Welcome to issue no. 1 of Foodstuff

October 1, 1997

I love all things culinary and wish to share this love with you. The culinary universe is so intriguing to us because it's always changing and evolving. New discoveries are always occurring. I truly hope you will enjoy this newsletter and discover some wonderful bits of information that will delight and inform you.

It's important to learn to cook and have some good basic knowledge of how to run a kitchen. Why? Knowing how to cook is liberating. You unchain yourself from the need to dine out constantly, the financial burden, and the lack of control over your nutrition. Cooking at home has many benefits. You'll spend less, eat better, and you can do it in your pajamas, if you want to.

The food we eat is what our bodies live on, work on, play on, and grow on. We are dependent on food for our survival, but food can be so much more! Anyone who has cured a cold by sipping Grandma's homemade chicken soup would agree. If you've shared a feast with good friends you'd agree. When you've felt your spirit nourished as well as your body, you would agree. Are we passionate about good food? Of course we are! It's a pleasure of life; savor it!


BEYOND MATZOH BALLS

What's been keeping me up way past my bedtime lately? "The Book Of Jewish Food, An Odyssey From Samarkand to New York" by Claudia Roden. This cookbook is a magnificent contribution to ethnic cookery containing more then 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi recipes. The fascinating introduction contains the sociology of the Jewish emigrants, Jewish dietary laws, and it explains how Jewish cooks were extremely capable of adapting to other food cultures whether it was a village in Uzbekistan or a community in Brooklyn. This interesting book is brimming with insight, is rich with detail and a pleasure to read. In addition to recipes, there is an abundance of facts and information to entice even non-cooks. There are stories, reminiscences and histories of Jewish communities around the world. A great read, and I highly recommend it. Claudia Roden is a major food celebrity in England. Her first book was "A Book of Middle Eastern Food" published 25 years ago.

For more book reviews visit the PI Food Community Web Site.


OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is prized around the world both for cooking and for salads. The olive and its oil are two of the oldest foods in Western culture. The use of olives and olive oil in the Mediterranean dates back 5,000 years, and has defined the cuisines of most of the peoples in that area of the world. Like wine, olive oils vary in taste and color according to the variety of the tree, the ripeness of the fruit, the type of soil, and the climate. Yet, most olive oils are made in the same way; olives are crushed in a granite stone press and juice is transferred to casks where the oil separates. The best oil is from the first pressing, described on some labels as "cold-pressed." (A simple way to describe true extra-virgin oil is to say it is the least manipulated, least tampered with that an olive oil can be.) Extra virgin olive oil, the cold-pressed result of the first pressing of the olives, is considered the finest and fruitiest of the olive oils and is therefore also the most expensive. Olive oil is known for its rich flavor, range of culinary uses and, because it contains monounsaturated fat, olive oil is said to promote certain health benefits, such as reduced heart disease.

Can supermarket oils, usually priced at under $15 per liter, compete with specialty shop oils with prices up to $50 or more a liter? The answer is yes! As long as the label says "extra-virgin," you can be assured that the oil will deliver a certain level of quality.

Have you tried the newer infused olive oils? Intensely robust and spicy, these oils can be a lot of fun to cook with. They are also much easier to find now as most larger supermarkets are stocking them. You will find olive oils infused with dozens of different herbs and spices.

A wonderful way to enjoy a good olive oil is to simply pour a thin layer onto a large plate. Sprinkle freshly ground pepper to taste. Dip your favorite crusty bread in the oil and enjoy.

A few other ways to enjoy extra-virgin olive oil:

The aromas and flavors of a high quality olive oil are best appreciated when used in uncooked dishes and added to hot dishes at the end of cooking. If you wish to sauté or fry in olive oil, use the less expensive oils, and remember that olive oil will burn at a lower temperature than other vegetable oils.

Olive oil will keep for approximately one year stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

It takes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 olives to make 750 ml (25.4 oz) of olive oil.


HOTTEST DIET

Every year, new and often controversial diet books are published. Barry Sears, biochemist who holds 12 patents in the field of cancer therapy, and author of the hot-selling diet book "The Zone", says you can follow his system at any restaurant and not deny yourself any foods, as long as you balance carbohydrates with protein. (You may have heard of this referred to as "40, 30, 30." Carbohydrates, 40%; protein, 30%; fat, 30%.) His claims are turning the nutrition world topsy-turvy. It's really nothing too exotic; small portions, fruits and vegetables, cutting back on carbohydrates and increasing protein and fat consumption. Doesn't sound so hard to me. I especially like the part about fat. Sears says eating fat doesn't make you fat. In fact, he says in the book that eaten in moderation, fat is an integral part of one's diet. That's good for me, as an integral part of my day is eating crème brulee.

There is a flip side to all of this. Many nutritionists vehemently disagree with him. Medical professionals take issue with Sears for his ideas on hormonal imbalance. People who love carbohydrates find the diet hard to live with for a long period of time. Some dieters complain that buying so much protein increases their food costs. Just because someone has a best-selling book on the New York Times Best Seller list for a year, has been profiled in some of the country's biggest publications, and has a second book released, ("Mastering the Zone") doesn't mean it's the best way to eat, only that it's popular. The eating plan is similar to the Atkins protein diet, very big in the '70s. Is this just another fad? Will it have staying power? Is Barry Sears rich now? Time will tell in two out of those three questions! As long as we're on the subject of diets, here are a few of my favorite diet tips:

-Recite frightening ingredient lists from the back of fast food packages.
-Avoid buffets, bake-offs, and places where nudity is required.


