50 ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

Your ideal pantry should feel like a wonderland of endless recipe options. Are those shelves currently looking a little bare? These are the 50 essential staples you should always keep on hand

Dried or Canned Beans

DRIED OR CANNED BEANS

Pound-for-pound, dried beans are one of the best values on the shelf. No time to soak? Canned beans ain’t bad either. If you’re craving a cool dip for chips, a bowl of spicy chili or stick-to-your-ribs comfort, beans are your new best buddy:

Dried Pasta

DRIED PASTA

Whether long, twisted or tied in a bow, pasta is the ultimate vessel for homemade sauces. Tired of spaghetti with sweetened, canned ragu? The opportunities for combination and customization are endless. Try south-of-the-border flavors, a cool pasta salad or an umami-rich red sauce:

 

Canned Tuna

CANNED TUNA

Fancy sushi-grade ahi ain’t got nothing on this last-minute lunch staple. Whether we’re craving salad or melty cheese sandwiches, we’re not ashamed to open a can, mix it with mayo and enjoy for any meal of the day:

 

Olive Oil

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is available in all prices. Use the cheap bottles for cooking and the more expensive oils for fresh sauces, dressings, and infusions. Real extra-virgin olive oil will burn slightly at the back of your throat, and will be smooth, not viscous or sticky on the tongue:

Tortillas

TORTILLAS

Taco Tuesday is over and you have leftover tortillas. Yes, you could use them to wrap up a burrito or some sliced turkey. But did you consider a macaroni and cheese quesadilla? Or that you could fry them up and make your own chips? Go forth and tortilla:

Chicken Stock

CHICKEN STOCK

Every kitchen should include some good stock, especially since it can replace water in almost any savory recipe and add a ton of flavor (ever tried boiling pasta in it?). It’s ideal for soups and stews and can turn any pan drippings into a sauce in no time.  I make my own and store it in the extra freezer in my garage.

Peanut Butter

PEANUT BUTTER

Yes, you can slather some peanut butter and jelly on bread and call it a day. But why not try your hand at Chinese-takeout-style peanut butter noodles or sweet-and-savory desserts? But for some reason, I always keep mine in the refrigerator.

Rice

RICE

You’ll find rice on the plates of the majority of human beings around the world. Whether you boil it, steam it, simmer it or fry it, rice is a staple food worth experimenting.  The question is: “How many types of rice do you keep in your pantry?”

 

Milk

MILK

If the gallon is on its last few days, don’t toss it! You can use the last of it in sauces and gravies, as well as to make fresh mozzarella and milkshakes. Ok, so this in the frig, not the pantry, unless you have a refrigerated pantry.

Lemons

LEMONS

You should have lemons on hand for both a beautiful kitchen centerpiece and to brighten up dishes like fish and chicken. Try them in this Greek lemon soup, rice or any yellow baked good.

Eggs

EGGS

Having eggs in the fridge is a no-brainer. They’re essential if you’re baking or making breakfast at home, but can also be utilized for easy sandwiches, quiche and more.

Tomato Sauce & Paste

TOMATO SAUCE & PASTE

You might look at a can of tomato sauce and only see pasta, but don’t sell its potential short! Sure, it’s necessary for staples like chicken parm and pizza, but what about as a topping for stuffed vegetables or as a base for your sloppy Joes?

Soy Sauce

SOY SAUCE

Sure, soy sauce is an obvious choice on top of your Chinese takeout, but what about as part of a sweet and salty glaze for chicken? Keep it in the pantry to use in any number of sauces, or just to flavor steamed rice whenever you forget to order fried:

Brown Sugar

BROWN SUGAR

Plain granulated ain’t got nothing on brown. An essential for baked goods, you can also sprinkle it on bacon for a sweet-savory-bacony twist on breakfast or dessert. Your box is hard as a rock? Microwave to soften.

Parmesan Cheese

PARMESAN CHEESE

It’s salty, it’s nutty, it’s cheese a trifecta of deliciousness! Consider keeping extra in the fridge so you can transform almost protein into a parm. Plus, if you don’t have it, what are you putting on top of your pasta? I buy Reggiano Parmesano and freeze it when there is a sale.

Breadcrumbs

BREADCRUMBS

Breadcrumbs provide an unreal softness and lightness when mixed into meatballs, and Japanese-style panko is best for adding a crispy crunch to baked or fried foods.

