeses that are new to you.  Mix and match.  Combine different flavors and find the one(s) you like best.  And most of all, ENJOY!

Now go out and make something good.....with CHEESE!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Everybody say CHEESE! Part 1 of 2

No one really can say definitively when the first cheese was made, or by whom.  But we really like the story that is widely accepted, albeit legend.  It goes like this:  It seems that cheese came about quite by accident, which is likely, because many foods we eat were stumbled upon due to a mistake or odd circumstance.  Thousands of years ago, milk was stored in bladders that were actually stomachs of animals.  The enzyme, called rennet, which is used to make cheese, can be found in these bladders naturally.  Legend has it that an Arabian fellow put his milk in such a bladder and made his way across the dessert.  What with the heat, combined with the rennet, the milk did what milk does, namely separate into curds and whey.  Remember Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey?Likely Miss Muffet was eating something similar to cottage cheese.  In the case of our intrepid Arabian traveler, what he found in place of his milk was curd which he eat, and whey which he drank.  And so the story goes.

It is believed that travelers from Asia brought the art of cheese making to Europe.  At the height of the Roman Empire, one could, no doubt, find cheese on the table.  The Romans introduced cheese to England.  During the middle ages, cheese was made, and made better, by monks in Europe. Italy became the cheese making center of Europe during the 10th century.  Cheeses like Gorgonzola and Roquefort found their beginnings there.

Interestingly enough, while cheese was popular all over Europe and the Middle East, the Americas didn't get wind of it until European immigrants brought it with them. Prior to any large scale production of cheese, it was mostly a cottage industry, in homes and on farms. When the Puritans came over in the 17th century, they were made up of dairy farmers.  Their knowledge of cheese making became part of the fabric of the new colonies. The making of cheese was no small task and it was largely managed by the women.  Puritan women were the artisans and until the 19th century cheese making was entirely done on farms in New England and along the east coast.

Pioneering Women of Maine
We want to salute the women on the dairy farms.  From milking the cows, hauling the milk, churning the butter and processing the cheese, pioneering women were the corner stone to what we consider the cheese industry.  This work was vital because in the early years of the colonies, milk had to be consumed fairly quickly.  The cream was skimmed off and made into butter.  (By the way, skimming the cream is where "skim milk" comes from.) The rest of the milk was used for drinking and cheese making.   We are grateful for the hard work this must have been for these women and their valuable contribution.  

Wisconsin Woman and her cows
No doubt, you have heard the expression "cheese head," and how it relates to Green Bay Packer fans.  If you haven't, we're not sure where you've been.  (For your information, both Prickly Pears are born and raised cheese heads.)  So what does that have to do with today's subject?  Well, it turns out that before Wisconsin was known as the dairy state, new farmers to the land tried a number of different crops, including wheat.  In short order, it became clear that the crops didn't work, and, in fact, caused long-lasting erosion of the soil.  With that, grazing animals became part of the Wisconsin landscape.  The land was used as pastures to raise cows.  Just as an aside, even today in some parts of Wisconsin, there are more dairy cows than there are people.

Wisconsin Cheese Heads
While Wisconsin is truly the dairy state, the first cheese factory was built in 1851 in Oneida County, New York.  But staking claim to cheese making for Wisconsin wasn't difficult because the population of the United States grew dramatically in the mid to  late 1800's.  As the population grew so did the demand for cheese.  As pioneers moved west, they found the rich land of Southern Wisconsin.  In 1845, Swiss settlers came to Green County, Wisconsin and started making the cheeses of their homeland.  And in 1868, the first Limburger plant was opened.

Remember we mentioned rennet earlier?  It is the culture needed to change milk into cheese.  In the 1860's, due to the high demand for cheese, rennet became mass-produced. This ensured standardization of cheese and also made it available to poorer classes to enjoy. Factory made cheese took over the traditional cheese making during World War II and, consequently, factories soon became the source of cheese for the consumer.  With such automation it became more and more possible to provide a growing country with the cheese it demanded.

By 1880 there were 3,923 dairy factories nationwide, producing 316 million pounds of cheese.  And by the end of the century, farm production of cheese became insignificant in comparison.  

Today, more than one-third of all milk produced in the US is used to manufacture cheese. And that's just in the US!  Around the world cheese making and cheese eating is a way of life. The amounts and types of cheeses available are staggering.

Just in case you think you can name all the varieties of cheese there are, we put you to the test.  Here's a link of the some of the more than 900 types of cheese from around the world. Have fun!  Now, here's some statistics about cheese production around the world: (FYI, a metric ton is 2204.62 lbs.) 

Top 10 cheese producers in 2011
(metric tonnes)[43]
 European Union8,858,482
 United States5,162,730
We offer you as our recipe of the week, a taste of cheese.  It is such a versatile ingredient to use in so many ways when cooking.  Here's an example, for when it's time for you to get your cheese on.

BBQ Pulled Pork and Mac N Cheese Dish

Here's what you need

3 - 4 cups BBQ pulled pork
8 oz uncooked pasta
4 Tablespoons of butter
1/4 Cup Flour
2 Cup Whole Milk
Pinch of nutmeg
1 Cup White Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 Cup Gouda Cheese
1 Cup Havarti Cheese
1 Cup Fontina Cheese

Here's what you need to to:
  • Cook pasta until al dente and drain.  Do not rinse pasta.
  • Grate all cheeses and mix together in a bowl.  Reserve 1 cup of cheese.
  • Melt butter in a sauce pan.  Once melted whisk in flour and cook for 3 minutes.  Whisk in milk...constantly stirring and add nutmeg.  Cook until thick over a low heat for about 8 minutes.
  • Add 3 cups cheese to milk mixture until melted.
  • Pour cheese mixture over cooked pasta and mix well.  It may look like it is too much sauce but it isnt.  You need it because the dish is baked.
  • Place pulled pork on a 9x13 pan
  • Pour mac n cheese over the pulled pork
  • Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese on top of the mac n cheese.
  • Bake at 425 degrees until bubbly and cheese has begun to brown.
* Dont over cook the pasta.  Baking it will finish cooking it. 
*Add as much pulled pork as you want if you feel you need more then 3-4 cups.
* Be creative with the types of cheese you use.  I like rich stronger cheese so that is what I used.  Asiago would be great in it.

 We just briefly touch on the history of cheese today and it's place in our culinary lives. Next week we will take a look at how cheese in made around the world and describe some differences between them.  Until then....

...go out and make something good.