10 Mistakes You’re Making with Raw Chicken

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Many home cooks may not realize the simple, but potentially dangerous mistakes they’re making with raw chicken. If not handled correctly, you may set yourself and your family up for some seriously sad tummy troubles.

These are 10 potential mistakes even experienced home cooks make with raw chicken.

Storing chicken improperly

The tiny drawing of a turkey on your refrigerator shelf may seem like a helpful hint for picking where you should store your cellophane-wrapped packages of poultry. That’s not always the best indicator.

Chicken juices tend to leak and drip from packages, which means if it’s stored on a shelf above ready-to-eat foods like fruits and vegetables, you could contaminate a great deal of the food in your fridge.

Solution: Place chicken packages on a plate or in a casserole dish, and store them on the bottom shelf or in the bottom drawer of your fridge. The plate will capture any juices that leak, protecting everything else you have stored.

Thawing incorrectly

We don’t mean to go all food safety police here, but this is one of the most dangerous and most common mistakes you can make with your raw chicken. At room temperature, the bacteria in these birds can quickly multiply.  Salmonella is especially prolific at these warmer temps. If you leave the chicken out too long such as you might when you’re thawing it for tonight’s dinner you could set up camp for bacteria that will result in foodborne illness (i.e. food poisoning).

Solution: Don’t put the frozen chicken on the counter or in the sink to thaw. While the center of the chicken is ice cold, the outer portions will be too warm to stop bacterial growth. Instead, thaw the chicken in your fridge up to two days ahead of when you plan to cook with it. That will give the chicken’s thickest parts plenty of time to de-ice while keeping the outside portions chilled and more importantly, safe.

Not letting chicken warm up a bit

After the last raw chicken mistake, this may seem counterintuitive, but hear us out: You don’t want to leave the chicken out too long (remember, food poisoning), but you also don’t want to cook it straight from the fridge.

Leaving the chicken out at room temperature for 15 minutes will make the chicken cook more evenly, helping you avoid a brown outside with a raw, undercooked inside.

Solution: When you’re gathering all of the ingredients for dinner, go ahead and take the chicken (in the plate or dish where it’s stored) out of the fridge. Let it sit for no more than 15 minutes.

Rinsing chicken before you cook it

If you give your birds a bath before you bake them, it’s time to stop. Raw chicken doesn’t need to be and should not be rinsed before cooking. You may think you’re rinsing away bacteria—salmonella is a big concern with chicken—but you may actually just be spreading it. In fact, research suggests you may splash bacteria as far as three feet from your sink when you rinse poultry.

Solution: Skip the bath. Cook chicken directly from the package, and you’ll cut down on possible contamination around your kitchen.

Not drying your chicken

Didn’t we just tell you not to wash chicken? We did. But you should definitely dry your chicken before you cook it.

That’s because fluids from processing and packaging chicken are often washed in a saline solution to keep it looking moist when on the shelf can make your chicken soggy when you put it right into the pan. A dry bird gets more beautiful browning and a wonderfully crisp sear.

Solution: Before you put the chicken in the pan or on the grill, give it a quick dab with paper towels. Better yet, let the chicken air-dry in the refrigerator for a few hours. To do this, you’ll place the chicken on a tray or platter and leave it, uncovered, in your fridge. The air will wick away moisture from the skin of the chicken, leaving it nice and dry for crisp searing. (Dry brining is a popular technique for getting really crispy turkey skin at Thanksgiving.)

Marinating your chicken the wrong way

Marinating is a great technique for adding flavor with minimal effort. You need only combine your chicken pieces with your homemade marinade and let it rest for several hours before it’s time to cook it.

However, you’re making a big mistake if you leave your chicken on the counter to marinate while you prepare all the other components for your meal. You could set yourself up for a foodborne illness.

Solution: Once you have your marinade, pour it into a zip-top bag or container that closes. (A lidded container is fine as long as the lid won’t fly off.) Then, add your chicken. Toss gently to coat the chicken in the marinade, and immediately put it back into the fridge. Toss or flip the chicken a few more times to get all pieces of chicken evenly coated.

When you’re finished with the marinade, throw the bag right into the trash or empty it from the container down the sink. Marinade that has come into contact with raw chicken is not reusable, even if you boil it. It’s just too risky. Instead, save some of your marinade before you combine it with the chicken, and use it for a last-second brushing before serving.

The raw chicken comes into contact with other foods

If space is at a premium in your petite kitchen, you may be tempted to reuse surfaces (i.e. cutting boards) to keep from dirtying up extra dishes. Don’t do it.

Chop raw chicken on a separate prep board from other ingredients you might be slicing or mincing for your meal. If you chop kale on the same board you sliced chicken, you could cross-contaminate the leafy greens with juices from the bird. That’s possible even if you wipe the board down with a sanitizing towel. Bacteria are just too difficult to eliminate without a high-temperature wash, like that of a dishwasher.

Reusing kitchen tools without washing

If you use the same tongs to flip raw chicken as you do to toss the side salad you’ve prepared, you may be cross contaminating your raw ingredients with the bacteria from your raw chicken. This increases your risk for foodborne illnesses and food poisoning.

Solution: You need to set aside all utensils that come into contact with raw meat, and don’t use them for other foods. Then, you should wash them thoroughly after each use so as to prevent the spread of poultry juices.

Not washing your hands after handling raw chicken

Your hands are the most useful tool you have in your kitchen. They’re also the most likely to spread bacteria.

Indeed, you may easily cross-contaminate your entire kitchen if you use your dirty hands to handle chicken, turn on a sink, grab a fork from the drawer, and open the refrigerator. Each surface you come into contact with may now harbor potentially deadly bacteria.