Onions

ONIONS

Keep your onions in a dry, cool and dark place (away from the potatoes!) and they’ll last for months. Months during which you can caramelize them, fry them or serve them fresh:

Honey

HONEY

Great for sauces or as a sweetener for tea, oatmeal, yogurt, lemonade and more, this buzz-worthy liquid is the bee’s knees.

Vanilla Extract

VANILLA EXTRACT

There’s no knowing why vanilla became synonymous with bland. The extract from this ancient Mesoamerican bean is complex and fragrant, and is perfect when baked into creme brulee or broiled on grapefruits.

Balsamic Vinegar

BALSAMIC VINEGAR

If you’ve ever made your own salad dressing, you’re probably familiar with this Italian condiment. Balsamic vinegar is a perfect complement to fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, works magic in marinades and can be reduced to a syrup and used as a garnish.

Lentils

LENTILS

Is that box of lentils languishing in the back of your cabinet? Time to pull it out. Lentils are the perfect legumes for making protein-rich soups, salads and cookies.

Barbecue Sauce

BARBECUE SAUCE

In addition to being the one condiment you must have for grilling season, barbecue sauce is an easy out when you need lots of flavor without lots of work. Some of our favorite things to slather it on include pizza, chicken wings, and even savory muffins.

Greek Yogurt

GREEK YOGURT

Besides being a healthy staple for breakfast or a snack, Greek yogurt can also be used up in a marinade for chicken, as a creamy addition in soup or even in pancake batter. And don’t forget about tzatziki!

Cocoa Powder

COCOA POWDER

Cocoa powder might be the perfect chocolate boost for brownies and cakes, but try it in Mexican food to bring it back to its roots. Mole sauces and spicy Mexican hot chocolate are some traditional options.

Maple Syrup

MAPLE SYRUP

Don’t have a maple tree tapped in your backyard? Good thing you’ve got Canada (and Vermont) to pick up the slack. Use this sweet nectar to flavor everything from scones to French fries to roasted meats.

Potatoes

POTATOES

This humble Peruvian tuber is a staple in most all of the world’s cuisines. It can be prepared in every way imaginable and will last for months if stored in a dark, cool place (away from the onions!).

 

CURRY PASTE & POWDER

Whether you’re using paste or powder, curry is a great flavoring agent for sauces, soups and marinades. Looking for the ultimate quick fix? Curry + coconut milk = instant awesome:

FROZEN PEAS

Finish off almost any pasta with frozen peas, add them into a pot pie, or toss them into a salad. Any way you slice it, your freezer should definitely have a few bags of these at all times.

CANNED SALSA

Unlock the potential of salsa by piling it on top of your burgers, adding it in with slow-cooked meats and even mixing it into your rice. Bonus: it doesn’t take up fridge space until you’ve opened it.

WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE

Not many ingredients are as versatile as Worcestershire. It adds a salty, garlicky flavor to meat, so it’s ideal for marinades and sauces.

FROZEN SHRIMP

Shrimp is one of the quickest-cooking proteins out there, so when you’re short on time, tap into its amazingness by sauteeing it and serving over rice. And don’t forget about shrimp when you’re entertaining—they’re often at their best when served cold.

PIZZA DOUGH

Pizza dough is just for pizza, right? Wrong. You can use it to make cinnamon rolls, one-bite appetizers or just some cheesy breadsticks. Plus, it keeps in the freezer for at least a few months.

JAM & PRESERVES

Supplies for emergency PB&Js should always be in your pantry, but the buck doesn’t stop there when it comes to jams, jellies and preserves. You can easily amp-up any dessert with them, or even use them in a sweet and savory sauce for meatballs.

GRAINS

We all love our rices and our pastas, but sometimes we like to move into uncharted territory with starches. Have an adventure with farro, couscous, and quinoa in these grain salads.

MUSTARD

If you haven’t explored the mustard world lately, you’re really missing out. There are tons of different varieties and you can use them to add a tanginess to almost any meat, not to mention roasted veggie and sandwich possibilities.

DRIED FRUIT

Sucking the water out of fruit not only makes for highly concentrated flavors, it also renders fruits shelf-stable. Store them in the cupboard and use to sweeten baked goods, veggie dishes, grain salads, and stews.

