Saturday, January 30, 2010

Curried Veal Shanks- Another Osso Bucco

This is the time of year when it is cold outside, so making one pot wonders seems to have its appeal. Days are long, every night I have somewhere to be, so I just want to throw all the ingredients into a baking dish. I found veal shanks for a great price a while back and bought extra to store in the freezer. I just did not feel like making a traditional Osso Bucco, so I improvised.

Okay this is not a casserole, but it felt like one. Many recipes for Osso Bucco are long and complicated (in prep), but if you really dig this cut of meat (great for crock pot cooking).

Traditionally Italian Ossobuco alla milanese (Often spelled Osso Bucco- meaning shank) is dredged in flour; add a variety of vegetables, and tomato sauce is added and is similar to stew. Slow cooking allows the ingredients to meld, making a wonderful sauce. Then often it is served over pasta, or with risotto that has been cooked with saffron threads.

I have chosen to forgo the flour and make the seasoning and Farro, another Italian grain, the star of this dish. Farro replaces the flour; it helps thicken the sauce with juices of the meat and seasonings.

Farro was once the food of the Roman soldiers; it is a healthy and filling grain that kept the troops happy!
Curried Veal Shanks

6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon ginger powder
1 tablespoon madras curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt/Pepper to taste
1 sliced red onion
4 veal shoulder chops, or 2 large shanks (as I have chosen)
1 cup uncooked Farro
2 1/2 cups beef stock; adjust as needed

Lightly season the veal with salt. Slather mustard all over the veal. Dust with coarsely ground black pepper. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Put the veal in a baking pan. Cover with Farro, onions, rest of seasonings, and stock. Cover with foil. Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes (time varies depending on heat source); slowly until meat is tender, and Farro is cooked. Remove meat from bone ( pull into pieces). Remove marrow from bone center and stir into sauce, or serve bones on plate and eat with dish.

I sauteed spinach and served as base for my Veal Shanks- Osso Bucco/Farro mixture. Serve.

The one problem that bothered me with cooking this all in one pot is that I could not puree the sauce, because it would have involved messing with the Farro texture. The sauce looks grainy, but it was a wonderful flavored dish otherwise. I have been wanting to incorporate mustard into more dishes, and this one is a keeper.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wine-Down Wednesday: Flights

Tired of just traveling up flights of stairs at home and work? Sure its exercise, but ready for a flight somewhere fun? Maybe Italy, Spain, or even just head over to the west coast were you can exercise your palate? Even though CNN and Frommers have reported in the past few months the US dollar has strengthened in this bad economy, and it's the best time to take a trip for some rest and relaxation- do you really have time to take off work? I have an idea for some traveling, good R & R, and you do not have  to leave the comfort of your own living room. Well, maybe a drive to the local wine retailer, or around town and try out a few local wine bars!

My 'Partner In Wine', Adrienne and I joke " lets leave the husbands and go to Italy", and then we pour ourselves a glass of Amarone as we chuckle! When I am in the mood to hop from different regions of the world in the comfort of my own home, or off a bar stool in a local wine bar- I think of Wine Flights. Wine flights are a way of letting us step into the world of wines by trying a 'little' pour, and learning something new by going from Napa to Washington State; over the pond to Italy or France, and all in three glasses if we choose so.

Wine tasting is the sensory examination and evaluation of wine. While the practice of wine tasting is as ancient as its production, a more formalized methodology has slowly become established from the 14th century onwards. Modernization has developed ways of wine enthusiasts to make tasting part of the social scene; make it fun, and not so pretentious.

Wine flights are one, two, or even three ounce pours of different wines. Often the wines are pre-chosen, and often in sophisticated Wine Bars, a choice is given. Someone in this case is always available to help the novice. Occasionally even someone like me knows the staff are often educated, already tried wines, and might suggest something really interesting. I am a risk taker, and often dive in to new realms of my travel.

Flights can fill three, six or more glasses. Many choices are the same varietals. Others can range from a white with two reds, or all whites. Price ranges vary according to retail prices of the bottles, and or establishment you are visiting. Some can be very pricey for the wines chosen, but can be worth the education you receive.

A wine flight may also be offered as a way for diners to sample an assortment of different wines. These flights may be designed to pair with a prix fixe menu, with each wine pairing with a different course, or may be intended to showcase some other component of the wine. Restaurants in wine regions, for example, may offer wine flights as a way of allowing diners to sample a variety of wines from that region.

If you like Pinot Noir, but you would like to taste three back to back. Wine flights make it possible. You might get a Cloudline, McMinville OR, '07; Louis Loutor, Burgandy, FR, and a Paraiso, Santa Lucia CA. The three choices most likely '07, and a range of light to heavy body wines. These types of tastings are called vertical and horizontal.

Vertical Tasting- different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery are tasted. This emphasizes differences between various vintages.