Solution: Take extra care to notice what and where you touch after handling raw chicken. Better yet, “save” one hand for non-chicken related tasks. As soon as you’ve flipped the chicken or put it in the bag for marinating, use your non-chicken hand to turn on the faucet at the sink and pump some soap. Wash your hands thoroughly, and dry with a clean towel. Don’t use a towel you’ve used to wipe down surfaces around your kitchen, or you could pick up any bacteria the towel is hiding.

Ripping skin off the meat with your hands

If you’ve tried tugging chicken skin off breasts, thighs, or drumsticks before cooking them, you know how slippery those pieces can be. One stuck-on piece of sinew and your main course may be sent flying into the floor.

It’s also smart to leave the skin on cuts like thighs and drumsticks because the fat can infuse the meat with flavor during the cooking process. You can just remove the skin before serving.

Solution: Give your grippers a rest and use a paring knife instead. The short knives are easy to grip and quickly cut away at the tough tissue. They can also be easier to handle, which reduces the risk of losing any precious meat during the trimming process.

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10 Mistakes You’re Making with Raw Chicken

20 Types of Peppers and Their Uses

All types of peppers are part of the genus Capsicum, which includes hot varieties, known as chile peppers, and sweet varieties, such as the bell pepper. Up until the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the New World, peppers grew only in Latin America. Along with corn, tomatoes, and beans, the Europeans brought back some of the peppers and on their travels introduced the plant to the rest of the world, where it took off like wildfire.

Truly international in their appeal, peppers have become integral to cuisines across the world, from Mexico to Thailand, the Congo to India, and from Hungary to Tunisia. If you are unable to find fresh or dried chiles in your local grocery store, try an online source like Amazon, Happy Quail Farms, Despaña, La Tienda, or Zocalito.

The heat of a pepper is measured using Scoville units: The scale ranges from 0 (as in bell peppers) all the way to 3,000,000 (as in the spiciest chile in the world, the Pepper X). Most dried chiles you will encounter fall somewhere in the middle but can still be pretty hot! The Scoville scale is a good base for knowing how hot your chiles are but know that the heat can vary according to climate and vegetation. The relatively mild poblano weighs in at about 1,500 Scoville heat units (SHU), while the super-hot habañero packs a whopping 250,000 SHUs (or more).

If you want the flavor without the mouth-scorching fire, remove the seeds and interior ribs from a chile before cooking it. It’s a good idea to have dairy products, such as milk or yogurt, on hand, they contain casein, which helps neutralize capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat. And remember: Always protect your skin by wearing gloves and never touch your eyes when handling hot peppers.

Discover 20 popular types of peppers and how to cook with them.

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1. Bell Pepper

Alternate Names: Green pepper, red pepper, sweet bell pepper, capsicum

Characteristics: Relatively large in size, the bell-shaped pepper in its immature state is green with a slightly bitter flavor. As it matures, it turns bright red and becomes sweeter. You can find yellow, orange, white, pink, and even purple varieties. With their high water content, bell peppers will add moisture to any dish. They’re great for adding color.

Scoville heat units: 0

 

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2. Poblano Pepper

Alternate Name: Ancho

Characteristics: Somewhat large and heart-shaped, the poblano is common in Mexican dishes such as chiles rellenos. Are poblano peppers spicy? Yes, but only mildly spicy. At maturity, the poblano turns dark red-brown and can be dried, at which point it’s referred to as an ancho or mulato. Anchos have a rich, raisin-like sweetness. The high yield of flesh to skin makes anchos great for sauces.

Scoville heat units: 1,000 to 2,000

 

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3. Anaheim Pepper

Alternate Names: California green chile, Chile Verde, New Mexican chile

Characteristics: This long pepper is relatively mild and very versatile. When mature, the Anaheim turns deep red and are referred to a chile Colorado or California red chile. Anaheims are popular in salsas and dishes from the American Southwest.

Scoville heat units: 500 to 2,500

 

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4. Serrano Pepper

Characteristics: Just a couple of inches long, with a tapered end, this small pepper packs quite a bit of heat. Beware: The smaller the pepper, the hotter it is. When ripe, serranos are red or yellowish orange—they can be cooked in both their ripe and unripe states. Serranos are common in Mexican and Thai cooking.

Scoville heat units: 6,000 to 23,000

 

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5. Habañero Pepper

Characteristics: Small and bulbous, this chile, in the same family as the Scotch bonnet, is one of the hottest on the Scoville scale. If you can get past the heat, habañeros have a fruity flavor. They’re popular on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and in the Caribbean, where they’re used to make hot sauces.

Scoville heat units: 150,000 to 350,000

 

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6. Cayenne Pepper

Alternate Names: Finger chile, Ginnie pepper, and bird pepper

Characteristics: Slender and tapered, this chile is probably most familiar in its dried, ground form—the powder known as cayenne pepper. Ground cayenne pepper is the main ingredient in the chili powder that flavors Tex-Mex dishes such as chili con carne. It’s one of the spiciest types of peppers!

Scoville heat units: 30,000 to 50,000

 

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7. Rocoto Pepper

Alternate names: Ají rocoto, hairy pepper, and locoto

Characteristics: This South American pepper looks like a miniature bell pepper, and, like a bell pepper, can come in shades of orange, yellow and red. The hottest rocotos are typically yellow, but red rocotos are the most common. Inside, the pepper has unique black seeds. It’s sometimes referred to as the hairy pepper thanks to its furry leaves. Rocoto has a crisp and fruity flavor, and are commonly used in salsa.

Scoville heat units: 100,000 to 250,000

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8. Piri Piri

Alternate Names: Peri Peri, African bird’s-eye pepper and African red devil pepper

Characteristics: When Portuguese sailors made a port of call in what’s now South Africa and Mozambique, they brought ashore little chile peppers called bird’s eyes, or peri-peri in Swahili. The name came to refer to the piquant sauce made from these chiles, as well as to the Portuguese-African method of cooking prawns, chicken, or anything else in this sauce. Nando’s bottled version is a mainstay for those who don’t want to make it from scratch. Though it’s a relatively small pepper, growing only one to two inches, it packs quite a punch.