CANNED TOMATOES

Odds are you’ve got your own ideas about what to do with a can of tomatoes. When it comes to using this pantry essential the options may be endless, but here are some of our favorites.

CORNBREAD MIX

Did you think cornbread mix was just for making cornbread? Silly goose. You’ve been missing out on some revelatory casseroles and biscuits! Oh, and don’t forget about the hot dogs and sausages you could have been dipping. I just keep cornmeal, as I make my own cornbread – so easy!

BACON

It’s a proven fact that bacon makes everything better (we’ve studied it), so you should definitely keep some in the fridge for testing that thesis. You can even add it to desserts for a salty twist, like this bacon brittle. I don’t use it often enough to keep in the refrigerator, so I freeze it.

CANNED ARTICHOKE HEARTS

Didn’t make as much artichoke dip as you expected? Try baking artichoke hearts into a casserole, spreading them over bread with some cheese or just sauteing them with chicken.

MAYO

Mayo is the base of so many delicious things that it’s almost impossible to not have some in the fridge. What would the world be without chipotle mayo or chicken salad?

PICKLES

Still, have the same jar of pickles from last summer’s barbecue season in the back of your fridge? Pull them out and get to work on some party snacks, dips or even just fried pickle chips.

HOT SAUCE

Firstly, if you can keep a bottle of hot sauce for more than a month without using it, congrats you’re stronger than we are. But if you do find that bottle lingering, fear not, because you can buffalo just about anything (chicken, pizza, fries, your whole life).

COCONUT MILK

You want to whip up a boxed cake but you want it to taste homemade good thing you’ve got coconut milk in the pantry. Use it in place of the liquids to give any baked good extra flavor, or to amp-up stir-fries and seafood.

FROZEN BERRIES

It’s impossible to keep yourself stocked with fresh berries all the time, so head for the frozen variety. Did you know freezing the fruit actually locks in its nutrients? Use berries for frozen drinks, pies and even homemade sorbet.

POPCORN

Goodbye, movie theater butter, you’re old news. Spice up your life with spiced popcorn or try something crazy and bake those fluffy popped kernels into cookies. I love grated parmesan cheese with my popcorn.

NUTS

Protein-packed and ready to eat, nuts are a staple in any pantry. If you’re not into them as a snack on their own, try crusting fish with them, or trying your hand at making peanut butter.  I store these in the freezer, so they do not go rancid.

OATS

Rich with essential nutrients, versatile in their uses and easy to prepare, oats make for an ideal breakfast. Eat them as a porridge, cooked into pancakes or blended into a smoothie:

PUFF PASTRY

Puff pastry is like the blank canvas of foods that you can transform completely with the addition of almost anything. Wrap it around chicken and asparagus for a new take on the chicken roll, or use it as a base for inventive pastries.

Most of all, have fun in the kitchen with what you can store in your pantry or refrigerator or in my case, your extra freezer.

 

50 ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

 Useful Things I Learned in the Kitchen

There are definitely cooking “rules”. But there are lots of things that were drilled into me in school and later in restaurants that I still swear by to this day, and use in my kitchen at home.

The time, money, and commitment of culinary school aren’t worth it for everyone, but there are certain culinary school tips and techniques that anyone can put into practice at home without spending a single day in (or dime on!) a white chef’s coat. Here are the most useful things I learned.

1. Sharpen your knives.

The first thing we did in culinary school was learning how to chop carrots and onions. The second thing? Learn how to properly sharpen a knife. It’s important to realize that a sharp knife makes chopping so much faster and easier. (Plus, you don’t need to use as much force when your knife is sharp, which means it’s safer, too.) Plenty of kitchen specialty stores, like Sur La Table, will sharpen your knives for a reasonable price — so it’s worth bringing them in when they’re getting dull.

2. Use the right peeler for the job.

If peeling vegetables feels like it takes forever, it’s probably because you’re using the wrong peeler. My advice? Throw away the rusty swivel one that’s been sitting in your drawer for years and order a three-pack of these Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peelers. They’re a culinary school favorite for a reason: The Y-shape makes them more comfortable to handle, and a sharp peeler makes food prep way easier. They’re also cheap enough so that when one gets dull, you can switch it out for a new one.