Horizontal Tasting- the wines are all from the same vintage but are from different wineries.

Stepping from one level to another gives one a chance to compare. The acts of pausing and focusing through each step distinguishes wine tasting from simple quaffing. I am sure you get my point, so let's move on- What to do when three or more glasses are sitting in front of you...

Tasting Stages-

whites- light to dark gold / reds- rose to dark burgundy (aging causes brown coloration)
(bouquet, or nose)
Mouth feel
(body- light/medium/heavy, and sometimes referred to as chewy)
Perceived flavors
(berries, almonds, grassy, musky, etc)
(aftertaste that seals the deal!)

Lets talk about 'Mouth feel'- I feel food is important in the tasting process. Some mature drinkers will disagree, but I have found over the years that less experienced tasters/drinkers will enjoy more complex and mature, or tannic, younger wines if one has coated their mouth with cheese, or meats (like salami). The fat of the cheese and meats can coat the roof of the mouth and cheeks so that the tannins do not cause what I call 'Pucker face'. Bread and crackers on the other hand are more like palate cleansers. Each bite you take whether bread, cheeses or meats will change the taste of the wine. Once the novice is nudged to have a wine they might not have tried again with a piece of cheese, fruit, or even nuts- they tend to agree in giving wine another chance.

Many times I have witnessed a novice refusing to entertain a varietal of wine such as reds if they have had a bad experience with mouth feel- or as I call it 'Pucker Face'. Mature connoisseurs feel that once a wine has aged, reaching its fruit and tannin peak, or balance; accompaniment of food is not required for drinking. Their palates have grown accustomed to many styles of wine, but to avoid this 'distaste' for certain wines have nibbles waiting for yourself and guests when opening new wines until you begin to mature.

Wine classes- offering wine flights can take place up to three or more hours as to give the student time to taste and re-taste comparisons. Most classes serve small plates of bread, cheese, and meats. Having finger foods on hand can help satisfy that craving and some, like bread or crackers, can also help to cleanse tasters palates between wines. This is another great way to try flights, drill in some education, or refresh on any prior education.

Witherspoon Grill, Princeton- Wine Flight Choices

Quick Restaurant Review- This being my third visit to Witherspoon Grill, I find it consistent all around! This visit we shared a bone in Rib-eye, medium rare and cooked on the 'hot spot' of the grill which gives you a nice char (most wait staff do no mind this request), salad, small plate of cheese/fruit, and calamari between two people. Portions were perfect, and food was great in our two and half hours at the restaurant with our wine flights. We also asked the wines be poured into much larger glasses for aeration, as the glasses in photo above were way to small to swirl.

Witherspoon Grill | Steakhouse | Bar | 57 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542
Steak House ambiance, friendly waitstaff, timely food, short wine and food menu. $$-$$$

(Traditional Comparison of close regions- great for beginner)
Chalone Chardonnay, CA '08
Parcel 41, Merlot, Napa CA, '06
Water Stone, Cabernet, Napa CA '05

Pinot Noir Tasting-
Cloudine, McMinville, OR '07
Louis Latour, Burgundy FR '07
Paraiso, Santa Lucia, CA '07

Full Body-  (Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting)
(Vertical Tasting, although not same maker-notes included)
High Trellis Cabernet, Austrailia '06
Light body, great bouquet, but a bit young and tannic
Waterstone Cabernet, Napa Valley '05
Medium body, well balanced and my favorite!
Sagelands Cabernet, Columbia Valley '06*
Med-Heavy body, Bordeaux like complexity though, and goes well with steak
*I did want to note on this wine that the bouquet and finish came off like I had just walked into a Christmas store just after Thanksgiving- Almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla scents in the air, was wild, I had never had a wine that tasted like Christmas!

Little Italy- (Horizontal Tasting- notes included)
Barbera D'Asti, '06
 Light body, was okay, and had hints of chocolate
Luigi Rechetti, Baby Amarone '06
I have two bottles of this in my cellar- '05 & '06
Medium body, bouquet great, well balanced and drinkable now or can age
Rocca Di Castagnoli, Chianti Classico IT '06
Medium to heavy body, I was not crazy about this wine, but I am not a big fan of Chianti, but I would be willing to bet this would be great with a pasta dish. The dislike could be from me having palate fatigue. Many times trying too many wines, and so much food- you hit that road block, and its time to stop.

Wine flights can open up your palate to a more varied selection of wines a small sample at a time, and allow you to visit more than one place in a matter of only a few hours. Most beginners do not understand how to develop and learn their palate, and wine flights are a great mechanism for that. So if you have an opportunity to order a wine flight, travel to places you have not been before, then I say happy travels and enjoy your R&R; until the 'real' vacation begins!

Can it be? The reason why we drink wine is because we want to fly high?

