Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fava beans - no liver, no Chianti

Fava beans are one of my favorite vegetables of spring. This initially came as a surprise to me, since they look a lot like lima beans, and I was a child who spent a lot of my childhood picking the lima beans out of the servings of frozen mixed vegetables my mom liked to serve us several times a week.

I picked up a handful of favas at the grocery store this week. I would have bought more (it takes about a pound of fava beans in their pods to produce a cup of edible beans) but a handful is all that was left. Never mind: That is enough to brighten up a pasta dish, especially with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Yes, that's the ticket: 4-6 ounces bowtie pasta, cooked to al dente and drained; a drizzle extra virgin olive oil; shelled, cooked fava beans; a few red pepper flakes; sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. A few threads of basil and some shaved Parmesan, maybe a little crisped ham or bacon bits, and ummm-ummm good.

To prepare fava beans that are past the baby stage (when they can be eaten whole), take the beans out of the pod and throw the pods in the compost. Put the beans, which have a thick outer coat, into a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water. When the beans are in a rolling boil, remove from the stove and drain, and dash them into the ice water. When they have cooled, remove the skins by either pinching them, or using a little sharp knife, cut a slit in the outer coat and push them through. Add the outer coats to the compost pile. Saute the beans in a little oil briefly until just tender. Season if you wish.

Oh, and at the bottom of this post is another reason that favas have gotten a rather bad rap.

Photograph by David S. Deutsch
More Americans are discovering fava beans' buttery texture and lovely nutty taste.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More gadget photos

Oops, two of my photos dropped off the last post.
Here are the IKEA milk frother and the Chef'n peeler. (Blogger does a lot of things well, but photo layout is not its strong suit.)

Useful kitchen gadgets

“I would have a basic gadget drawer with about 10 things in it,” says Jan Hazard, owner of A Cook's Companion in Brooklyn Heights, New York. “A silicon spatula, a pancake turner, a can opener, and a whisk. And, knives – you only need three knives really – a chef, a pairing and a bread knife. I would also get tongs, and a pair of scissors to cut open all of these sealed packages that we have to deal with." And for food safety, an instant-read thermometer is a must, she says.

I took photos of a few of my favorite gadgets.
Here's why I love them and would hate
to be without them.

The IKEA milk frother. Sometimes, liquids just need a little extra mixing. This is a simple battery -operated device that cost about $3. (Brookstone sells one for $10, but it doesn't seem to be much better.) If you are making a single cup of espresso for a latte, it works better than the steam attachment for frothing the milk. Put the cup with the milk in the microwave for about a minute, remove and froth. Add espresso and voila - latte.

The funny looking glass jar thing is a mayonnaise maker. It has the recipe raised on the glass. The egg, lemon juice, spices, etc. go in, attach the lid with the beater, then move it up and down as you add the oil. I don't use a lot of mayo, but when I do, I like it homemade.

The Chef'n potato peeler. The loop on the back fits over your middle finger, so basically you wave your hand over the vegetable to be peeled. Wave it lightly and it takes off just the bare minimum of peel; press down for more. If you've ever gotten a cramp after doing a lot of potatoes, or arthritis makes gripping a peeler painful, this is the gadget for you.

The nutmeg grater gets the most use around Christmas; it's amazing how much
more flavorful the spice is when it's freshly ground. A lot of people who say they don't care for the taste of nutmeg change their mind when they have it fresh.

I'm almost embarrassed to show this last item. It lost its red plastic horizontal measuring piece some time ago, but we eat fish at least twice a week and it's invaluable for calculating how long the fish needs to cook.

What's your favorite item? Do you have a photo of it? Please share!

Chewy update

If you want to keep the cookies chewy, put in an air-tight container as soon as they are cool. They get progressively harder the longer they stay on the rack. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chewy on this!

Inspired by a conversation with a vegan last night, I'm making some oatmeal chewies. They aren't quite vegan, however, since I wasn't sure what to sub for the honey. Since there's no egg involved, feel free to lick the spoon - guaranteed to keep you happy for the full 15 minutes until the real thing comes out of the oven. These are the best cookies I've ever made that didn't have butter in them.

Also, I didn't want to waste the energy to cook a half-dozen cookies, so I put the remainder in a tart shell and baked it for the same amount of time next to one of the cookie sheets. Let it cool, push it out, put it on a dessert plate. Put a scoop of ice cream on it and enjoy.

Lori K's oatmeal chewies
Makes 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1 small very ripe banana
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups uncooked rolled oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
Finely grated peel from 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (not powder)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup currents or raisins
1/2 cup cocoa coated almonds, chopped
Blend sugar, oil, honey, banana and vanilla until fluffy (I used a food processor, but a blender or mixer would probably work as well). Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix it all well. Make pingpong-size balls and slightly flatten them on an ungreased cookie sheet. (They will not spread much while baking.) Bake for 15 minutes; do not overcook. Remove sheet from oven and flatten cookies with a flat-bottom glass. Cool for a minute or two on the sheet, then remove them to a cooling rack. They will be very chewy warm, and will get more crunchy with a chewy middle when they cool.