3. Embrace the practice of mise en place.

The French term translates to “putting in place,” and it refers to getting all of your ingredients out, measured, and prepped before you start cooking. This is how restaurant kitchens get food out so quickly and efficiently. And while you don’t need to be quite so exacting at home, it’s much easier to follow a recipe when your ingredients are all ready to go in advance.

4. Dry meat and fish with paper towels before you cook it for extra-crispy skin.

In fact, you should be drying meat and fish with paper towels before you cook it no matter what. For skin to crisp, you need to get rid of as much moisture as possible — because moisture and steam kill any chance of crisping and browning. This will also prevent the meat and skin from sticking to the pan as it cooks, which is the absolute worst.

5. Don’t default to always cranking up the heat.

Even if you want food in a hurry, ramping up the heat to high isn’t always the best way. Slowly sautéing aromatics like onions, shallots, or garlic in oil over medium-low heat will bring out more flavor and will keep them from burning and getting bitter. Cooking meat or veggies over medium heat will give them time to cook all the way through without burning on the outside. Simmering soups or braises instead of boiling them will cook the ingredients and meld the flavors without making meat tough, or breaking veggies apart.

6. Put some thought into how you cut your vegetables.

Those fancy vegetable cuts you see in nice restaurants? There’s a reasoning behind them besides just looking impressive. Smaller cuts will cook quicker than big ones, so using a mix of both can vary the texture of a dish. And veggies cut on a diagonal will be al dente on the thicker end and soft on the thinner end, which can make them more satisfying to eat.

7. Give yourself enough space to prep, even in cramped kitchens.

Space is tight in restaurant kitchens especially.  Give yourself enough space by clearing the countertop of everything you’re not using appliances, flower vases, mail you put down and forgot about before you start.

8. Clean as you go.

You’ve heard this before, but a clean station is so much easier to work in. Wipe down your cutting board after you finish prepping each ingredient. Put pots, pans, and utensils in the sink or dishwasher as soon as you’re done using them. And wash your hands often.

9. Don’t overcrowd the pan.

Food can’t caramelize or brown in a crowded pan. A handful of sliced mushrooms cooked in a hot pan with a layer of oil will come out brown, crisp, and deeply flavored. A whole pint of sliced mushrooms cooked in the same pan and the same oil will come out pale, gray, soggy, and far less flavorful. Same goes for roasted vegetables on a sheet pan, or browned meat in a cast iron skillet. Piling ingredients on top of each other create moisture that gets trapped which means your food will steam instead of crisping or browning.

 

10. Get yourself a bench scraper.

I often see beginner cooks use their knife to scrape whatever they’ve finished chopping across their cutting board and into a bowl. Don’t do that! Not only is it a bit dangerous, but it’ll also quickly dull your blade. Instead, invest in a $4 bench scraper and use it to scoop up food scraps and transfer things from your cutting board to pots and pans.

11. Know your fats — and what each can (and can’t) do.

Butter is delicious, and we used a lot of it at my French-based culinary school. But butter can’t stand up to high heat since the milk solids in it (which make it delicious) can burn. All oils aren’t created equal, either. Neutral oils, like canola or vegetable oil, don’t add any flavor but are perfect for high-heat methods like roasting, frying, and pan-searing because they can stand up to high temperatures without burning. Flavorful oils like high-quality olive oil, avocado oil, and pumpkin seed oil are less suited for high heat and are better used in salad dressings, or for finishing dishes once they’re cooked.

12. Baste fish to keep it moist as it cooks.

Basting pan-seared fish is one fancy trick I swear by. When your fish is almost cooked, add a big pat of butter to the pan and let it melt. Turn the heat down and gently spoon the melted butter over the fish. The hot butter will cook the top of the fish without drying it out, and it’ll add a ton of flavor.

13. Never toss leftover bones or veggie scraps.

When it comes to making stock, leftover bones and scraps are kitchen gold. You can make chicken stock with nothing but bones if you want. You can also make beef stock with beef bones, fish stock with fish bones and scraps, and so on. Not only is it cheaper than buying stock, but it’s also often tastier, and lets you cut down on waste. These days, I collect bones and vegetable scraps in a sealed gallon bag in my freezer, then make a few quarts of stock every time the bag fills up. You should, too!

