March 29, 2010
Nothing says Easter quite like the smell of vinegar and hard-boiled eggs. In my house growing up, we dyed the eggs a few days before Easter morning. We displayed them in baskets for a few days before my parents hid them around the house the night before Easter.
We were never allowed to eat our Easter eggs that morning. If we wanted eggs, my mother insisted, she would make new ones. But I have heard plenty of stories of people eating hard-boiled eggs that sat out for hours, or even days, at room temperature and never had any problems. Now obviously, anecdotal evidence is nothing to base a theory on. The FDA suggests not eating hard-boiled eggs that have sat out for more than two hours and to eat refrigerated hard-boiled eggs within one week. Good Housekeeping agrees with the two-hour rule. Looks like my mother was right.
Decorated Easter eggs are popular in many cultures and range from the simple one-colored American classic to the elaborately detailed pysanka of Ukraine. Some eggs are so meticulously crafted that they aren’t meant for eating at all. Although members of my family never ate the eggs, many Americans do. Here are a few suggestions for ingredients to naturally dye your Easter eggs this year:
- Beets: Boil the eggs with canned beets and juice for a light pink color. For a richer hue, soak cooked eggs in the beet water overnight. This same method works with carrots for a light orange color.
- Blueberries: Add a few cups of blueberry to boiling water for a light purple color. For a richer hue, let eggs sit in the blueberry-infused water after cooling for a few hours or overnight. The pigment comes from the skin of the fruit, so there’s no reason to mash the berries before adding them to the water.
- Cranberry juice: Boil eggs in full-strength cranberry juice for a light pink color.
- Onion Skins: Boil raw eggs with plenty of yellow onion skins for a golden color. Edhat magazine out of Santa Barbara has some amazing photos of eggs dyed with onion skins and decorated using flowers from a garden. All you need are eggs, flowers, boiling water and stockings. For a pinkish color, try using red onion skins.
- Paprika: Adding a few tablespoons of paprika to boiling water will result in a reddish hue.
- Purple grape juice: Dilute the grape juice by up to 50 percent and boil raw eggs in the mixture. The color will be a light blue.
- Red Cabbage: Boil cabbage and let hard-boiled eggs soak in the liquid overnight.
- Red Wine: Boil raw eggs in red wine for a deep purple color. (This same method is used to create a rich purple-hued pasta.)
- Spinach: Boil raw eggs with spinach or boil spinach in water and let already-cooked eggs soak in the liquid overnight.
- Turmeric: I wrote about turmeric a few months ago. It is a strong dye and usually turns my utensils and plates yellow. Add a few tablespoons to a pot of boiling water and eggs. This method would also work with the more expensive saffron, which adds the yellow color to Spanish rice and paella.
March 22, 2010
I have a new pasta obsession: Israeli couscous. Like its smaller cousin, it is a round pasta, but its diameter is nearly twice the size of regular couscous. The little balls are much chewier than regular couscous and hold up better to sauces even in a cold salad—no mush. They remind me a little of tapioca balls and provide that same satisfying texture and bite that tapioca adds to boba, or bubble, tea.
Known in Israel as ptitim, Israeli couscous is one of the few uniquely Israeli dishes. According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, Ben Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, contacted a large food manufacturer and asked that it find a way to produce a whole wheat substitute for rice. The first ptitim were rice shaped and are commonly know by their nickname, “Ben-Gurion Rice.” The company next produced a round ptitim, which we now call Israeli couscous outside of Israel. Unlike most pasta, which is dried, Israeli couscous is baked in a oven, giving it a slight toasty flavor.
The same article also notes that ptitim is mostly a children’s food in Israel. The demand even inspired production of ptitim in the shapes of stars, rings and hearts (kind of like macaroni and cheese here).
In the United States and other countries, Israeli couscous is a new trend in restaurants, which is where I first encountered it. But the couscous is easy to make at home. Israeli couscous is quick to prepare—takes about six minutes—because of its small size. It also tends to clump together less than regular couscous. I’ve prepared what I thought would be a great batch of regular couscous only to come back five minutes later and find it all stuck together. Epicurious has a recipe for couscous with pine nuts and parsley that I’m going to try with the box I just bought from Trader Joe’s. Either that or I’ll wait until zucchini, asparagus and tomato come in season and make Bobby Flay’s couscous with grilled summer vegetables.
March 15, 2010
If a ban proposed by Brooklyn assemblyman Felix Ortiz passes, New York chefs will be banned from using salt in food preparation in all restaurants. The bill states: “No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises.” Ortiz suggests a $1,000 fine for each violation
The New York Daily News led off their coverage with this: “If State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has his way, the only salt added to your meal will come from the chef’s tears.” The New York Times covered the story on their blog. The Baltimore Sun pointed out that not only does salt add flavor, it also affects the chemical reactions that happen during baking (as well as the texture of baked goods). Max Fischer at The Atlantic guessed that Ortiz never actually wanted the ban to pass but rather wanted to get media attention and make other restrictions seem reasonable. He definitely got the media attention.
Ortiz told the Albany Times Union that he was inspired by his father who “used salt excessively for many years, developed high blood pressure and had a heart attack.” Under Ortiz’s salt ban, the public would still be allowed to add salt at the table. I have to admit that if I got a batch of unsalted fries, I would add just as much, if not more, salt than the cooks in the kitchen would have.