Scoville Heat Units: 50,000 to 175,000

 

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9. Mirasol Chili

Alternate Names: Guajillo

Characteristics: Bright red and pointed upward, these peppers grow toward the sun, which is why they were given the name mirasol (which means “looking at the sun” in Spanish). In their dried form, they are called guajillo. Guajillos are fruity, tangy, and mildly acidic, and are a common ingredient in traditional al pastor. They are one of the main chilis used in mole sauce.

Scoville Heat Units: 2,500 to 5,000

 

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10. Tabasco Pepper

Characteristics: Best known for the sauce that has its name, this pepper grows throughout the world. At maturity, the pepper measures one to two inches and is bright red. To create the famous Tabasco sauce, the pepper is smashed and combined with salt and vinegar, which tempers the pepper’s heat (the Scoville rating of Tabasco sauce is 2,500 to 5,000, a mere fraction of its rating as a pepper.

Scoville heat units: 30,000 to 60,000


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11. Jalapeño Pepper

Alternate Names: Chipotle

Scoville heat units: 3,500 to 8,000

Characteristics: This Mexican pepper is typically plucked from the vine while still green. If allowed to ripen more, they will turn red and take on a slightly fruity flavored. Jalapeños are a tasty ingredient commonly used to in salsa and sauces. When dried, a jalapeño is called a chipotle. Smoke-dried chipotles come in two varieties: Meco (mellow) and moritas (spicier). Smoky, woodsy, and spicy, chipotles are the perfect ingredient for salsas, sauces, escabeche, and adobo.

 

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12. Cherry Pepper

Alternate names: Pimiento and pimento

Characteristics: This lovely pepper is sweet on the outside and the inside. Bright red and shaped like a heart, this large pepper barely registers on the Scoville scale but makes up for its lack of spice with a sweet, succulent flavor. You’ll commonly find cherry peppers chopped and stuffed into green olives, in pimento loaves and pimento cheese.

Scoville heat units: 500

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13. Chilaca

Alternate Names: Pasilla and chile negro

Characteristics: Black and wrinkly, chilacas boast a prune-like flavor with a hint a hint of licorice. “Chilaca” is an Aztec term meaning old or gray-haired, which is fitting given the pepper’s wrinkly appearance. When dried, the chilaca is called a pasilla or chile negro, and is toasted or soaked and blended into sauces, often combined with fruit.

Scoville heat units: 1,500 to 2,500

 

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14. Banana Pepper

Alternate Names: Yellow wax pepper and banana chili

Characteristics: This mild yet tangy pepper adds a kick to pizza or sandwiches. This pepper usually takes on a bright yellow hue as it ripens, but occasionally grows to be red, orange or green instead.

Scoville heat units: 0–500

 

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15. Piquillo

Alternate Names: Little beak pepper

Characteristics: This mild, sweet pepper hails from northern Spain and features a smokey, tart flavor that’s ideal for sandwiches and sauces, and thrives as a compliment to meat and cheese. You’ll often find them jarred in your grocer’s gourmet section. As they mature, they grow from green to red. They measure three to four inches long and are slightly curved at the end, resembling a little beak.

Scoville heat units: 500 to 1,000

 

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16. Shishito

Characteristics: Harvested while still green, these thin-walled peppers can be pan-seared and eaten on their own. They can be added to pizza or to flavor dishes. The riper the shishito, the spicier the pepper.

Scoville heat units: 50 to 200

 

17. Basque Fryer

Alternate Names: Doux long des Landes, doux de Landes, and piment basque

Characteristics: Located on the border of France and Spain, the Basque region boasts six official types of peppers. The most popular type is the Basque Fryer pepper,  known as the doux de Landes, meaning “sweet from Landes.” (Landes is located in southwest France). As the name suggests, the pepper is sweet. The Basque fryer is can be eaten raw, roasted or sautéed.

Scoville heat units: 0


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18. Scotch Bonnet

Alternate Names: Bonney peppers, ball of fire peppers, cachucha and Caribbean red peppers

Characteristics: This spicy pepper is called a scotch bonnet thanks to its resemblance to the caps men wear in Scotland (Tam o’ shanter hats, to be precise). It’s the hottest pepper in the Caribbean and used to flavor all sorts of island dishes, including jerk chicken. Though the pepper is most often spicy, you will occasionally find a sweet variety, called cachucha.

Scoville heat units: 80,000–400,000

 

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19. Padrón Peppers

Characteristics: Padrón peppers are typically sweet and mild, but occasionally,  this pepper packs quite a bit of spice. The eponymous pepper grows in Padrón in northwestern Spain and is often served, fried, as a tapa. They can be served grilled.

Scoville heat units: 500 – 2,500

 

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20. Ghost Pepper

Alternate names: Bhut Naga Jolokia, bhut jolokia, Naga Jolokia, ghost chili, U-morok, ghost Jolokia and red naga

Characteristics: Sometimes called Bhut Naga Jolokia (bhut means ghost, naga means snake, and Jolokia is chile), the name alone sounds daunting. This chile has a venomous bite! The ghost pepper hails from Northeastern India and is cultivated in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. So how hot is this hair-raiser? With more than 1 million Scoville units, it’s approximately half as hot as the pepper spray used by law enforcement but 100 times hotter than a jalapeño. One of the hottest (edible) peppers in the world, ghost peppers are used sparingly in chutney and curry.

Scoville heat units: 1,000,000+

 

No matter what pepper you choose, you’ll reap powerful health benefits thanks to peppers’ unique nutritional profiles. Not only are peppers are a good source of vitamins A, C, and E, they’re rich in folate and potassium, low in sodium, low in carbohydrates, and high in minerals. Because they contain capsaicin, they have been studied for their ability to stimulate circulation and as a way to medicate arthritis.

