Archive for the ‘Food History, Health and Nutrition’ Category

A bit about saffron

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011


There’s a lot of mystique surrounding saffron.  After all, it is the most expensive spice on the market today. Is it overrated or is it worth the price?

To appreciate why saffron is so expensive it helps to know where it comes from and how it’s harvested. Saffron is the yellow-orange stigma of a small purple crocus plant.  Each plant produces three stigma and those colorful threads have to be carefully hand-picked and dried. You need a quarter of a million threads to make a pound.  The last time I bought saffron was for the restaurant. I was getting a good price from one of the food purveyors in town and getting a very top grade of saffron.   I paid about 50 dollars for one ounce which should last most of my life.

If you’ve ever cooked with saffron you may have mixed feelings about it.  It’s very difficult to measure quantities and all too often we use too much and get mixed results. Saffron has a somewhat medicinal, woody taste, quite unique and different from any other spice. But cooks aren’t using saffron only for its taste but for its color as well.  It creates a striking, deep yellow that we don’t see too often in our foods. Many cooks use turmeric to substitute the color of saffron.  It’s also yellow and more affordable than saffron but lacks the brightness.

If you don’t see saffron on the shelf at the market it may be kept under lock and key or you may have to go to a specialty gourmet shop.  If you’d like to get acquainted with saffron, its taste and its strength, start by adding just a few threads to what you’re cooking.  Rice and mashed potatoes are a good starting place as well as some soups and sauces.  Add a few strands to the cooking liquid of rice or potatoes.  Use very little at first and gradually increase the amount as you get accustomed to it. Once you have worked with it a bit you will be better able to gauge amounts and strength and then you can decide if saffron is worth its price.

Using up a package of tofu……(before it spoils)

Monday, November 1st, 2010


No one likes to throw food away, even if that food is tofu.  Seriously…we eat quite alot of tofu at our house and have found some great ways to use it.  In many cases when people buy a package of tofu they have use for part of it but frequently the remainder spoils and gets thrown out.  So here are some ideas on how to use up the entire package and not waste one bite and make sure that every bite is delicious.  I might also suggest that you look over a previous post on how to press tofu to remove some of the water and create a firmer, denser product.


But first make sure that once you have opened the package, place the remainder in a clean, airtight container, store in the fridge and remember that you have approximately two weeks to use it up. 


For starters…I’m sure everyone is familiar with the tofu-egg scramble.  This is where you take maybe one quarter of the block of tofu, dice it real small, warm those dices in the microwave and then add them to scrambled eggs with peppers, spinach, onions, cheese, anything you like. 


Something I have been doing recently is once again taking very small dices of tofu, browning them in a little oil…


and then adding some soy sauce and allowing the soy sauce to cook around the tofu, stirring as needed and cooking to the point…


that the dices soak up all the liquid (or the liquid evaporates) and turn deep golden in color.  These tasty, semi-crispy cubes are great on a pizza or a salad…


or on top of a baked potato.  You can also cut slices and do the same thing and then use those in sandwiches and in casseroles.


Then there’s tofu parmigiana.  Cut slices of pressed tofu…


dip them in egg or buttermilk…


and then in seasoned bread crumbs. 


fry to golden perfection on both sides


and serve this just as you would a breaded chicken breast.  With tofu like this, who misses the meat?

Extending the shelf life of cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt

Monday, September 27th, 2010

If you have heard any of my radio programs you know I’m the leftover queen.  In addition to that title I am also a fanatic about avoiding waste.  And I know I got that from my mother.  She was half Scottish and that is something you can’t shake out of your genes.  She used to make us wash and dry and reuse plastic baggies that we used for school lunches.  After using a bar of soap she would collect all the small pieces and then magically smash them into another full size bar.  So her frugality was not lost on me; perhaps slightly diluted but certainly present.  That is why I get so upset when food spoils prematurely and dairy products are one of the biggest offenders.

There is a trick to extending the shelf life of things like cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt.  First it helps to understand that air and spoilage go hand in hand.  So what we need to do is eliminate as much air space as possible between the food and the lid.  To do that you just take a piece of plastic film and lay it directly on top of the yogurt or cream or cottage cheese and when that is done replace the lid for additional sealilng.  I have found that if I cover the food directly with the plastic wrap it actually doubles the life of the dairy.

And actually this principle applies to all kinds of foods.  I’m sure you have noticed how tightly foods like cheese, bacon, luncheon meat, certain vegetables…are wrapped.  If foods are wrapped carefully and tightly  they will last longer.

Making Kettle Korn at home (better than store-bought)

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I remember the first time I tasted kettle korn, which was years ago.  We were at a craft fair (no I’m not really into crafts), but it was the 4th of July and at one of the booths a gentleman was stirring a huge kettle of corn.  We were intrigued and since my husband and I both love popcorn we bought a bag.  We fought over every last kernel and have been hooked ever since.  What makes kettle korn so addictive is the combination of salty and sweet.  Most palates loves to be teased like that.

But of course, being the chef and frugal person that I am, I was not about to resign myself to a lifetime of purchasing this korn.  I had to figure out how to make it myself.   So the quest began and after a few less than perfect batches I discovered what I think is the perfect combination of ingredients.  In fact I prefer my recipe to many store-bought brands.

Here is the correct ratio of ingredients:

1 generous tablespoon of vegetable oil

1 heaping tablespoon of sugar

3 full tablespoons of popcorn

(salt to taste, after popped)

This small batch makes just enough for my husband and I and should be made in a very small saucepan (about a 6 cup pan, no bigger).  If you double the recipe increase the pan size.

Directions: Combine oil, sugar and popcorn in pan, cover with a lid and take to a screaming hot burner.  Set it on the burner and move it gently back and forth to keep the kernels moving.  Continue that action even as it pops.

As popping slows down and then stops, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  It is at this point that you sprinkle it with salt and toss it with a spoon.  Taste the korn.  If you need to add more salt, do so.  Remember that it is the contrast between the two that makes this good so don’t be too skimpy with the salt.

Popcorn tip:  it is so easy for kernels of corn to get “old” and lose their poppability.  Here’s the link to my radio website with some great information on rehydrating those kernels because the good news is…they can be revived!  Check this out (still struggling with linking):,%20Rehydrating%20Kernals-2005-12-14.asp

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