Ortiz did issue a clarification later in the week: “My intention for this legislation was to prohibit the use of salt as an additive to meals. If salt is a functional component of the recipe, by all means, it should be included. But, when we have meals prepared by restaurants that pile unnecessary amounts of salt, we have a problem.”
New York is not new to bans. New York City passed a ban on trans fat in 2006. For a column in the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich talked to Nicole Pederson, executive chef at C-House in Chicago, who compared the ban to the trans fat ban with one important distinction: “Trans fat is bad in every single way… But salt is not bad in every single way.”
March 9, 2010
Salty and crunchy cucumber pickles have been a mainstay in American refrigerators for decades. But The Daily Beast recently listed pickling as one of its top trends for 2010. And the trend isn’t just for cucumbers—you can pickle just about anything. At the restaurant where I work, we serve pickled red onion on our burgers and pickled beets in our salads.
Pickling is by no means a new technique. Vegetables, fruit and even meats can be preserved using the pickling process to keep them good for months after their peak. Different cultures have their favorite pickle fodder. Korea has kimchi, Scandinavia pickled herring and Italy giardiniera. There are two standard pickling methods: the salt-brining method, which results in a shelf-stable pickle, and the refrigerator, or quick, pickle method. The latter pickles are created using a vinegar solution and must, as the name suggests, be stored in the refrigerator.
When I began searching for recipes, I came across the great Food in Jars blog that focuses on, among other jar-based endeavors, pickles. Although I didn’t end up choosing a recipe from here, mostly because I wanted an in-season quick pickle, I learned a great deal about the basics. For instance, when pickling vegetables, it’s important to use a vinegar that has at least 5 percent acidity. In the brine, this can be diluted to one part vinegar, one part water.
When I visited the Spotted Pig in New York City on my pig-eating journey, I ate pickled pears in an appetizer and really wanted to try some at home. I remembered the pickling episode of “Good Eats” and the pickled summer fruit recipe. In this recipe, Alton Brown uses Bartlett pears and plums. Since neither of those are in season right now, I went with the sweeter Comice pear, which is in season, and cut out the plum altogether. I kept the rest of the recipe the same with lemon slices and slivered fresh ginger.
Since these were quick pickles and would be stored in the refrigerator, I didn’t have to worry about sterilizing the can. I cooked up the vinegar mixture and poured it over the pear, lemon and ginger already packed into a recycled pasta sauce jar. I let the whole thing cool on the counter for a bit and put it into the refrigerator for two days. (The recipe suggests two days to a week in the refrigerator.)
After 48 hours of marinating, I opened the jar and was surprised at how sweet the pears and brine smelled. I pulled out a pear and bit in. The pear slice still had quite a bit of crunch to it, and the vinegar had soaked into the flesh. I got notes of lemon and ginger from the rest of the ingredients. While they’re pretty good now, I want to wait and see what they taste like after a week in the brine. I already have plans to use the leftover liquid as a vinaigrette for a salad.
March 1, 2010
The coconut is one of the most useful plants in the world. Some cultures use almost every part of the tree from the leaves to the water inside of the coconut fruit. In fact, the water is sterile, and was used as a intravenous solution in a pinch during World War II. The flesh of the coconut fruit, the fluid inside the coconut, coconut milk (made of liquid squeezed from the coconut flesh) and even the root of the palm, known as hearts of palm, are all eaten. Here are a few ways to enjoy the different parts of the coconut:
1. Batter: Think coconut-breaded shrimp. Use flakes of coconut flesh to coat shrimp and bake or fry. You can also coat other seafood, like tilapia, or try chicken with dried coconut flakes.
2. Salad: Hearts of palm are harvested from the root of a palm tree. Doing this kills the entire tree, so a salad made with the root was once called a “millionaire’s salad.” Today, rather than using coconut palms or other varities, most heart of palm comes from the peach palm—the only palm varietal not to die after its root has been harvested. Hearts of palm have a subtle flavor similar to asparagus or artichoke. Paula Deen has a recipe for a salad with spinach, strawberry and hearts of palm that I can’t wait to try.
3. Curry: Coconut milk is the base for many Thai curries. I make a creamy red curry using red curry paste, a can of coconut milk, chicken and sweet potato. For more information, and some actual recipes, Serious Eats as a nice breakdown of curry type with recipes.
4. Substitute for dairy: While I don’t keep kosher, recipes using coconut milk instead of dairy milk to follow kosher laws are intriguing. Take this Sweet Potato Coconut Crumble from Gourmet Kosher Cooking or these coconut milk scalloped potatoes. Coconut milk can also serve as the base of non-dairy ice creams for those lactose intolerant ice cream lovers. Grist recently reviewed non-dairy ice cream options, and the coconut milk varieties won.
5. Piña Colada: Some snow from the great snow storm of 2010 is still lingering on the ground here in D.C., but it’s already March and spring will be here soon. When it starts to warm up, fix yourself a piña colada and pretend you’re on a tropical beach somewhere. This popular cocktail is made from rum, pineapple juice and cream of coconut, which is derived from coconut milk.