 

20 Types of Peppers and Their Uses

Inviting Kitchens to Wake You Up 

I found it interesting in reading through these that even though “Granite” is supposedly on it’s way out, a number of these kitchens are inspired with granite.   I still love it in a kitchen, as it adds such life!
Inviting Kitchens to Wake You Up 

Salted caramel shortbread

Salted Caramel Shortbread Recipe

Salted caramel shortbread

  • Easy

Sweet and salty flavors are an ongoing trend and this shortbread recipe is the perfect way to blend these flavors. It’s quick and easy baking and will please a crowd.

Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter 300g  ( 10.5 oz)
  • Golden caster sugar 150g  (3/4 cup superfine baker’s sugar)
  • Plain flour 350g  (2 3/4 cup)
  • Rice flour 100g  ( I used all regular flour) 
  • Semi0sweet chocolate 150g, chopped  (6 oz)
  • Salt flakes for decoration

caramel

  • Golden caster sugar 100g   ( 1/2 cup superfine baker’s sugar)
  • Salt flakes

METHOD

  • STEP 1

    To make the caramel, heat the sugar in an even layer in a frying pan until it melts and then starts to bubble to a golden brown. Swirl the pan if you need to keep the melting and browning even. Add a good-sized pinch of salt flakes and tip the caramel onto an oiled baking sheet set on a wooden board. Cool and then break into chips with a rolling pin. ( I used a meat pounder to break up mine)

     

  • STEP 2

    Beat the butter and sugar in a food processor until you have a smooth paste. Add all of the flours and a pinch of salt and beat to form a dough. Tip onto a lightly floured board, pat out gently and sprinkle with the caramel chips. Fold in half and then transfer to a 20 × 30cm (or similar) tin and push into an even layer. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.  ( This did not work so well for me, so I cut it in half, pushed the first half onto an 8 x 12 cake pan, added the broken caramel, then patted the second half on top. – Worked great! )

     

  • STEP 3

    Heat the oven to 180c/fan 160c/gas (350 ℉) 4. Bake the shortbread for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, mark into fingers with a knife and then cool completely. Cut along the marked lines into pieces.  (I put a rack on top, flipped it out, then flipped it over with another rack.  Easy…  Used my biggest knife to cut right through)

     

  • STEP 4

    Heat the chocolate in a bowl set over (but not touching) a pan of water or microwave until it starts to melt, stir until smooth and take it off the heat. Lay the shortbreads next to each other with a tiny gap between them on a cooling rack and spoon over the chocolate in strips and it doesn’t have to be perfect. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle with some salt flakes and then leave it to set. ( I used a piping tube to do it)

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    Here is what mine look like and they taste wonderful!

Salted caramel shortbread

Pepper – The Master Spice

This is an article (slightly revised) from “What’s Cooking America”.  I thought the information was interesting and might answer some questions you might have. I added a little history and a couple more peppers.

 

MultiPeppercorns

 

Along with salt, pepper is on nearly every table.  Historically significant, pepper is the most common spice in use.  Nutritionally beneficial and medicinally positive, pepper offers a unique flavor and a variety of uses.  It is the third most common ingredient behind water and salt.  There are a variety of peppercorns commonly used.

This master spice is versatile in all forms.  It offers up a vibrant flavor suitable for any dish.  Historically, it has led an illustrious and full life-giving fortune and paying ransoms.  Pepper is used daily by most people and offers health benefits along with adding its unique flavor.  Reach for that pepper shaker or grinder and enjoy all the benefits it has to offer!

Types of Pepper

Peppercorns (piper nigrum) ground for use on the table and in cooking originally only came from India but is now also cultivated in Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and South America.  India is still the major producer of this spice with over half of the product coming from there.

A perennial bush, which often grows wild, is produced in mounds with trellises similar to grape vines.  These mounds are usually about 8-feet tall but the bush itself can grow up to 33 feet in the proper climate.  The bush has a round and smooth jointed stem; dark green leaves which are smooth, broad, and have seven nerves in them; and small white flowers.  The flowers become the berries which are harvested.  The flowers grow in clusters of up to 150.  Grown from cuttings, the bush bears fruit at three to four years until about fifteen years.  Typically the pepper bush grows within about 20 degrees of the equator some believe the closer to the equator the hotter the peppercorn.

From this bush, three types of peppercorn are harvested: black, green, and white.  The difference in the peppercorns come from when the berry of the bush is harvested and how it is processed.

Black Peppercorns:

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Black peppercorns are the dried berry and the most pungent and strongest in flavor of the three.  The berries are picked just before they are ripe and are typically sun-dried.  As they dry, an enzyme is released which darkens the hull of the berry to anywhere from dark brown to jet black.  Within the hull is a lighter seed which causes a variance in the color of the ground pepper.

Black pepper comes in many forms; whole, cracked, and ground.  The ground pepper has varying degrees of coarseness from fine to coarse.

Some of the uses are as follows:

whole pickling and stocks – cracked for meats and salads – ground for everything else

Tellicherry Peppers:

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Currently, the Tellicherry pepper is the most popular.  It is named after the port and region it is gathered from.  It is the oldest source of black pepper, though Alleppey and Pandjung are longtime ports for the export of this spice.  The Tellicherry peppercorn is larger and darker than others.  It has a more complex flavor which is why it is more popular.

Tellicherry and Malabar come from the same region in Southwest India.  The Tellicherry is picked slightly closer to being ripe and is considered to be slightly better than the Malabar.  Malabar has a green hue with a strong flavor.

Green Peppercorns:

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Green peppercorns are the green berry picked long before they are ripe, which can be freeze-dried to preserve the smooth texture and bright color.  While the green peppercorn gives a strong tart punch of flavor to begin with, it does not linger long in the mouth.  These can also be pickled for shipment.  The berries for the green and black peppercorns are actually picked at about the same time but the green are not allowed to dry causing which prevents that enzyme from activating.  Green peppers only come packed in brine, water, or freeze-dried.

