March 28, 2017

The Great British Baking Show on Netflix

Did you notice that many American home and food shows disappeared from Netflix at the end of 2016? Scripps Networks Interactive which owns HGTV, the Food Network, the Travel channel and DIY decided they could make more money elsewhere. Search the word “house” on Netflix and not much concerning design comes up.

Food and home reality show bingers, fear not. Netflix has countered by adding a few shows produced by British TV producers such as, Escape To the Country, Grand Designs, Hidden Homes and my surprising favorite, The Great British Baking Show.

It’s no secret that I am neither a baker or a cook, but there is something very compelling about this food reality show. Much like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, thirteen amateur bakers compete weekly to avoid being the one sent home that episode. The one left standing at the end of the season is the winner and dubbed Star Baker.

Each show, the contestants are asked to bake everything from breadsticks, petits fours and baklava, to displays using multiple baking skills that must be artistic and highly edible. Two judges critique the culinary results: Mary, a very proper English matron who has impeccable manners and wicked baking skills along with Paul, a grey-haired, blue-eyed demon who can spot any baking flaws and points them out with acerbic precision. The proceedings are narrated by two goofy British ladies who throw in puns, foreign phrases, quips and an ever-varying pronunciation of the word “bake.”

Small wonder that I must have a snack handy while watching this show. Like my big dog drooling at our steak dinner table, the sight of all of these beautiful baked wonders gets the salivary glands pumping. Carrots and celery just will not do!

Three seasons of this show are currently available on Netflix. Paraphrasing Oliver Twist, “More, please.”

Kumquats, Persimmons, Golden Kiwis & Dragonfruit

Kumquat tree

Kumquat tree

Three cheers for the availability of new fruit varieties in your local grocery stores. I just discovered kumquats, tiny orange-like citrus fruit native to Asia, which can be eaten like grapes or sliced in half for salads and desserts. Watch out for the seeds as you munch on these snacks packed with Vitamin C.  gold-kiwi-9708645
As much as I like regular Kiwis with green fruit interiors, Golden Kiwis with sweet yellow flesh are even better. The egg-shaped fruit is originally from China, but New Zealand adopted the kiwifruit as their own and started to export it to the U. S. and the world.
Keep your eye peeled for the occasional shipment of Golden Kiwis. dragon-fruit-cut

One of the oddest-looking items in the produce department is dragon fruit, technically a cactus of indeterminate origin, but generally found in tropical climates. It goes by other names such as pitahaya or Hylocereus undatus, but the curly leaves are reminiscent of dragon scales, hence the name. Cut the fruit in half and you will find an unusual white fruit interior with black edible dots that look like poppy seeds. It does not taste like anything comparable but
the slight sweetness and pudding-like consistency is perfect for a snack or dessert. hachiyapersimmon

Persimmons have been a personal favorite of mine for a few years now, but the grocery stores seem to be stocking this fruit with more regularity in the fall. The heart-shaped version is called Hachiya and can be chalky tasting before it ripens. It is best to eat them when they resemble a water balloon. Fuyus, which look like a flat tomato, are less astringent and can be eaten before they are fully ripe. I’m still looking for an Asian type called “cinnamon or chocolate persimmon” which has sweet dark brown flesh. Perhaps a visit to Argyle Street or Chinatown is in order. Who knows what other fruit delicacies I might find in an Asian grocery?

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

The culinary theme of Kitchens of the Great Midwest by author J. Ryan Stradal drew me to it first, but the structure is what made me sit up and realize that this was not your standard novel.

Each section is a food item and takes place in a different area of the Midwest. We loosely follow celebrity chef, Eva Thorvald from birth to mid-career with visits to her childhood, teen years and her twenties.  We also view her life from the vantage point of the mother who abandoned her to pursue her own career in the wine industry.

Stradal’s writing is charming but like a sophisticated meal, the different “courses” in the book are by turns bittersweet, painful, comedic and heart-warming.

The culinarily-inclined will chuckle at the descriptions of recipes and the mention of curated food stuffs.

I was hooked when the book kicked off with a chapter called Lutefisk, the dreaded Scandinavian fish entree that is foisted on many Midwesterners. Particularly funny is a section called Bars where a woman who bakes “church lady” recipes tries to compete with chefs who turn their noses up at gluten, dairy or ingredients that are not organic.

