February, 2005

On Becoming A Culinarian

There’s an old Italian saying that I came across the other day;
Bisogna mangiare per vivere, e non vivere per mangiare.
(One should eat to live, and not live to eat).

And I thought to myself, e non vivere per mangiare–but that’s what I’m dedicating my career and life to right now–the discovery, understanding and appreciation of FOOD! This saying goes against my profession entirely!

Then I stepped back for a moment and came to the conclusion that I’m not living to eat for my own enjoyment (though I will certainly sample and enjoy as many tasty morsels as I can get my hands on!), but rather, I am living to help other people enjoy their food more. I think there’s an important difference there.

Confucius taught that “A man should not eat so much that his breath smells more of meat than of rice”, but he didn’t say anything along the lines of “A man should not dedicate his life to preparing meat and rice so others can not help but surrender to their tastebuds and beg for more.”

Now, if I can just figure out how to not get reincarnated as a duck on a foie gras farm I’ll be all set…

Infused Simple Syrup

Sonoma Syrup Co. Here’s a company marketing specialty infused syrups. Syrups that can be used for all types of things from cocktails to cakes! And they’re nice syrups–all natural, no weird preservatives added–I’ve tried the lemon and lavender varieties and was very pleased with the results. But people, it’s so easy to make your own infused simple syrup. And I guarantee you that it will cost a lot less than $10.95 for 12.7 ounces.

The ingredients for making simple syrup are simple: water and sugar. Increase or decrease the amount of sugar depending on the desired viscosity and sweetness needed for your particular application. The basic simple syrup is a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. The method: combine in a pot; bring to a boil and turn off the heat. That’s it! it’s really not difficult people. Want orange simple syrup? Substitute orange juice for the water. Want pomegranate? Do the same thing. Lemon…I think you get the idea.

“But what about herb-infused syrups?,” you ask. Same process. Bring your sugar and water to a boil and throw in your desired herb, chopped up a little to release the natural oils. Turn off the heat and let the herb sit in the syrup while it cools. Then strain through a chinois to get the little particles out. If you’re looking for a more potent syrup, turn down the heat after the syrup comes to a boil and let it simmer until it reduces a little bit. Or put more herbage in!

Capers, Demystified

caper.jpgScientifically speaking, capers are the pea-sized, unopened flower buds of Capparis spinosa (Capparidaceae), a shrub prevalent in the Mediterranean region. Caper berries are the fruit of this same shrub. If you’ve never seen them, this picture is to-scale and shows their actual size.

Let’s break it down one time… So there’s this bush, right–the caper bush. It’s a flowering bush. Capers, the tiny little green balls you find pickled in jars, and caper berries, the slightly larger, berryish-looking green things also sold–stem intact–pickled in jars, are both this bush’s flower — cultivated before the flower had a chance to bloom. Tricky, huh?

It’s really not that tricky! Capers are the bud at earliest stage of development while caper berries are the bud at a later stage of development. So if you’ve got a bud at stage one, it’s a caper. If you’ve got a bud at stage two, it’s a caper berry. If you let that bud grow even more you would have a caper flower. Get it?

Good. Want to read more? Check out this article. Insider’s Tip: Use deep-fried capers as a canape garnish. Capers are delicious when deep-fried. They open up into beautiful little flowers that impart loads of flavorful salty goodness (thanks to their pickling process and their close relation to the cabbage/mustard family–Brassicaceae).

P.S. (Who knew that cabbage and mustard were in the same family?!)

Balancing Heat

“Food that is hot must have flavor,” says Barbara Tropp and I agree.

How to do it? If you want heat, add chiles and remember to balance the dish with ingredients that stimulate all of your tastebuds. Something sweet, something salty, something sour… Here’s a list of ingredients that help mute and enrich the searing heat of chiles so you can have heat and flavor:

Sour orange juice
Roasted vegetables

You don’t necessarily have to put these into your spicy dish. Try serving the meal with a foamy cold drink or incorporating them into a sidedish.

A Note On Spice Origin

Ever wonder where spices come from? Here’s a little rhyme to help you remember:
Cinnamon from the bark
Pepper from the berry
Ginger from the root
Nutmeg from the fruit!

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