Tuesday, August 28, 2007

La Tomatina Festival (The Battle of Tomatoes)

Tomorrow, August 29 is the annual tomato festival in Buñol, Spain. This small town (population 9,000) sits about 25 miles west of Valencia, on the eastern side of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. Every year about 30,000 people attend the festival for the world’s largest food fight.

The festival started in 1944 and the origin of the tomato fight is uncertain. There is debate as to whether is started between friends or unpleasant crowds, but whatever the reason it has grown to 11-day festival with music, dancing, paella cooking contest and fireworks.

There are a few rules to the mayhem. You may not obstruct the tomato trucks that pull in to replenish the ammunition and you may only throw tomatoes which have been crushed. Preciously at 11am a canon sounds and the fighting begins. It continues for 2 hours, when at 1pm a second canon indicates the end of the fun.

Anyone interested in a transcontinental flight tonight?!?!

For your viewing pleasure, a video of the festival:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fall Class Schedule

A preview of the Fall classes I will be teaching:
Exploring Caribbean Cuisine

Tuesday, September 25 - 1 session

Looking for a way to spice up your life? How about trying the exotic tastes of the Caribbean and Jamaica? Join Chef Jen as she prepares easy Caribbean recipes with ingredients purchased locally. In this demonstration style course, you will receive an introduction to Caribbean cooking, taste creations made right before your eyes, while learning tips and tricks in the kitchen.

Through Delta Township
to register call (517) 323-8555 or visit http://www.deltami.gov/parks/classes/

Soups and Stews

Tuesdays, October 9 and October 16 - 2 Sessions

On those chilly fall days, nothing hits the spot and warms the soul like a hot cup of soup or a hearty bowl of stew. Soups and stews are easy to make, can be very healthy, and can make good use of ingredients you have on hand. In this demonstration-style course, Chef Jen Riebow will teach you the basics of soups and stews. One session will be devoted to soups, one to stews. You will have an opportunity to sample Chef Riebow’s recipes.

Through MSU's Evening College
to register call (517) 355-4562 or visit http://www.msualum.com/evecoll/

Cooking with Beer: Ales, Lagers and Stouts

Wednesday, November 15 - 1 session
Beer comes in many styles and flavors, from dark stouts to light pilsners. Differing varieties can be used to enhance foods in diverse ways – from tenderizing meat in a beer marinade to serving as the main ingredient in beer cheese soup to just giving a dish, such as a hearty stew, that extra punch. In this hands-on course, we will make several items all showcasing beer. You will be invited to sample all the recipes made in class and will take home many recipes, tips, ideas and resources for incorporating beer into your culinary repertoire.

Through Delta Township
to register call (517) 323-8555 or visit http://www.deltami.gov/parks/classes/

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sweet Corn

This past weekend I went to visit my Grandmother and had some of the most incredible sweet corn I have ever tasted. It was grown by a local farmer and called Triple Sweet, was it ever! It was so fresh tasting, the kernels popped as you bit into the cob. I have been working with a local doctor who specializes in holistic medicine, concentrating on eating foods that our bodies were meant to digest. So I know corn is a food we eat but our bodies were not made to handle. I could give up corn the rest of the year, but in the summer, when sweet corn is ripe and you can stop and pick it up at a local farmer's stand, now that is something I do not think I could give up. For those of you who only buy corn on the cob at the market, I urge you to find a local farmer selling it (you can drive out of town a bit and find a road side stand on just about any country road) or stop by one of the local farmer's markets and pick some up there.

I do not mean to say that corn has no nutritional value. As with all vegetables, it is low in calories, sodium and fat (1 ear = 75 calories + 13 milligrams sodium + 1 gram fat) and does contain important vitamins and minerals – beta-carotene, vitamin B, vitamin C. It is a good source of fiber (2 grams per ear).

To cook sweet corn, you can boil it or grill it.

To boil it: Bring to boil a large pot of salted water. Place the cobs in the water, with the husks and silks already removed. A tip my mother taught me, when the pot begins to smell like sweet corn, you know they are ready. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Try it out and you can easily see what I mean. When you first put the corn in, there really is no smell to the pot. But after 10 minutes or so, the pot smells just like the corn is going to taste and you know that it is ready.

To grill it: Peel back the husks, leaving them attached to the cob and remove the silks from the ears. Reposition the husks back over the cobs. If there are a lot of layers of husks, you can remove the top few, but you want to make sure the corn is completely covered by the husks. Soak the ears in water for at least 15 minutes. Make sure they are completely submerged. I find it best if the ears soak for about 1 hour. While the ears are soaking, light the grill. You will want a medium heat for the corn. Shake the excess water off the corn and grill for about 30 minutes. I like to char them first over medium heat on each side, then remove the heat from half the grill and place them on the cool side – you are essentially steaming the cobs.