I listened to this in audio form and the narrator even got the infamous Minnesota accent down to perfection. The locales, the food and the chef heroine all conspire to entertain. Let me state that I ate no lutefisk while reading this.

Sausages by AmyLu

I just found delicious chicken sausages that use no nitrates, nitrites, MSG, preservatives or artificial ingredients and are pork-free,  gluten-free, low in fat, high in protein and low in carbs. I even found a flavor, Gourmet Chorizo that contains no sugar or dairy which can be challenging to find.

ATK Foods, the parent company features other sausage flavors such as Apple & Gouda Cheese, Sun Dried Tomato & Basil, Cranberry & Cognac and Chipotle Pepper. They also sell burgers, meatballs and old-world sausage products such as Polish sausage, Wieners, Bratwurst and Specialty Ethnic Sausages viagra rezeptfrei bestellen.

Did I mention that the company is based in Chicago? Joseph Slotkowski opened his Chicago sausage company in 1918 and it’s still going strong under third generation member, Amylu Kurzawski. You can shop for the products on-line or find the sausage and meat products in selected grocery stores. I found my Amylu edibles at Mariano’s in Chicago. Delicious!

http://www.atkfoods.com/our-brands/sausages-by-amylu

Canstruction: a charity sculpture event at the Mart using non-perishable food

Currently on view until September 6 is Canstruction,  a design/build event that benefits the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Using non-perishable food items, teams from the trade organization, AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) construct installations in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart.

My favorites in this year’s event are The Mona Lisa (above),  an amusing take on Vincent Van Gogh’s bedroom (right) and an Olympic runner about to sprint made out of tuna cans (below).

This marks Canstruction’s tenth anniversary. If you miss the exhibit this year, put this amusing and worthy cultural event on your list for next August.


http://chicago.canstruction.org

San Marzano Tomatoes and Terlato Pomodoro Sauce

How did it take me so long to discover what some chefs consider to be the best variety of plum tomato?
San Marzano tomatoes were originally grown near Naples, Italy in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius. Going back in history, these particular tomato seeds were purportedly a gift from the Viceroy of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples.

If the new world had not been discovered, there would be no tomatoes in Italian cuisine. Can you imagine? I found a bag of these small red, oblong beauties at Whole Foods.

While trying to find a tomato sauce for pasta at Mariano’s that did not contain sugar or any creepy additives, I selected Terlato Pomodoro Sauce for its excellent ingredients: vine-ripened San Marzano tomatoes, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, garlic and spices. When the check-out girl said the 24-ounce bottle was 12 dollars, I almost asked her to remove it from my purchases. Mind you, the regular grocery types were under 4 and 5 dollars. I was hungry and the thought of looking at more ingredient lists on other sauces impelled me to take the expensive product home.

Wow! When I first opened this “small batch” recipe, I couldn’t believe how fresh and flavorful it tasted. Yes, this tomato sauce is expensive, but it is definitely worth the price. It elevated my Italian meal way above the normal grocery store brand level. The Terlato Kitchen web site lists Arrabbiata and Vodka Sauces along with the Pomodoro. I just may need to purchase those as well as the Organic Dark Amber Maple Syrup. Grazie bene, John Terlato!

http://www.terlatokitchen.com

Dandy Blend, Instant Herbal Beverage with Dandelion

Friends shake their heads at some of the foods and beverages I serve them, but let me stretch your patience with mention of Dandy Blend, an instant herbal beverage with dandelion root. While I don’t like dandelions in my yard, I love them in my cup.

The product can be used like instant coffee, one teaspoon per eight ounces of water, hot or cold. You can use it in dairy milk or nut milk, as well. The package states that one gets a rich coffee-like taste but with no caffeine, no acidity and no bitterness. The powder does have barley and rye but the extraction process eliminates the gluten.
The other ingredients listed are chicory root, dandelion root and sugar beet. One teaspoon is only 7 calories and 1 gram of carbohydrate.

I bought my first 7 ounce bag of Dandy Blend at Walsh’s Natural Health Store on Central Avenue in Evanston. I liked it so much that I purchased a larger two pound bag from Amazon. I like it plain, but I occasionally splash in some unsweetened almond milk for a more velvety taste. If you’re trying to limit or avoid coffee, this product might be a decent substitute.