THE BEST STUFF

For years, health-conscious people have downed their daily Vitamins, confident they were doing their best to keep fit. From the all-purpose multi-vitamins to more exotic pills like chromium and lecithin, vitamins are a $4 billion dollar a year business. But new studies show that taking supplements may be a wasted effort. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently released a new study showing that vitamins work only if we get them directly from our food. The NCI believes so strongly in this study that it has upped its own ante, endorsing an eating plan that increases the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables we should eat from five servings to a minimum of five to nine.

Expert opinion is divided and there are still generally agreed-upon conditions and situations that call for vitamin supplementation. The bottom line from everything I've read on this controversy is that food is the best source of vitamins, with pills coming in a poor second. Unfortunately only about 10 percent of Americans consume the recommended five to nine servings of these foods per day.

Recently there's been a lot of talk about "secret" disease-fighting foods. Phytochemicals are the latest stars in the world of health and nutrition. We should all try to eat more of these foods. Like chicken soup for a cold, it certainly can't hurt, and research is showing it can actually help. What are these "phytochemicals?" They are plant chemicals in fruits and vegetables, essential in boosting health and preventing diseases, including heart disease and cancer. And they're very easy to find. So try increasing your consumption of the following and you should be in great shape! GARLIC, TOMATOES, DARK LEAFY GREENS, ONIONS, SOYBEANS and GRAPES. And the top 10 for vitamin packed foods are: BROCCOLI, CANTALOUPE, WHEAT GERM, SPINACH, SARDINES WITH BONES, PAPAYA, ALMONDS, SWEET POTATOES, SKIM MILK and CARROTS. If you'd like more information on eating smart, contact Jean Carper, an authority on the medical effects of food. You can reach Jean at Avery Business Services, 37-39 Fort Point St., East Norwalk, Conn. 06855. Also, see our "Healthy Eating" link on our Food Community web page with web sites such as this great one: www.idsonline.com/quick/tips.html.


COFFEE LOVERS UNITE

Coffee is a big part of our society. We are more likely to share intimate thoughts over coffee than, say, a milkshake.

But are you having any trouble making the perfect pot of coffee? Help is on the way. Now that most of us are grown-ups, we really need to throw away the instant coffee. The best coffee starts with fresh grounds, which come from fresh beans. Invest in a coffee bean grinder, or check out the new coffee machines that will grind your beans, then automatically brew your coffee. Cuisinart just came out with a new coffee machine, priced at about $150. It's programmable, and you can even adjust the temperature. If you're like me, you like your coffee "McDonalds hot," so this feature will really be appreciated!

Wondering how to store your beans? The topic of coffee bean storage is highly debated. Many people claim that freezing your coffee is the best solution to storage. Others claim that air-tight containers at room temperature is the way to go. Well, after extensive scientific research (I called Bent Hartvig, owner of *Bent...On Coffee* in Thousand Oaks, California, our favorite hang-out) and this is what I learned... It is best to buy your coffee beans in smaller amounts. Don't buy in bulk. Bent roasts the beans he sells daily. The aroma of his coffee beans roasting is as pleasurable as sipping the coffee he serves. Bent tells me the darker roasts, such as French roast, will lose some flavor if frozen, due to the loss of oils on the beans. It's okay to freeze a medium-bodied coffee because the oils are on the inside of the beans. But for best results, keep the beans in a dark cool place and buy beans that have been freshly roasted. The sooner you grind your beans after they have been roasted, the better your coffee will taste. However, only grind coffee beans as needed. Bent grinds his beans within five days of roasting. If you like your coffee full-flavored and strong, use 2 level tablespoons to one 8-ounce cup of water, or 1 heaping coffee measure for each cup. Once your coffee has brewed, never pour it through the grounds again-it makes the coffee bitter. Make sure the coffee pot is clean. About once a month, run a weak solution of water and vinegar through the system. A few tablespoons of vinegar to a full pot of water is all you need. Always use cold water to make coffee, preferably bottled water. Can you love coffee too much? There are ways to tell. For example, I love coffee so much that often the only thing that gets me to sleep at night is the thought of a good cup of coffee in the morning. In fact the smell of coffee will get me out of bed quicker then an earthquake (unless it's over 6.0 magnitude). Bent is working on a fabulous new web page with loads of great coffee info. I will share the address with you next time.

When something is trendy and hot (no pun intended), you can count on publishers responding with books on the subject. A perfect gift for the coffee lover in your life could be THE JOY OF COFFEE by Corby Kummer. This book is informative and entertaining with lots of history about coffee, brewing information and recipes. Corby has a wonderful web page with some great recipes from the book. Check it out at www.joyofcoffee.com/home.html.


FAVORITE TIPS

In each issue of ~*FOODSTUFF*~ I will share my favorite kitchen and cooking tips with you. I welcome my readers to share their favorites too.


© 1997, 2003 Debbie Puente
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