Some of the uses are as follows:

meat sauces – poultry – vegetables – seafood

 

White Peppercorns:

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The United States is one of the largest consumers of black pepper and has a much higher demand for the black pepper compared to white pepper.  However, Europeans prefer the white pepper over the black.

This peppercorn is the mature berries that are given a short water bath in order to remove the husks before the remaining seed is sun-dried.  The removal of the husk prevents the dark color forming during the drying process.  As the berry ripens, it becomes a bright red color.  During the drying process, it becomes white.  A second way for the white pepper to be harvested is to harvest the green berry, soak it for several days before rubbing off the outer layer.  The remaining seed is then either dried for use whole or ground.  This pepper has a long drawn out flavor which lingers.

White pepper has two forms: whole and ground.  Generally white is preferred over black for any dish where the pepper might show like some of the following uses:

white sauces – cream soups – fish – poultry – grilled meats

 

Red Peppercorns:

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These are rare and difficult to find, particularly in the United States.  They are the red berries ripened on the vine.  Instead of picking the berries, they are harvested with part of the vine.  These are best used within a very short period of time.  The red peppercorn has a sweet and mellow flavor in contrast to the pungent strong flavor of the black.  Since these are rare in the United States, most recipes calling for red pepper are referring to ground cayenne or red chile’s.

 

Pink Peppercorns:

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A rare find, this is created from the red berries of the piper nigrum and are preserved in a brine.  These are too soft to grind so are often put into a recipe whole.  The best dishes to use these are egg dishes and salads.

Blends and Combinations:

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Blending the three types of pepper doesn’t really enhance the flavors; however, there are two blends which can work nicely.  Black and green combined add a bit more bite to a dish.  Black and white combined makes the flavor linger longer.  If pink peppercorns (see below), as opposed to the pink peppercorns (piper nigrum family) is added to a combination, its flavor is easily overpowered.

Medley Peppercorns:

Blends of different kinds of peppercorns are typically called medleys.

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Lemon Pepper:

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Peppercorns can also be blended with other products like garlic, coriander, lemon, shallot, and chipotle.

Many people have had lemon pepper chicken or fish, the main spice in those dishes come from a combination of lemon and pepper.

Long Pepper:

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Long pepper, generally absent from the modern culinary world is something of a culinary injustice we all owe to ourselves to try.

Like grains of paradise, long pepper was freely used alongside (and often confused with) common black pepper in kitchens from ancient Rome to Renaissance Europe. But the arrival of chiles from the New World and the rising popularity of black pepper shoved long pepper out of the culinary spotlight.

Its flavor is much more complex than black pepper, reminiscent of spice blends like garam masala more than a single spice. It possesses black pepper’s heat and musk, but in a less harsh, more nuanced way, tempered by sweet notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom. Its finish lingers on the tongue with a tobacco-like coolness; where black pepper stings, long pepper balms.

There are actually two commercially grown species of long pepper: piper longum, from India, and the cheaper and wider-spread piper retrofactum, from Indonesia (the island of Java). Their flavors are similar enough as to be interchangeable, but they’re worth mentioning for inspiration about cuisines the spice works well with. South Indian cooks use long pepper in lentil stews and pickles, and its sweet heat works well with Southeast Asian-style roasted meats. Long pepper has been prized for its aphrodisiac properties. One recipe, from the Kama Sutra, calls for long pepper to be mixed with black pepper, other spices, and honey, with the promise to “utterly devastate your lady.” The concoction is applied externally.

Long pepper (piper longum) originates in central Africa but is now in India, Africa, and Eastern China. This is harvested in summer.  The bud fruit is about an inch long and consists of lots of tiny black and gray seeds.  The taste is like a mild pepper and ginger combination.  This was commonly used during the Middle Ages.  This one can substitute for common pepper and is best used in sweet hot recipes accenting the ginger flavor. Some suggestions for use are on fruit (particularly fresh) or in coleslaw, this prevents the flavor from being cooked away.

False Peppers:

There are several varieties of peppercorns which do not belong to the piper nigrum family.  These come from several different types of plants. The flavors of these are different from the piper nigrum plant so should not be used as a substitute.  Some are as follows:

Pink peppercorns (shinus molle) is grown in Madagascar, Mexico, and Australia.  The pale pink berries are harvested in the summer. Initially, this has a pepper flavor but ends tasting sweet.  It is good for vegetables and seafood and is not a good replacement for regular pepper.  This can cause an allergic reaction in children so follow the recipe precisely.  The schinus terebinthifolius species is used as a pink pepper.  The plant looks similar to a holly tree and it grows in parts of the US like the shinus molle.  There is an additional pink peppercorn which comes from the Baies rose plant (euonymus phellomanus) which is also from Madagascar.  Pink peppercorns (shinus molle) is grown in Madagascar, Mexico, and Australia.

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Sichuan or Szechuan pepper is found commonly in China and used in many Chinese and Japanese dishes, but also adds a zing to chicken noodle soup. The pepper derives from the berries of a prickly Ash tree native to China.  These are spicier than the regular pepper.

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Negro Pepper (xylopia aethiopica) is grown in Ghana and Malawi.  This one is harvested in the fall and when dried has dark brown seed pods.  Like the piper nigrum, it is a fruit which is dried in the sun.  Similar to piper nigrum, this has a strong flavor but it leaves a bitter aftertaste so is not a good substitute for regular pepper.

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Pepperleaf (piper sanctum) is cultivated in Peru and Argentina.  The leaves are harvested year round.  The green leaf is plucked from a bush which is in the pepper family.  It is very similar to cilantro and best used fresh.  It has a little bite but mellows to a sweeter flavor.


 

History of Pepper

Like salt, this spice has a long and illustrious past.  It has been popular for more than 4000 years; cultivation of pepper began about 1000 BC.