If that caught your attention, then go over and read Fermentation's piece on 'Wine, Dope & Unmentionable Truths'; it might cause quite the stir at your next wine tasting...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lemon Grass Tea Corn Chowder & Cornnut History

I have been wanting to try something I saw on a menu in a local restaurant a while back. A corn chowder seasoned with lemon grass. A bowl of fusion to say the least, and it was so simple. No garnish. Just a bowl of warm yummy ingredients pureed for my pleasure, with some fresh baked bread. Of course I could not just serve up my hubby a pureed soup, or leave my memory of this soup alone. He likes his with a little more substance, so with the addition of some seafood, cubed potatoes, and kicked up flavor would make it more his style.

With this soup still in the back of my mind; driving past so many corn fields this past summer, and a little serendipity brought a post and stepped up my soup idea. Tipper @ Blind Pig & The Acorn who writes about her own Appalachian heritage had written about how corn is gathered and parched for milling and storage through the winter. This could be a story tied into my soup idea!

[Photo is Tipper's father showing her how to make parched corn snack]

Tipper wrote about eating parched corn as a snack- “You can see the finished product-parched corn. It was pretty good; it tasted like popcorn kernels to me. Some kernels were easy to chew up, somewhere impossible. Pap said the corn they grew when he was a child made better parched corn than what we had to work with. I can see why folks would like it, and even crave it. Think of a world where there were no potato chips, cheetos or corn chips. Parched corn would fill the slot for a salty crunchy snack”.

Yes, there it is...parched corn would work as a garnish for my soup!

Growing up I had always wondered why some corn fields sometimes look like they had been freshly scalped, and others as thought it is so dry; stalks just sitting there about to fall over. Maybe a hot spell must have hit the area, and no one had enough water to keep it going. Droughts were common in Texas. What was going on. Yes, it really bothered me. That was until I traveled to the Appalachia Mountains to visit my childhood friend and her family farm. I asked her why the corn was still sitting in the field. She asked me if I wanted to drive over to the field and she would show me something. Okay, okay the soup part is coming...

[Photo is courtesy of Tipper @ Blind Pig & The Acorn- Parched Corn]

Back in September Lisa, her girls and I drove my van out into their pasture. We drove right to the corn fields. They were next to the vegetable garden we about to raid as well. There was this little blue bucket turned over on its side. You could hear music as you drove in, but where was the music coming out from? Lisa told me that they left the music on to scare off the coons, deer. and other critters. This scared them off so they would not steal the corn for their own gluttony. We laughed, because you should have seen the extension cord that came for almost a mile from the main house!

My own family had once moved from Virginia and Tennessee almost two hundred years ago and tried to grow corn on dry west Texas land. I heard family stories of the hard labor that went into working the land. Eventually oil and natural gas brought them fortune. They still own the land today. I had thought about the corn and how it feed so many poor immigrants back then. I had the pleasure of receiving a bag of fresh milled corn for Christmas from Lisa and her family down in Virginia, along with some ham.

Bush Mill, Nicklesville, VA- The only restored operational mill in the region was built between 1896 and 1897. Machinery in the mill is still intact. Annual festival with crafts, music, food and fun for all ages takes place during October each year to grind local corn and sold to keep it running. Recently restored, 1896 water-powered grist mill that uses stones to grind grain into meal.

Parched Corn- Anonymous

Corn nuts are a variation of parched corn. Indians and pioneers ate parched corn almost as a staple while traveling; it was very nutritious and took up little space so was considered an excellent trail food.

Parched corn was made by Indians in the process of putting dried corn on hot rocks or in hot coals. You can make parched corn by simply covering the bottom of a grease-less frying pan with corn and stirring until the kernels are uniformly brown.

Corn nuts are a little more refined. Albert Holloway invented corn nuts in 1936. He originally sold them to tavern owners to be given away free to their patrons as a snack that would be great with beer. Once sold to the public via taversn were called Brown Jug Toasted Corn Nuts. What we know today have additives to give them a fuller crunchier texture. As a sample batch, use one cup of whole corn, bought from any feed or health food store.

Soak the kernels in two cups of water for three days, in the refrigerator, or use frozen corn after roasting them for thirty minutes in a 250 degree oven.

Pour off the water, or dry the kernels in a towel. Heat up about four cups of oil (or grease; bacon, lard, vegetable oil; it doesn't matter). Just before the smoking point ( a drop of water will sputter in the hot oil). In a large spoon lower a heaping tablespoon of kernels into the middle of the grease. The grease will then begin to boil violently. Do this in small batches or the oil will erupt violently and splatter on you, the stove, and the floor.

Keep the hot handle turned away from the front of stove, especially if small children are present. Also, stand back as an occasional kernel will pop like popcorn. Believe me it pops alright; it reminded me why I hate frying anything at all anymore!