14. When in doubt, add salt.

You know you like salt, but did you ever stop to think about why? Salt brings out the flavor, which means well-salted food tastes more like itself than under-salted food. To really maximize all the flavors in a recipe, season with a bit of salt every time you add a new ingredient.

15. And if you added too much salt? Add acid.

If something tastes too rich or heavy, a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar can liven it up. Acid also cuts through salt, so if you’ve accidentally over-salted something just a little bit (which, to be honest, happens often in culinary school), you can usually save it by adding acid.

Your turn! What’s your most useful all-purpose tip for the kitchen?

 Useful Things I Learned in the Kitchen

Romaine Could Be Hiding

1804w Romaine Lettuce

Americans are being told to avoid romaine lettuce at all costs for the second time this year, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new outbreak of E. coli associated with the leafy green in 11 different states. Earlier this spring, it took federal investigators upwards of six months to track down where a similar outbreak, which claimed the lives of five individuals and sickened more than 200. This latest announcement by the CDC, coming Thanksgiving week, is a blanket ban on all forms of the lettuce, and details have yet to emerge beyond the fact that it has caused 30 plus individuals to fall ill.

Currently, the CDC is advising that any romaine is disposed of or avoided, regardless of when or where it was harvested. Many of you seemed prepared to do so—Cooking Light readers shared their frustrations in the comments section of a Facebook post yesterday, with many expressing that they had already consumed romaine recently.

CDC Recommends Blanket Ban on ALL Romaine Lettuce, E. coli Discovered Once Again
Do not eat any form of romaine lettuce from any region, CDC warns.

With federal investigators unable to pinpoint an exact source of the outbreak yet, the risk of E. coli poisoning—and the chance of developing HUS, a rare form of kidney failure associated with a toxin in this viral E. coli strain—is particularly troublesome to many shoppers.

Some retailers have previously gone to great lengths to remove tainted romaine lettuce from their shelves, but romaine lettuce is a ubiquitous ingredient and can be found in many ready-to-eat products. In the coming weeks, as investigators work to discover what is causing illnesses in what’s sure to be more than just 11 states, taking the time to thoroughly check your meals for romaine could help you stay safe.

Salad Greens and Salad Bar

If you’re dining out, be sure to ask your server about any use of romaine in the food’s preparation (even if it’s not evident) and if the establishment has updated their menus. Pour over any ingredient list on pre-made or frozen food products to ensure that romaine isn’t a concern. And when you’re in the supermarket, check these eight products for romaine lettuce to be sure that all are safe for consumption:

1) Salad Bars

Whole Foods Salad Bar Tongs
Whole Foods

You may be anxious to visit a salad bar, and for good reason—E. coli bacteria can transfer on contact, so take good care when eating from any salad bar in the coming days. On the off chance that your supermarket has yet to dispose of romaine, do not buy ingredients in proximity to romaine, and remember that self-serve utensils can easily become cross contaminated. This is a good time to make romaine-free salads at home.

2) Bagged Salad Mixes

1808w Chopped Salads Aldi
The CDC was careful to include this in their bulletin: bagged mixes like Fresh Express’ “American” blend contains chopped romaine, which could be contaminated with E. coli.

3) Ready-to-Eat Salads

mcdonalds-salad

Many supermarkets, as well as fast-casual chains and other food retailers, sell pre-made salads that have been massed produced in the last month. Double check the ingredient list before enjoying pre-made salads, even if you can’t see romaine in the container upon first glance.

4) Ready-to-Eat Sandwiches and Wraps

Lettuce is in nearly all pre-made sandwiches, and so it goes without saying to check these before buying. Lettuce wraps, as well as tortilla-based wraps, are of concern.

5) Grain Bowls and Noodle Bowls

Retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer a full selection of ready-to-eat entreés in their deli selections, including noodle bowls and grain bowls that contain lettuce.

6) Green Juice and Blended Beverages

lean and green smoothie

You should take time to inspect all smoothies and blended beverages for romaine—while V8 juice contains an ambiguous “lettuce” callout on the ingredient list, some ready-to-drink beverages—especially green juices—contain romaine alongside servings of kale and spinach. This might also be a good time to make blended green juice at home, where you can swap romaine for other hearty greens.