Pepper was actually the first spice used in Europe and helped to motivate the Spanish, English, and Dutch to find trade routes to India.  It helped develop the relations among East, West, and Middle East countries.  This spice was a luxury and only used by the upper class up until the early 1800s before average citizens could afford to use this spice.  This spice is so valuable that even in some parts of Asia, poorer families hold peppercorns as a type of savings.

The spice dates back much further than these somewhat modern trade routes though.  It was highly prized in ancient Greece, being given as an offering to the Gods, used for paying taxes, and even in paying ransoms.  Some of the ransoms were paid to the Ottoman Tribes.  Rome also utilized pepper for taxes.  The famous Roman Centurions received peppercorns as part of their pay.

The Middle Ages saw the price of pepper equal that of gold.  The upper class often kept stores of it and accepted it as payment for rent and other debts.  One pound of peppercorns was worth three weeks of work during this time frame.

Pepper is known as the king or master spice because even today it makes up about a quarter of the spice trade.  Historically, it was a popular spice to use because it flavored bland food and covered up any signs of spoilage.

 

Additional Uses

Aside from culinary deliciousness, pepper has other uses.  It is toxic to several insects so is an effective insecticide.  You can sprinkle pepper around non-garden areas to keep insects out.  Mix a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper to one quart of warm water and spray it on plants to kill ants, potato bugs, and silverfish.

Pepper has also been used as a brandy flavor and in perfumes.

The best way to determine the flavor of peppercorns is to smell them.  To cleanse your nose and sense of smell try smelling coffee beans in between each sample.

 

Cooking Tips

Almost every recipe calls for a sprinkle or dash of pepper.  For the novice, this can be a difficult measurement.  Should you shake your pepper shaker once or twice?  Should the grinder be turned five or six times?  With the small measurements, it really doesn’t matter.  However, if you are concerned about the intake of pepper, then five turns on your typical pepper grinder is about a 1/8 of a teaspoon.

Pepper – The Master Spice

Olive Oil Tips & Tricks

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Olive oil is one of the world’s most ancient foods and it’s one of the most common cooking ingredients. In fact, along with salt and pepper, olive oil is one of the best pantry staples, because it’s an essential element to so, so many recipes. You can use it to roast veggies, grill chicken, make a super simple salad dressing, drizzle over crostini. In addition to being a baller ingredient that elevates any and all food, olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which are an essential component to any well-rounded diet.

Choosing an olive oil from a shelf of bottles at wildly varied price points can be tricky. Olive oil is so versatile because there are many flavors, notes, and colors. In that respect, it’s like wine. And like wine, it can be intimidating.

We hear words like extra and virgin thrown around a lot, but most people couldn’t tell you what that actually means. And with tons of fraudulent bottles clogging the market, it can be hard to tell which olive oils are actually worth your time and your money. Let’s face it, olive oil is NOT cheap.

1. Only buy oil labeled extra-virgin. This is not a guarantee that the oil will be the best, but at least it will probably not be among the worst. Bottles labeled just plain “Olive Oil” and “Light Olive Oil” are refined oils and, like vegetable oil, while they’re not bad in any way, they are not very interesting.

2. Read the label. Even if it’s written in Italian, French or Spanish, you can probably figure out enough to recognize harvest and “use by” dates. The finest producers always put the harvest date proudly on their olive oil. The use-by date can be a little deceptive since it is usually 18 months from bottling, rather than from harvest.

Check for the region the oil was produced in. If you see more than one country, region, or even city listed, put the bottle back on the store shelf. You don’t want the olives blended from all different countries. Because when it comes to the olives used in olive oil, the things that grow together go together.

You want to look for the olive cultivar. This is just a fancy way of saying which type of olives were used to make the oil. The more specific information the producers display on the bottle, the more likely that extra-virgin claim is legit.

Remember to always check the harvest date, and opt for the freshest you can find.

3. Avoid anything in a clear glass bottle, no matter how pretty and enticing the label. Light is the great enemy of olive oil and the oil inside will likely have lost most of its flavor and aroma. Look for extra-virgin olive oil in dark glass bottles or, better yet, opaque tins. Olive Oil does not like light, so keep yours out of the sun.  Your kitchen counter is not a good place to keep it.

4. Know that the term “first cold pressing,” although widely used, is redundant. By legal definition, the extra-virgin oil must come from the first (usually the only) pressing, which must be accomplished with no added heat (at ambient temperatures no higher than around 80ºF.

5. Extra-virgin olive oil does not improve with age. Fresher is better, and right out of the mill, olive oil is a fabulous experience. Fresh oil may have unexpectedly assertive flavors of bitterness and pungency that sometimes override the fruitiness. These challenging flavors are treasured by connoisseurs because they indicate high quality, and by nutritionists, because they’re evidence of lots of healthful polyphenols.

6. Light is the enemy and so is heat. Keep your precious bottles in a cool, dark environment. I have a couple of tin containers within reach of my stove, each of which holds 1 ½ cups of oil, enough for a couple of days in my kitchen. They get refilled from the bulk of my oil, which I keep in a cupboard in an unheated pantry.

7. Use your oil! And don’t be afraid to cook with extra-virgin. It is perfectly stable up to about 420ºF. The Joy of Cooking says 360ºF is the optimum temperature for deep-frying, I use extra-virgin comfortably for almost all of my cooking. And because it doesn’t get better with age, I use last year’s oil for cooking, and this year’s fresh oil for garnishing.

8. Use it liberally! Learn to love a hot baked potato, cracked open and topped with lots of the freshest finest oil you can buy, a sprinkle of fleur de sel and freshly ground Telicherry pepper. Or try my favorite Catalan breakfast—grilled rustic bread with a ripe tomato crushed into the top, then salt and pepper and a glug of extra-virgin over it all.

