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

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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.

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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

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?

10 European Desserts to Try

One of the things I love about travel is trying all the different foods that countries are famous in each area.  I try to do a little research before traveling to make sure I know what I should try.  I found the following article helpful and can’t wait to try the following.  I do not have recipes attached, but I might have to start finding them and trying them at home.

On The Great British Bakeoff, Paul Hollywood had the contestants attempt to makePastéis de Nata, and it was not one of the more successful endeavors, so not sure if I am going to try that one.

Europe’s cultural diversity manifests itself in its cuisine, from Italian pasta to French escargot. But for those travelers with a sweet tooth, this appetizing variety extends to the continent’s many mouthwatering desserts. Forget about your diet if you’re planning a trip soon, here are ten European desserts you have to try.

Rødgrød

Rødgrød
You’ll find fruity rødgrød if you visit Denmark, but the similar rote grütze can be found just across the border in northern Germany. Served hot or cold, it’s bursting with summer berries like redcurrants, blackcurrants, raspberries, and blackberries. The fruit is cooked with sugar and some form of starch, like semolina or potato starch is added to make the pudding. Custard or cream often accompanies the dish to balance the acids in the fruit.

Pastéis de Nata

Pastéis de Nata
Pastéis de Nata is the traditional Portuguese custard tarts that are small enough to fit in your mouth in one go. The best place to find them is in the Pastéis de Belem bakery that’s been churning them out in their millions since 1837. The proof of the quality is in the length of the queue, which snakes around the block whatever the time of day. They sell about 50,000 of these delicious tarts every day, which surely makes them a contender for western Europe’s favorite dessert.

Gelato

gelato
Italy’s dessert menu might encompass tiramisu, pannacotta, and zabaglione (all fabulous!) but its gelato is legendary the world over. Every imaginable flavor can be found, on street corners, at pavement cafes, and in fancy restaurants. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the same as ice cream, however. If what you see is heaped high above the edges of the container, it’s full of air and not the real deal.

Clafoutis

Clafoutis
This baked French dessert originates from the Limousin region and was popularized in the 19th century. It is usually made with black cherries, though raspberries, plums or blackberries are occasionally substituted. The fruit lines a baking dish and a thick batter is poured over the top. Traditionally, the cherry stones are left in, adding an almond-like flavor to the dish.

Apfelstrudel

Apfelstrudel
Apfelstrudel is one of Austria’s greatest exports. Layers of thinly-rolled dough are filled to bursting with sweet apples, juicy raisins and a liberal measure of cinnamon. The first recipe dates from Vienna in 1696 and it’s just as popular today in the city’s many coffee houses.

Sticky toffee pudding

Sticky toffee pudding
Peruse the menu in any British gastropub and you’re almost guaranteed to find sticky toffee pudding. This dense, dark pudding is topped with lashings of toffee sauce and served with cream, ice cream or custard. It’s rich, so save plenty of room for dessert if you plan to try it.

 

Flan

Flan
A flan is not a flan when it’s from Spain. Instead of receiving a small tart or quiche, order flan in Spain and you’ll be presented with a tasty crème caramel. To make it, a caramel syrup lines a mold and warm custard are poured on top. It’s cooked in a water bath to ensure the custard doesn’t curdle and flipped over to serve once cooked and set.

Waffles

Waffles
If there’s one dessert synonymous with Belgium, then it’s surely waffles. Known as gaufre to the nation’s French speakers and waffels to Flemish speakers, the two most popular kinds hail from Brussels and Liege. Buy one from a street stall and eat it straight from the paper, dusted with icing sugar. In a cafe, you’ll find them served with fruit compote, Nutella or Chantilly cream, but hold off on the maple syrup as that’s not the way it’s done on home turf.

 

Baklava

Baklava
Layer upon layer of rich, flaky filo pastry bound together with sweet honey and lavishly sprinkled with nuts, baklava is understandably the Greeks’ most popular sweet treat. But though they’ll argue the toss, it actually originated in the city of Istanbul in Turkey before migrating east. That’s still Europe, at least in part. Wherever you try it, it’s delicious.

Black Forest Cherry Gateau

Black Forest Cherry Gateau
Germans know a thing or two about cake, but its most famous cake is not quite what it appears. That signature bake, Black Forest Cherry Gateau, was invented, so they claim, in 1915 at the Café Agner in Bad Godesberg near Bonn. It’s so popular it even has its own food festival. The key ingredient is the “Schwarzwälder kirschwasser”, a potent cherry brandy which made its way across the border from Switzerland but is named after the Black Forest region of Germany. Without the kirsch, it’s just a chocolate and cherry cake.

10 European Desserts to Try