7) Soup

This is rarer than other items on this list, but blended, chilled soups, including items like packaged gazpacho, could contain romaine lettuce.

8) Refrigerated and Frozen Prepared Entreés and Appetizers

Romaine may not be the first ingredient that comes to mind in the frozen section, but it could be of concern in prepared foods that are available for purchase in your supermarket. Take the time to double check the ingredient list, and when in doubt, ask an employee for help.

Romaine Could Be Hiding

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

soup.jpg I love making and eating soup when the weather turns cold.  Every year I just keep trying new ones.  When I am at the grocery store, I just look at all the different ingredients, grab a few and always find a recipe online that works.  It is kind of a fun challenge.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter ( I only had peanut butter with nuts, but just put it in the blender with the soup and it was great)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt to taste
  • 1 large Roma (plum) tomato, seeded and diced  (I only had cherry, so chopped fine and deseeded by wiping with a paper towel)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and lime zest. Set aside in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add sweet potatoes, and chicken stock. Season with cumin, chili flakes, and ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
  3. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or regular blender. If using a countertop blender, puree in small batches, filling the blender just a bit past halfway to avoid spillage. Whisk peanut butter into the soup, (I added in the blender) and heat through. Stir in lime juice, and salt.
  4. Ladle into warm bowls, and top with a dollop of the reserved sour cream, a few pieces of diced tomato, and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Serve with a salad or nice piece of French Bread and it is a lunch or dinner for kings. Oh, and don’t forget to add a nice glass of wine.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Bierocks

Birocks .jpg

Made these the other night.  They are basically German Hamburgers, or as my youngest son used to say:  “Hammaburgers”.

So when I made them, I had lots of left-over hamburger filling.  I added some potatoes and mushroom, covered with grated potatoes a good amount of cheddar cheese, threw in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and had a second dinner.

Well, that was all fine and good, but there was still left over, so I put it in a pot, added chicken stock, half & half and there is the third dinner.  None of them taste the same.  How about three cheap dinners.

Ingredients

  1. Prepare dough: In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Mix in sugar, margarine, egg, salt and 1/2 of the flour. Beat until smooth; add remaining flour until dough pulls together. Place in oiled bowl. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, OR let it rise for 1 hour.
  2. In a large heavy skillet, brown meat. Add onion, cabbage, salt and simmer 30 minutes. Cool until lukewarm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C.) Coat a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.
  3. Punch down dough and divide into 20 pieces. Spread each piece of dough out on an un-floured surface and fill with approximately 2 tablespoons filling. fold dough over and seal edges. Place on prepared cookie sheet and let rise for 1 hour.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush with butter and serve.

 

Bierocks

Tiramisu

I have made this several times and several different ways, but find this the easiest and yummiest.  I make two sponge cakes and cut them to 7″ X 7″ squares.  I used a paper cutter to make the shape in paper and then cut the cake easily to the right size.  This one is cut already.  I use the left-over edges to make two mini tiramisus for the family if this is going to a party. Not as pretty, but still tastes yummy.

This is basically the recipe from the Best British Baking Show.  I tried America’s Test Kitchen and did not think it tasted as good or was as pretty.

Tiramisu.jpg

mini.jpg

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • softened butter, for greasing
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • 100g/3½oz caster sugar (baker’s sugar)
  • 100g/3½oz self-raising flour

For the filling

  • 1 tbsp instant coffee granules
  • 150ml/5½fl oz boiling water
  • 100ml/3½fl oz brandy
  • 3 x 250g/9oz tubs full-fat mascarpone cheese
  • 300ml/10½fl oz double cream ( you can use 36% heavy cream)
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted (confectioner’s sugar)
  • 65g/2¼oz dark chocolate (36% cocoa solids), grated

For the decoration

  • 100g/3½oz dark chocolate, (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

Method

SPONGE

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C(fan)/350F/Gas 4. Grease a 35x25cm/14x10in Swiss roll tin and line with baking parchment. BE SURE TO MAKE TWO AND ONE COULD BE CHOCOLATE

  2. For the sponge, place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and, using an electric hand-held mixer, whisk together for about five minutes, or until the mixture is very pale and thick. The mixture should leave a light trail on the surface when the whisk is lifted.