9. Buy from trusted retailers who know how to maintain quality. I find the best quality olive oil from online sources. Here are a few good ones: olio2go.com,
dipaloselects.commarkethallfoods.comcortibrothers.com,
zingermans.com, and www.gustiamo.com

10. Like with other juices, fresher is always better when it comes to olive oil.

Olive oil is adversely affected by several factors including time passed since its pressing, heat, light, and air. Luckily the shelf life is a little bit longer than that of the kale, apple, and parsley blend you love olive oil is at its best in its first two years. An older bottle probably won’t hurt you, but it slowly loses its beautiful flavors and health benefits with every passing day.

Olive oil harvests in the northern hemisphere (usually in countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy) take place in October and November. This means if you’re looking for the freshest bottle, you’ll want the harvest date listed on the label to be from the previous year. Anything earlier than that indicates an old bottle unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t get better with age

11. But know that if you go for just regular “virgin,” you’ll still get all the health benefits.

While the lower quality virgin olive oil may not taste as good as its extra-virgin counterparts,  there isn’t any nutritional difference between the two. Pure olive oils, on the other hand, have been chemically processed which means you may want to avoid them altogether. When you see a bottle labeled pure, light, or olive oil, this can be an indicator that it is a refined, lesser quality product.

12. Different olives produce oils that taste different.

Olive oil adds depth and dimension to virtually any dish. And experts make careers tasting and assessing the subtleties of olive oil. Hundreds of olive varieties are cultivated around the world, and dozens are valued for producing delicious oil.

Knowing which olives were used can also help you determine what the oil will taste like. If you see an oil made with a taggiasca olive, it’s going to be light and delicate and sweet. But if you see an oil made with a nocellara olive,  it will be leafy, herbaceous, and robust.”

Different varieties absolutely have different flavor profiles and personalities, but the end result of the oil is determined by much more including geography, the method of harvesting and pressing, as well as blending and storage. Again, think wine, there are plenty of luscious Pinot Noirs and plenty of bad Pinot Noirs.

To really use this knowledge to your advantage, you’ll need to have a bit of olive intel in your back pocket. A quick Google search of the different types should give you enough flavor info to make a decision. Or try a new type each time you buy a bottle and see what you like best. There hundreds of different olive varieties out there and olive oils vary greatly from region to region, so there are a lot of flavors to be had. If you’re at a store that allows you to taste olive oil, take advantage! The more you taste, the more you’ll discover what styles make you happy.

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13. You can’t tell how an olive oil will taste by looking at it.

Just as you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you don’t want to judge an olive oil by its color. A greener olive oil isn’t necessarily a better or fresher olive oil, though this is commonly thought to be the case. Color is determined by factors like the type of olives used and when the oil was extracted. The only way to truly judge the quality of an oil is to crack it open and give it a taste.

14. You don’t want to cheap out on olive oil, but it shouldn’t break the bank either.

As you’re scanning the oil aisle, there’s definitely the potential for sticker shock, but there’s a wide range of prices and you don’t have to drop a ton of dough for a decent bottle. As for how much you should be spending in general, Try not to drop below $15 per liter, which is about 34 ounces. You’ll often find bottles that size at the supermarket and it’s a good amount to have on hand if you cook regularly. (If you don’t cook that often, it’s easy to find smaller bottles, too.)

15. Use cheaper bottles for cooking and pricier oils for drizzling.

If you do decide to splurge on a pricier bottle one between $20 and $40 you may want to reserve it for drizzling and finishing dishes. When you cook olive oil, you cook the nuances out of it. So if you really want to savor the flavor of an oil soaked into a piece of bread or poured over a bowl of hummus, keep one nice bottle on hand for that, and use another (cheaper) bottle for all your cooking needs.

Many chefs tend to cook with cheaper (but still totally respectable) EVOO, like California Olive Ranch, and save the truly mind-blowing stuff, like Castillo de Canna for drizzling and finishing.

16. And finally, you absolutely should use olive oil for way more than just salads.

Olive oil is an incredible ingredient and the cornerstone of the famous Mediterranean diet. Exquisite olive oil elevates everything it touches: salads, grilled veggies, meat and seafood, soups, stews, pasta, and risotto really do go from good to awesome when anointed with yummy EVOO. It’s the perfect bridge between tradition and innovation. It can be utilized in a plethora of culinary applications with astounding results.

From cooking with to finishing to everything in between, olive oil can elevate many dishes.

Olive Oil Tips & Tricks

Why Do So Many Recipes Bake at 350°F?

 Muffins and quick bread, dips, and pies almost always start with the same instruction: “Preheat the oven to 350°F.” Why?

Why is that?

What makes 350°F the magical temperature?

Why is it that so many types of baked foods from cake to bread go in a 350°F oven and come out perfectly after a relatively brief bake?

The answer to that is one part science and one part, well, human laziness.

Putting something in a hot oven sets off a series of chemical reactions that turn the gooey dough into a bouncing bread or sheets of puff pastry into flaky pastries. A temperature of around 350°F is hot enough to complete a lot of these steps quickly.

Step 1. At 90°F, fats begin to melt and combine with the gluten proteins (flour). Gases from the baking soda or baking powder are released, which helps make the baked good tender.

Step 2..At 140°F, the gluten proteins (flour) begin to swell and dry out. That’s when cake or cookies go from wet batter to dry food.

Step 3. At 300°F, sugar starts to caramelize.

Step 4. The Maillard Reaction, a point at which foods begin to brown and develop their distinctive flavor, happens around 320°F.

So why 350°F? It’s good enough to make all those necessary steps happen quickly, even if your oven runs a little cold and it’s not so hot you have to worry about burning.

But how did we decide to bake things at 350°F and not 340°F or 360°F?

That requires a trip back to the turn of the century.

Before we had ovens that could be warmed up in 5-degree increments like we do today, we had ovens that could bake at three settings: slow, moderate, or high. Recipes for baked goods often called for “moderate ovens.”