Boy, did I used to love the taste and buzz of a double-espresso but the white nights were a stiff price to pay. Happily, Dandy Blend now lets me sleep like a baby, however late I may drink it. And I view the yellow weeds in my lawn with a little more respect.

Family Hub: Samsung’s new smart refrigerator

The door panel on Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator can keep track of how old your food is, play Pandora, mirror your television, tell you the weather, check  your daily schedule, remind you when to buy certain food items and can display your favorite recipes. Inside cameras let you peruse what’s in your frig when you are away from home. Can you program the refrigerator to tell you NOT to eat that carton of Haagen Daz ice cream in your freezer?

Here is a video clip shot during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZC198NCW48

Tutti Frutti for spring and summer

Mariano’s Grocery has been feeding my fruit tooth year-round, but the produce department is bursting with delicious varieties now that spring is here and summer fast approaches. Here are some of my current citrus favorites with apples and rhubarb thrown in for good measure.

Minneola Tangelos: The Minneola tangelo is a cross between a grapefruit and a variety of tangerine with juicy flesh and a sweet/sour flavor. The orange-colored citrus has a characteristic nipple or bell-like shape.

Meyer Lemons: This citrus variety is native to China and is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or an orange. The Meyer lemon is generally sweeter, rounder, lower acidity and thinner skinned than common lemons. The California cuisine revolution in the 1990’s and Martha Stewart have further popularized this variety of lemon.

Key Limes: This lime variety is smaller, seedier, sweeter, has a higher acidity and a rind that is thinner than the usual Persian limes found in grocery stores. If you are making a Key Lime pie, this is the variety to purchase, but I prefer Key Limes whenever they are available. This citrus fruit is green when picked and turns yellow when ripe.

Blood Oranges: A natural mutation of the orange which has a crimson interior and raspberry notes in the orange citrus flesh with a tougher skin than most oranges. The exterior may or may not have a red tinge to the orange color. The orange itself is a hybrid between pomelos and tangerines.

Pomelos: Out of curiosity, I bought a pomelo, native to South and Southeast Asia. Larger than the common grapefruit, the flesh is sweet but the tough, inedible interior membranes drove me back to my preferred Ruby Red grapefruit variety.

Grapples: A man behind me in the check-out line at Mariano’s had a plastic bag of apples. I kept smelling grapes which puzzled me since there were none in sight. He patiently explained to me that the variety of fruit he had purchased crunches like a crisp apple, but the taste and aroma are that of grapes and are named “grapples.” I promptly bought some myself. As much as I liked them, Honey Crisp apples continue to be my favorite variety. Still, you might get a kick out of trying this amusing hybrid.

http://www.grapplefruits.com/

Honeycrisp Apples: Speaking of Honeycrisp apples which have recently exploded in popularity, the University of Minnesota developed this variety which boasts sweetness, firmness and tartness. The Honeycrisp is generally more expensive than other apples and has larger cells which burst in the mouth when we bite into them. If you are eating dairy, try a wedge of gouda cheese with this beauty. Yum!

Rhubarb: While technically a low carb, high fiber vegetable, most American cuisine treats rhubarb as a fruit for pies, compotes, jams and cobblers. Those not wanting to spike their blood sugar can dice rhubarb and cook it in lemon juice with a low glycemic sweetener like xylitol or stevia. I prefer xylitol which can be ordered on-line or purchased at the Vitamin Shoppe locally. Mariano’s and Treasure Island usually carry fresh rhubarb in their produce departments. I hope to plant some in my garden this summer with the hopes that the resident rabbit will nibble elsewhere.

Here’s to the bounty of warmer weather at your own favorite produce vendor!

Delicious book by food devotee Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl, the former food critic for the New York Times and Gourmet magazine’s editor-in-chief has successfully dipped into the world of fiction with her first novel, Delicious.

Having read her non-fiction work, Garlic and Sapphires where she details going in disguises to New York restaurants, I expected good writing from her, but reading Delicious is akin to eating a really fabulous meal.

Wilhemina “Billie” Breslin drops out of college to take an entry level job at Delicious, loosely based on Bon Appetit or Gourmet magazines. She encounters fascinating characters in the world of printed media, food and New York culture while battling her personal demons. Food aficionados will get a kick out of James Beard figuring into the plot.

Reichl is the executive producer for the PBS program, Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie and editor of the Modern Library Food Series. Some of her other works of non-fiction include Tender At the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples and Remembrance of Things Paris.