  3. Sift over the flour and fold in gently using a metal spoon or spatula, taking care not to over mix. THIS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE QUALITY OF YOUR SPONGE CAKE

  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and tilt the tin to level the surface. I JUST USE A SPATULA TO MAKE IT EVEN.

  5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until risen, golden-brown and springy to the touch. Cool in the tin for five minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

FILLING

  1. For the filling, dissolve the coffee in the boiling water and add the brandy. Set aside to cool.

  2. When the sponge is cold, carefully slice the cake in half horizontally, so you have two thin sponges of equal depth.

  3. Using the loose base of a square cake tin as a guide, cut two 18cm/7in squares from each sponge. Discard the sponge trimmings (or keep for cake pops or a sneaky single-serving trifle). OR TWO MINI TIRAMISU

PUTTING IT TOGETHER

  1. Line the base and sides of the square tin with long rectangles of baking parchment; there should be plenty of excess parchment which you can use to help lift the cake from the tin later.

  2. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the cream and icing sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting.

  3. Place one layer of sponge in the base of the lined cake tin. Spoon over one-quarter of the coffee brandy mixture. Then spread one-quarter of the mascarpone frosting over the soaked sponge. Scatter over one-third of the grated chocolate.

  4. Place the second sponge on top, spoon over another quarter of the coffee mixture then spread another quarter of the frosting over the soaked sponge. Scatter over another one-third of the grated chocolate. Repeat with the third sponge and another one-quarter of the coffee mixture and frosting and the remaining grated chocolate.

  5. Place the fourth sponge on top and spoon over the remaining coffee mixture. Using a palette knife spread a very thin layer of the remaining frosting over the top of the cake – this is called a ‘crumb coat’ and will seal in any loose crumbs of sponge.

  6. Wipe the palette knife and spread the rest of the frosting in a thicker layer over the cake. Chill for at least one hour in the fridge before turning out.

DECORATING

  1. While the cake is chilling, melt half of the chopped chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. (Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.) Gently stir the chocolate until it reaches a melting temperature of 53C/127F.

  2. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the remaining half of chopped chocolate and continuing stirring gently until the chocolate cools to 31C/88F or lower and is thick enough to pipe.

  3. Place a sheet of baking parchment on the work surface. Use another sheet to make a paper piping bag.

  4. Spoon the melted chocolate into the paper piping bag. Snip off the end and pipe decorative shapes onto the baking parchment. Leave to set until required.

AND FINISH

  1. Dust the chilled tiramisu cake with the cocoa powder before turning out onto a serving plate, using the parchment paper to help lift out of the tin. Decorate with the chocolate shapes.

Tiramisu

My grandmother’s Carrot Cake Modernized

Carrot Cake
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Cake:
2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups canola or vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour, plus 1 T (Be sure to save out the one T to add to the dried fruit)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg ( I always use fresh ground)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup raisins ( I had about 3/4 cup of dried fig and apricot from another recipe, so added those to make a cup)
1 cup chopped pecans ( I only had 3/4 cup of pecans, so toasted some walnuts and added them)
1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour three 8-inch round cake pans (or you can use baking spray) and line with parchment paper if desired (I didn’t and it came out just fine but with a more delicate cake or if I’m not just making it for myself, I usually do).

Combine sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a mixing bowl and mix on medium speed for about two minutes until light yellow in color.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt and whisk together.  Add to mixing bowl and mix on low speed until just incorporated.  The batter will be pretty thick at this point.  Toss raisins and pecans with remaining one tablespoon of flour.  Fold raisins, pecans, carrots, and pineapple into batter until well distributed.   Divide batter evenly among pans and bake about 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pans about ten minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Frosting:
1 package cream cheese (I used 1/3 less fat), at room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 T milk
1 pound powdered sugar

Combine cream cheese and butter in mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed about three minutes until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and first three tablespoons of milk and mix on low to incorporate.  Slowly add powdered sugar, mixing on low until incorporated.  Increase speed and whip about two minutes, adding additional milk if necessary to reach desired consistency.  When cakes are completely cool, spread about 1/4 of the frosting on top of the first layer, spread evenly, top with 2nd layer, add another 1/4 of the frosting and top with remaining layer.  Add a generous amount of frosting to the top of the cake and smooth working out with a spatula to the edges and down the sides of the cake.

My grandmother’s Carrot Cake Modernized

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

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