In my continuing look at international dishes that have similar roots, I want to explore dessert today. As a chef, I start to see a lot of the same ol same ol in my recipe searches, and have tasted a lot of similiar flavors while traveling.
Custard desserts are one of these examples – flan, creme caramel, creme brulee….all are very similiar.
The French have their creme brulee – an egg yolk based custard, topped with sugar and broiled (or torched if you have one of those little gadgets) to melt the sugar forming a little crunchy crust. Very popular in upscale restaurants and has broadened into many flavors – chocolate, pumpkin, grand marnier, etc. Hate the crunch? Try pot au creme – also French – is made with cream, egg and vanilla, but no sugar crust.

The Spaniards have flan – cream, eggs, and vanilla – but the caramel is melted into the bottom of the pan then topped with the custard, baked and flipped so the caramel runs off the top. Not crispy at all….Creme caramel is a very egg heavy version of flan with milk and vanilla, and the requisite caramel in the bottom of the dish.

Italians have Panna Cotta which is cream, vanilla and gelatin. The English use a milk-egg yolk and sugar custard in many desserts like trifle, tarts and for building cake layers. From here we can stray into mousses (whipped cream and flavor), puddings (eggs, milk and cream) rice puddings, tapiocas, etc. But I think I will leave it here, with the custardy caramely goodness of flan…..creme caramel….no I mean creme brulee. Pass the torch and grab a spoon….either way – eat dessert first!

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Rice Around The World

June 21, 2010

Chicken and Rice – seems like a simple thing. Boring? Not when you travel the globe. Many cultures use rice in their cooking – we often think of rice as an Asian dish. All those beautiful photos of rice fields, workers toiling away. Or sadly, we think Uncle Ben…that lovable man who makes the easy rice in the orange box. If you are health conscious, you may think brown rice – one of my favorites (for the taste more than the health).

But let’s think of rice in other places. Italians use Arborio rice, a high starch short grain rice, in their risottos. The Latin community eats a lot of rice and beans. The Indians and Minnesotans are famous for their wild rice, also called Canada rice, Indian rice, and water oats. Creoles and Cajuns make Jambalaya
Paella. In India, basmati rice is used. It is an aromatic, long-grain rice grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and is especially popular in Indian dishes. Rice is grown around the world, from Australia to Africa, Asia to America. It comes in long and short grains, different colors and flavors. Forbidden Rice is a black rice grown in China that is high in anthrocyanins, a powerful antioxidant. Bhutanese Red rice is a semi-milled medium grained rice grown in the Himalayas. There are hundreds of varieties, of which you can learn more at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rice_varieties#African_varietiesx

But enough about the geography lesson….how does one enjoy these dishes? Chicken and rice is probably one of the most common dishes across the globe. Think Jambalaya in New Orleans, Riz à la Valencienne (Paella) in Spain, Chicken and Rice with Olives in Brazil, Arroz con Pollo in Cuba, Risottos in Italy, Chicken Jook in Asia, Pelu from Trinidad and Tobago and curries often served over rice in India and Thailand.

As with the types of rice available, there are unendless recipes that use rice as their basis. From a rice salad at a picnic, to American rice pudding and Eight-treasure pudding from China, rice fits any course. I urge you to expand your knowledge, taste the varieties and replace your starch (potatoes, breads) with rice.

I wonder what rice dishes I will find in Alaska? Bon Appetit everyone. And thank you for reading my blog.

Fish stew international

June 21, 2010

Cooking can be very intimidating to many people for a variety of reasons. When it comes to international fare, that stress level can rise. When traveling, as I have been blessed to have had the chance to do quite a bit in my lifetime, I found a lot of common ground across the lands. Today, I will share fish stews with you.

In San Fransisco, Cioppino is the local favorite made with shellfish, whitefish, tomatoes and oregano, thyme and or basil. Sometimes wine is added for depth, and served with a nice crusty sourdough on the side.

The French have Bouillabaisse – mixed whitefish, shellfish (typically of Mediterranean descent) with tomatoes, onion, fennel and saffron. They serve their stew with croutons.
In Italy Zuppa di Pesce is a favorite with variations region to region. Once again shellfish, whitefish and tomatoes take center stage. A little white wine, parsley (Italian of course) and a side of crusty Italian bread finishes this meal.

The spanish have Zarzuela de Mariscos – tomatoes, bell peppers saffron, herbs and mixed shellfish with almonds to thicken. Puerto Rico has Asopa de Mariscos with the same ingredients, but no almonds. The Portuguese have Cataplana, named for the copper cooking vessels used to cook the stew. Tomatoes, saffron, bell pepper and mixed seafood with a touch of cream all go into the pot.

Brazilians have Moqueca with whitefish, tomatoes, and coconut milk. They also add Piri Piri sauce – with lot’s of garlic and olive oil. Head to the South, and gumbo takes center stage – bell peppers, tomatoes thyme, basil and a little celery. Of course a little andouille sausage for flavor – it is the south after all – and okra, shrimp, scallops and crab. Sometimes it is just shrimp – depending on the chef.

So you see – we all eat our seafood in delicious tomato baths, with a nice crispy bread to soak up those juices. Well all of us outside of New England……even Manhattan does a tomato based clam chowder!

So go enjoy the local seafood – and keep watching as I compare another favorite dish that spans the globe!

Bon appetit!

Herb Gardens

June 4, 2010

I am not a gardener by any stretch – that is why there are farmers markets! But I do dabble in herb pots. This past weekend I planted my patio pots and have a little forest of flavor growing beautifully. Basil, sage, pineapple sage, lavender, rosemary, thai basil and tarragon. Now my job is to prepare wonderful dishes using these green gems!
Pineapple sage is my first mission as it is growing the fastest. I have read that the leaves are great to decorate plain cakes with, which sounds pretty. But why not use this delicately scented herb in a salsa – say a pineapple salsa over fish? Or in a pineapple sorbet? I bet they would taste great in a mixed green salad for a hint of flavor. Or cooked under the skin of chicken – adding that “pretty factor”.
Tarragon of course is wonderful on fish, chicken and in egg dishes, combined with mustards, and over veggies. Peas, shallots and pasta would be a light summer dish to enjoy. A light fish chowder using tarragon and mushrooms sounds appealing. Perhaps even as a unexpected twist in fruit salad?
Thai basil has a more anise/licorice flavor to it than italian basil. It blends well with curry dishes and other asian flavored dishes, but also with ginger. Perhaps a ginger thai basil infused vodka over ice? or in a sorbet? A cool cucumber salad with sesame oil and thai basil could be good too.
Lavender is one of my favorite new flavors. Herbes de Provence has long been used in french cooking, but lavender lends itself to lemonade, ice tea and ice cream. Custard desserts, shortbread and even on lamb or pork benefit from this flowery herb.
I will share my discoveries with you and welcome any ideas you may want to share with me. Now I need to go water those plants. Bon Appetit!

My herb garden

My Thai Bail - how pretty!