Of course I love it with butter. I know that I am negating any nutritional value with fat, but mmm it is so good! For a fun alternative, you can make a compote butter to add to the corn. Let a stick of butter come to room temperature, then add fresh herbs and spices, blend them together, then shape it back into a log with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to harden back up. Then you can slice it into delicious, mouthwatering pats.

For corn, try adding 2 – 3 cloves minced garlic, 2 – 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil and a pinch of salt if you are using unsalted butter. Or mince 1 fresh jalepano, seeds and membranes removed (or use 1 – 2 teaspoons chili powder), 2 minced green onions and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Or finally, try adding 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 2 tablespoons curry powder and 1 clove minced garlic. You can really use any combination, so use your imagination.
Bon Appétit!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Summer Tomatoes

I subscribe to NPR's The Splendid Table Newsletter. Lynne Rossetto Kasper offers a delicious sounding fresh tomato pasta sauce in the August 1 edition. Since it is that time of year, I thought I would pass it along for those who do not subscribe. Bon Appetit!

August 1, 2007

Dear Friends,

With this recipe, the only thing you have to cook is the pasta. Obviously the tomatoes and olive oil have to be prime, but that shouldn't be a problem right now. The trick here is letting the tomatoes mellow with the olive oil, salt and the two peppers.

If you can, try Barilla pasta made with dried beans and whole wheat. It's called "Barilla Plus." As much as this sounds like an abomination to you Italophiles, trust me, this is a good tasting pasta, and it doesn't suffer from easy breaking and the danger of tasting like cardboard that plagues most whole wheat noodles. Do stay with the spaghetti shape; the stubby version doesn't hold up.

Mellowed Fresh Tomatoes for Pasta
Copyright 2007 Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Serves 6 to 8 as a first course, 4 to 6 as a main dish

  • 1 clove garlic, split
  • 3 pounds richly flavored tomatoes (if possible, one-third cherry type, one-third mellow-tasting, and one-third low-acid), unpeeled, unseeded, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 generous pinches hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti, or linguine
  • 6 quarts boiling salted water
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 tight-packed tablespoons fresh basil leaves, torn

  • 1 cup fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)

1. Vigorously rub a pasta serving bowl with the garlic and discard the clove. Add the tomatoes, red pepper, oil, and the salt. Gently combine. Let stand at room temperature from 30 minutes to 3 hours.

2. When ready to eat, cook the pasta in fiercely boiling salted water, stirring often, until tender yet firm to the bite. Drain in a colander and turn it into the pasta bowl. Quickly add the black pepper and basil, and toss everything together. Taste the pasta for seasoning and serve. If you like, pass cheese at the table


  • I discovered a trick for making pasta with raw tomato sauces taste lustier. Slightly undercook the pasta. Drain it. Spoon the juices that raw sauces always throw off into the empty pasta pot. Set it over medium-low heat, add the pasta and toss until the juices are absorbed, then add the pasta to the sauce. Pasta and raw tomato sauce are served at room temperature, never chilled.

  • Exceptionally good tomatoes and olive oil you want to eat with a spoon are the only requirements for this recipe. Try a variety of tomatoes if possible—the punchy little Sweet 100's or Sun Golds, mellow beefsteaks and maybe one or two sweet yellow or orange ones. Tear the basil with your hands, rather than chopping with a knife. You enjoy more of its fragrance this way.

  • For fresh, kicky olive oil, keep a lookout for fresh-pressed oils from the Southern hemisphere. You'll find the 2007 harvest coming from Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

  • Field-ripened tomatoes are in abundance at farmers' markets and roadside stands now until the end of September. Heirloom and older varieties are worth looking for, especially the "black" tomatoes from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—like Black Krims, Chris's Ukraine, Gypsy Blacks and Black Russians. Of course, don't ignore better-known fruit like the Brandywine, Rutgers, German Striped, Oxheart and Zebra. Sweet, low-acid tomatoes such as White Wonder and Taxi Cab are a good foil for higher contrast varieties like Sun Gold, Sweet 100s, Red Currant, Early Cascade and White Beauty.

  • Never refrigerate fresh tomatoes. Farm stand tomatoes will likely be ripe when you purchase them, but if another day or two is needed, place them stem end down in a basket or on the kitchen counter to finish ripening.