After World War II, oven manufacturers capitalized on some technological improvements from the war. Newer models of ovens gave cooks slightly more control by letting them set their gas and electric ovens in 25°F increments. Today, many modern ovens will let you set your oven in 5°F increments.

Attempting to adapt antiquated recipe instructions to match the modern day appliances, recipe writers converted a “moderate” temperature to 350°F, which was typically halfway between an oven’s lowest setting, around 200°F, and its highest, around 500°F.

Is 350°F really the best temperature for baking?

No, probably not. Ovens are notoriously unreliable, so setting your oven to 350°F promises you’ll land somewhere between 330-370°F. You’ll hit 350°F only if your oven is well-calibrated. That being said, most ovens have hot spots and cool spots, so it’s not a good bet that you’re really cooking at precisely 350°F.

Recipe writers and food marketers know that it’s better to err on the side of caution with the “moderate” temperature than to get very specific and have a failed recipe.

Some baked goods, like crusty baguettes,  benefit from baking at a higher temperature, but a too-high temp could sink it. The higher heat will help the bread rise more quickly and set the crust before the gluten in the bread has a chance to dry out and stiffen.

The same can be true for muffins: the muffin tops rise taller in the higher heat, and you can lower the temp to finish baking them and prevent them from drying out.

Likewise, many chocolate chip cookie recipes bake at a higher temp as high as 425°F or start hot and finish at a lower temp. The hot start gets the dough to the caramelization and Maillard Reaction stages faster and then slows the cooking down to keep the cookies from drying out or burning.

Until ovens become almost foolproof and manufacturers can guarantee an oven really is the temp it says, we’ll stick with the magical 350°F. It’s good enough to get the job done.

I like keeping an oven thermometer close at hand to check my oven temperature from time to time.

Why Do So Many Recipes Bake at 350°F?

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Making these today and will add some work in progress photos.  Gnocchi is so easy to make and SO yummy to eat with a simple sauce.

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Here is the dough after being mixed by hand.

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I roll it right on to the parchment paper to sit and not too long before cooking.  If you let it sit it becomes sticky.  If you are not cooking it immediately put a little flour on you parchment paper.

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Ingredients

2 – 8 ounce sweet potatoes

1 clove garlic, pressed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

Add all ingredients to list

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, or until soft to the touch. (Mine took over an hour to cook)
  2. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Once the potatoes are cool enough to work with, remove the peels, and mash them, or press them through a ricer into a large bowl. Blend in the garlic, salt, nutmeg, and egg. Mix in the flour a little at a time until you have a soft dough. Use more or less flour as needed.
  4. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. While you wait for the water, make the gnocchi. On a floured surface, roll the dough out in several long snakes, and cut into 1-inch sections. Drop the pieces into the boiling water and allow them to cook until they float to the surface. Remove the floating pieces with a slotted spoon and keep warm in a serving dish. Serve with butter or cream sauce.IMG_9451.jpgI served this with a butter sauce which is quick and easy to make. Saute a couple heads of chopped garlic, add about 1/3 cup of butter.  Melt it than add basil and oregano.  The recipe calls for dried, but I used fresh from my garden.  Add a little Parmesan or Romano on top and have a lovely dinner.

You can dress up gnocchi in as many ways as you can sauce pasta, garnishing them with an unheated pesto sauce, or tossing them with foaming butter and slivered sage leaves. You can mix them with a chunky tomato sauce or smother them in a wild boar ragù.  A little olive oil added to the dough makes for a silkier consistency, but it is optional.

How to Make It

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread a 1-inch layer of salt in a small roasting pan. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork and arrange them on the salt in a single layer. Bake until fork-tender, about 11/2 hours. Remove them from the oven and slit them lengthwise to release their steam.

 

Working over a medium bowl, sift the all-purpose and cake flours with a large pinch of salt. Measure out 4 lightly packed cups of the riced potatoes (1 pound), and transfer the potatoes to a work surface. Sprinkle the sifted flour mixture over the potatoes and drizzle with the olive oil. Gently form the dough into a firm ball.

Test the gnocchi dough: Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Using your hands, form one 3/4-inch round (a single gnocco). Boil the gnocco until it floats to the surface, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocco to a plate and let cool. It should be light and tender but still hold together. If the gnocco breaks apart in the boiling water, the dough has too little flour; add more. If the gnocco is tough and chewy, the dough has too much flour; cut in a little more of the reserved riced potatoes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters. Working with one piece at a time, gently roll the dough into a long rope about 1/2 inch wide. Using a sharp knife, cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces.

Roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make light ridges. Transfer the gnocchi to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Let the gnocchi stand at room temperature for 1 hour to dry. I use a gnocchi board shown here.

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If you are not going to eat your gnocchi immediately, which I suggest then bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add half of the gnocchi at a time and boil over high heat until they rise to the surface, then cook for 15 seconds longer. Using a wire skimmer, transfer the gnocchi to the bowl of ice water.

Drain on paper towels and pat dry. Toss with oil and refrigerate for up to 3 hours or freeze the gnocchi on baking sheets in a single layer. Transfer them to an airtight container or resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to six weeks.

I like to plan serving gnocchi right out of the boiling water, draining it well, adding a little EVOO and whatever sauce sounds good for the meal.

but if you did freeze them, then to serve, sauté them in butter until heated through before proceeding.

For Chestnut Gnocchi, substitute 1/3 cup chestnut flour for the cake flour before forming the gnocchi dough.

 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Tricolor Beet-and-Carrot Salad

 

Here is my version of the salad.  It is interesting if you actually put it together with the way they suggest, you don’t see the carrots, which are very pretty.

Tricolor Beet-and-Carrot Salad

FOOD SNOBS: RANKED BY OBNOXIOUSNESS

This is an article I captured from Thrillist and rewrote a bit.

FOOD SNOBS: RANKED BY OBNOXIOUSNESS