A spring salad

Here's an unbeatable mixture: Fresh English peas, asparagus, new onions, shaved fennel, frisee, roasted pistachios, Virginia ham sliced thin and crisped with a little garlic. Toss with a little high quality olive oil, sprinkle with a little kosher or sea salt and pepper to taste. Mmmmm, spring!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tiny kumquats pack big flavor

Kumquats, looking like stretched out, miniature oranges, are probably the least popular of all citrus fruits, and that's unfortunate. Their sweet-tart personality can perk up a variety of dishes, especially salads. Thinly sliced, the fruit looks wonderful against a background of deep-green lettuces, spinach or arugula. Add some shaved parmesan for a salty counterpoint, and a mild, mostly olive oil dressing, and you've got heaven on a salad plate.

Unlike most citrus, the rind is consumed, and it's actually the sweet part of the fruit. Kumquats make great candied fruit, but you have to cut them in half first, horizontally, and remove the one or two gigantic (in comparison to the size of the fruit) seeds.

But to use them raw in salads, or on top of chicken, fish or short ribs, they need to be thinly sliced. My favorite method for doing this is to slice off just enough of the stem end to get rid of the stem, slice thinly until you come to the seed(s), remove the seeds, cut another slice or two, turn and slice the other end until you can no longer slice the fruit thinly. Pop the remainder in your mouth and start on the next one.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Getting to the nut of the matter

Like a lot of folks who prefer scientific curiosity to spreading alarm or sticking one's head in the sand, I've been reading a lot on salmonella lately. The Internet is indeed a boon and a curse. Some of the most popular hits contain the most appalling ignorance, such as calling salmonella a virus; one top hit is the Yahoo Answers, where someone asked if a pizza oven can kill salmonella and the answer voted "best answer" was "no..."

As far as the sites go, there's a lot of good info on, although the two San Diego State researchers who work on it emphasize that they are not medical doctors and to go see one if you have symptoms.

As Margie Lee, a microbiologist at UGA's College of Veterinary Medicine, was quoted in a University of Georgia Research Magazine article a while back:
Salmonella infections also have been associated with vegetables. "Because of organic gardening, people use manure," she said, "And a lot of it hasn't been composted," which kills most types of salmonellae.
Each year, there are 23 million reported cases of illness caused by all food-borne bacteria, and of these, 9,000 are fatal. Of those, salmonella is the least threatening, Lee said.
Even though people become sick from salmonella poisoning, it rarely becomes deadly. "[Salmonella] doesn't merit the public's fear. Car accidents kill more people," Lee said. "You have to look at what is really lost, and on the whole, it's seldom life."
But since the genetic markers that indicate the deadly strain of the bacteria are not even visible under a microscope, people should play it safe. "Cook your chicken and eggs well," Lee said. "That's the bottom line."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Doctor's orders

From Michael Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet Oz, M.D., here’s how to protect your family from food illnesses right now:
• POINT OF PURCHASE: Buy American or Canadian produce when you have a choice. North American plants get closer inspection than many foreign-grown products.
• IRRADIATION: Don’t be afraid of irradiated food. We believe this process, which kills disease-causing pathogens, makes meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables and fruit safer.
• BE CAREFUL: Keep hot foods piping hot and cold foods frosty cold. Refrigerate perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours of buying, cooking or serving. Keep your hands, knives, cutting boards and counter tops clean while preparing food, and use separate knives and boards for meats and produce.
• FREEZE IT FAST:Limit how long you leave raw meats in the fridge: one to two days for ground meats, sausage and poultry; three to five days for beef, pork or veal. If it’s going to be longer, freeze it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pistachios: Nuts not all bad

Love to munch on pistachios? If they are salted and roasted, there's no chance that you can get salmonella from them; the roasting process kills the bacteria.

Kraft last week had to recall trail mix that had tainted pistachios in it, mostly because the California plant that processed the pistachios were mixing raw and roasted nuts together, a big no-no.

But as big a producer as California is, it's not the largest supplier of pistachios. That falls to Iran, where the pistachio was first domesticated. Here's a chart showing where most of the world's pistachios come from.

Country               Share of 2005 production
                          (in tons)
Iran                     190 000
United States       140 000
Turkey                 60 000
Syria                   60 000
China                   34 000
Greece                 9 500
Italy                     2 400
Uzbekistan             1 000
Tunisia                     800
Pakistan                   300
Madagascar             160
Kyrgyzstan               100
Morocco                     50
Cyprus                       15
Mexico                         7
Mauritius                     5

Statistics from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations