Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tasty Tidbit: Hole Foods

I had been taking the holes in my cheese for granted my whole life. But recently I became curious. Are they the holy matrimony of Alpine air and celestial cows? Is there a Swiss Willy Wonka or Wizard of Appenzell behind a bucolic, green curtain pulling the udders? Nope. Those holes are from gassy bacteria.

Three types of bacteria are used to make Swiss cheese, each producing a particular flavor. Starter cultures containing the bacteria are added to milk where they create lactic acid. Once the bacteria is added and warmed, carbon dioxide bubbles form and become holes. Cheese makers can control the size of these “eyes” by changing the acidity, temperature, and curing time of the mixture.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Plastic Eater

There I stood, in my workplace kitchen, admonishing someone I had barely even talked to before. “You really shouldn’t microwave in plastic,” I said, trying hard not to sound pedantic. “The toxins from the plastic will leach into your food.

P.E. was a cute, seemingly likeable guy—tall and blonde with huge brown eyes—both on me. “I love eating plastic,” he said, with a smart-ass gleam in one of them. “I like all those chemicals leaching into my food. Makes it taste better.”

Jerk. What went wrong with my delivery? Did I need charm school? The Actors Studio? Toastmasters? Mime lessons? It sure didn’t elicit the response I expected from someone who seemed so nice. You think I like playing plastic police? I appreciate a know-it-all about as much as a ‘D’ restaurant rating. I just have a soft spot for ignorant people in harm’s way, that’s all.

From then on, every time P.E. saw me in the kitchen, he’d go out of his way to put his Tupperware in the microwave and make some snarky remark in his inimitable, nobody-tells-me-not-to-eat-plastic way. We turned it into jovial combat, but I couldn’t understand how someone could have such disregard for a danger that was so easily remedied. Even if he thought it was hooey, would it hurt him to microwave his lunch on a china plate? Wouldn’t it also look more attractive?

If people want to nosh plastic, be my guest. But I wasn’t going to let one nonbeliever stop me from spreading the gospel to other plastic eaters living under a Saran-covered rock. So I continued to deliver my plastic rap. Many of them actually seemed appreciative for their newfound knowledge—even thanking me and saying they wouldn’t do it anymore.

In my own Tupper-wary way, I had found my flock and was slowly but surely converting the sheeple. I was making my voice heard from the plastic pulpit. Whether they really heeded the call or not, who knows. Que Saran Saran.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vegan Ginger Peach Pancakes

They don’t call ‘em hot cakes for nothin’.
These spicy, vegan pancakes are so satisfying, you don’t even have to be a PETA member to applaud them. One bite, and you’ll know the true meaning of ‘cruelty-free’.

I took a basic vegan pancake recipe, added fresh peaches and heated things up with ground ginger and cardamom. There’s such deep flavor and moist texture going on here, you won’t even miss the egg, milk and butter. I used soymilk and canola oil, but you can use butter or real milk if you like. If you think cardamom is too exotic for breakfast, then feel free to use cinnamon and/or nutmeg instead. I cut the peaches into decent-sized chunks, but you can dice them however fine you want. Just wait 'til that spicy ginger co-mingles with the sweet, juicy peaches and warm maple syrup. Yowza!


1 cup flour

1 TBSP sugar

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 cup soymilk

2 TBSP vegetable oil

1½ TBSP ground ginger

¼ tsp ground cardamom

1½ cups diced fresh peaches

Makes about 3 servings

Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir until mixed well. Add the soymilk and vegetable oil; mix until smooth. Stir in the cut-up peaches. Heat a greased griddle over medium heat. Using a serving spoon, drop about 2 tablespoons of batter onto the griddle to form each pancake. Cook over medium heat, and turn the pancakes when golden brown. Repeat until batter is gone. Serve with real maple syrup.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ode to a Farmworker

I shall not forget the one
Who picked my peach with such aplomb
As I drink its lovely nectar
I’d like to thank you, Hector

Monday, September 21, 2009

Travel Bite: Polish Bagel Vendor

I photographed this bagel vendor in Krakow, Poland and thought her hanging bagel wreaths scored a 12 on the cute bagel meter. I wanted to ask her for 18 mini schmears to go with it but couldn't find the phrase in my Polish bagel dictionary.

The bajgiel (bagel) was actually invented in Krakow. One account says it was created in the shape of a stirrup to commemorate the victory of Poland’s King Jan Sobieski over the Ottoman Turks in 1683. Another says it was invented earlier in Krakow as a competitor to the obwarzanek, a lean bread of wheat flour designed for Lent. Regardless which account is true, in the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the bajgiel became a staple of the Polish diet.

Bagels were later brought to the United States by immigrant Jews who settled in New York City. By 1900, the bagel business was thriving with 70 bakeries on the Lower East side. In 1907, the International Beigel Bakers' Union was created, and from then on monopolized bagel production in New York City.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Curried Shitake Lentils: Hello, Daal!

I’ve always said a good Indian meal is like a one-night stand.
It’s great that night, but when you see it the next day, it's not quite the hot dish you remembered. But it still tastes sooooo good.

This curried lentils concoction is my own take on the Indian dish, daal. It’s something I make different every time, so you don’t have to be that literal with the recipe. I add shitake mushrooms to give the lentils a rich, meaty flavor and texture. Cremini mushrooms will work nicely too. If you’re not into shrooms, you can omit them, and it will still have a full-bodied, earthy taste from all the complex spices like curry, coriander, cumin and ginger. Want to add turmeric or delete the coriander? Deviate away. Let your tastebuds be your guide. It'll be good no matter how you spice it.

Indians might raise an eyebrow at the use of olive oil rather than ghee (clarified butter), but I like to keep it light. This is a satisfying meal served over brown rice with some greenery on the side. I love arugula, and I’ll either have it in the buff or dress it with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. And best of all, this is easy to make—even for the lentilly challenged.


1 cup red lentils


1 - 2 TBSP olive oil

½ large onion, diced

1 heaping cup of mushrooms (about 8 medium shitakes), cut up

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-inch piece ginger, minced

1 TBSP + ½ tsp curry powder

2 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp cumin powder

¼ tsp salt

black pepper to taste

Makes about 4 servings

Put the lentils in a pot and cover with salted water that's about two inches taller than the lentils. Boil for about 20 minutes or until soft (brown ones take a little longer). When done, drain.

While lentils are cooking, grind the coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle. You can use ground coriander if you want, but I like biting into little pieces that pop with flavor. Mix all the spices together in a bowl.

In a skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil until slightly brown, and add the spices, shrooms, then garlic and ginger, and cook until soft. Add the lentils and simmer with the lid ajar for about 30 minutes. Add water on an as-needed basis to rehydrate and to deglaze the pan.

Welcome to my new blog.
Don't worry. It's not all about lentils. In fact, I've got so much cooking, I may have bitten off more than I can chew. See, I’m not a chef or seasoned photographer. Just a writer who loves to eat and talk with my mouth full. But trying to write it all down has opened a whole new can of words. So bear with me as I sharpen my culinary chops and photo opps. And I hope you’ll be here for my next lentil breakdown.