When farm stands are overflowing with delicious ripe heirloom tomatoes we love to make a meal of them. Pick up as many varieties as you can find. Cut them into thick slices and arrange them on a big platter. Drizzle on some good olive oil, a shower of sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Scatter torn basil leaves over all. For a heartier dish, tuck slices of fresh mozzarella (the one that's packed in liquid) among the tomatoes. Add a loaf of chewy whole-grain country bread, a glass of chilled white Arneis wine from Italy's Piedmont region, and life will be very, very good.

Have a great week,



Monday, August 06, 2007

National Root Beer Float Day

Ah! A nice cold root beer float. Velvety, chocolaty, a perfect refreshment on a hot summer day. Nothing more than a few scoops of vanilla ice cream in a frosty mug and topped off with your favorite root beer, this treat has been popular for over a hundred years.

It is thought that the root beer float was invented by Frank J. Wisner in the late 1800’s. While relaxing one evening, looking out at the full moon rising over the darkened Cow Mountains, he was inspired to float a scoop of ice cream on top of his root beer. His concoction was called a Black Cow. Today a black cow refers to a float made with cola instead of root beer. A Boston cooler is made with ginger ale (Vernors in Michigan of course) over vanilla ice cream.

We could not have a root beer float with the root beer. There are over two thousand root beer brands today. According to
www.root-beer.org, “Root Beer is a sweetened, carbonated beverage originally made using the root of a sassafras plant (or the bark of a sassafras tree), with sassafras as the primary flavor. In addition to sassafras flavor, root beer often has other flavorings, including anise, burdock, cinnamon, dandelion, ginger, juniper, spikenard / sarsaparilla, vanilla, wintergreen, and / or yellow dock and sweetened with aspartame, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and, most commonly sugar.”

Sassafras plant and bark are natural foaming agents, so they give root beer its characteristic foamy head. It is the original ingredient Charles Hires used when he first publicly introduced Hires Root Beer back in the 1876. It is said that Charles, a pharmacist in Philadelphia, had sampled some teas made with barks while vacationing in New Jersey. He enjoyed the teas so much, he begin experimenting with barks and roots upon his return. Sassafras was the key ingredient of his root beer.

Try placing a plate under your mug to help catch any spill over. You can add whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top to add a touch of decadence. Or for an adult version, add a shot of root beer schnapps to your float. Some people add chocolate syrup to their float. And for those of you who think this is just too much work, you can now buy root beer float ice cream (vanilla ice cream with ripples of root beer sherbet).

Enjoy a frosty, frothy, foamy mug today!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dog Days of Summer

With a forecasted temperature of 95° today, we are experiencing our hottest day this summer. When the temperature gets this hot, the last thing I want to do is turn on the stove, let alone the oven. I thought I would throw out some suggestions for some easy meals that don't require cooking.

Besides the obvious – going out to eat in a nice, cool restaurant – you could pick up some deli items and have a picnic in your dining room. The market’s deli section carries great easy items, from fried or rotisserie chicken to salads of all kinds. You could pick up cold cuts and cheeses and have a build-your-own-sandwich night.

You could make chicken salad and have it on a bed of greens, sub buns or even just with fruit and crackers. I would use either rotisserie chicken that has been shredded or canned chicken that has been drained. Chop a bit of celery, onion, bell pepper and toss with a scoop of mayonnaise, a dollop of Dijon mustard with salt and pepper to taste.

Buy some pre-cooked shrimp, crab legs or lobster. I found 3 easy, no-cook recipes that any of these seafood options would be tasty with.
Quick and Easy Coconut Shrimp Salad
No Cook Sweet Beet Lime Shrimp Salad
Easy No Cook Calypso Coconut Shrimp Salad

Or go nuts and have a build-your-own-ice-cream-sundae dinner. Buy several types of ice cream, chopped nuts, fudge sauce, fresh fruit like bananas and strawberries, and don’t forget the whipped cream and cherries and stay cool by eating a banana split or not-so-hot-fudge sundae. I don’t advocate eating like this all the time, but on days like today I think it is okay.

Whatever you do, stay cool and enjoy your day!

PS Can you fry an egg on the side walk? According to the Library of Congress, it is theoretically possible, but it does not actually work. “An egg needs a temperature of 158°F to become firm. In order to cook, proteins in the egg must denature (modify), then coagulate, and that won’t happen until the temperature rises enough to start and maintain the process.” Even on the hottest of days, the pavement temperature only reaches 145°F.