Tipper explains more about field and parched corn on her site. She says, “Here in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia, it was typical for folks to leave their corn in the field until it had been frosted on a few times and was completely dried out before the process of gathering was started. The corn in those days was different from the sweet corn most of us are familiar with today; it's often called field corn”.

She and I also spoke about a product called Corn Nuts (mentioned above photo); it appeared on the market when we were both young, and I enjoyed eating them. Coming to the conclusion that they derived from parched corn, I wanted to try making some. Tipper said I might be on to something. Her father had told her it was used as a diet supplement when long traveling was in order, so maybe there was a story waiting to be told. She also said that corn nuts sure tasted better than parched corn, so I had to find out. I decided to incorporate it into my soup recipe.

I followed a recipe in an old church cookbook my friend in Virginia's grandmother showed me. I made three attempts- I took the corn off of several corn on the cobs, sweet variety. I also took a bag of regular yellow corn- soaking both in water for three days as instructed. After drying, I roasted the yellow in the oven, and I fried the sweet white corn. Both were equally good and crunchy, but the fried was more plump and I added some chili powder and Louisiana hot sauce for extra kick with the lemon grass flavored chowder.

Lemongrass Corn Chowder
Take loose leaf lemon tea, along with large chopped lemon grass, and steep it for several hours in boiling water. *While the brew is steeping prepare mise- chop 4 or 5 white potatoes, 1 white onion (finely chopped), 4 garlic cloves (roughly chopped), 3 tablespoons cilantro (finely chopped), and clean 1/2 pound of clams, and rock shrimp; set aside.

1/2 package of large frozen corn (roughly 1 1/2 cup or more), or 2 cups of fresh corn cut off the cob
3 cups vegetable broth

Begin boiling this mixture in soup pot; when begins to boil add the above ingredients*. Cook until potatoes are done. Reserve (and strain) half of potatoes and corn- set aside. Puree mixture until smooth (strain to remove skins from corn and potatoes); add brew lemon grass tea, and reduce mixture until thickens to desired consistency.

Taste to test seasoning, add seafood, and 1 cup rice milk as I used, or heavy cream if desired. Then add corn and potatoes back in. Serve. Top off with home made parched corn.

If you do not want to go through the trouble of making 'Parched Corn' then you could just top the soup off with some Thai Chili sauce and get a similar result, but what fun would that be if you did not get to experiment and find out what your ancestors enjoyed!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Creme Fraiche Crusted Chicken & Artichoke Ravioli

Being hungry on the home front, and  hubby returning from his long out of town work trip (he hates having to eat out so much) is reason enough to go for something comforting for the nights meal. Having chicken, spinach, artichoke ravioli from Trader Joe's, and home made Crème fraiche sounded like a good meal combination. Busy with my own work and classes, and open mic I decided a one pot meal was in order.

I have been spending the same price on thin cut chicken breast fillets lately, and really like the idea of better portion control in them as well (You get six pieces as opposed to three thicker 5 oz breast). This allows for lunches as well.

Just spread a package of frozen spinach into a 9 X 13 baking dish; mixed in 4 ounces of Asiago cheese, pignoli nuts, garlic powder, Italian seasonings, salt/pepper, and 1/2 cup of chicken broth; mix well. Taking the chicken breast and spread Crème fraiche over the tops of each piece, and place on top of spinach mixture.

In a separate bowl I mix garlic powder, paprika, salt/pepper to taste, 1/3 cup bread crumbs, and 1/4 cup Asiago cheese. Sprinkle this mixture over the tops of the chicken and any extra over spinach edges showing.

Bake in Pre-heated 350 degree oven, and bake for 40 minutes uncovered.

Side dish- pouring a 1/2 cup of chicken broth in a large pan on medium heat, you will also add in 1/4 cup of tomato sauce. Once sauce begins to bubble, turn off heat and add ravioli, cover and let warm. Serve with spinach and chicken dish.

The creme fraiche gave the chicken and spinach a nice savory flavor. The pignoli nuts and bread crumbs gave everything a satisfying crunch. I was glad I ran into Trader Joe's on my way back into town, because it made my busy week so much easier. Hubby was happy to return to a home cooked meal, even if I cook it all in one pan and had a little help from Joe!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wine-Down Wednesday- Portuguese 'Gold'

Chryseia is Greek for 'Gold', a play on the River Douro's name (which means "gold" in Portuguese).

Before we talk about this amazing wine lets look at the Portuguese wine history:

Portugal has had a longer tradition in wine making than most realize; it is safe to say at least as far back as 5000 BC. Most think ‘Port’ and ‘Madeira’ when they hear Portugal right? I have had a few Portuguese wines in the past, and when I got the invitation to attend a  tasting glass to glass Portuguese red wine, well, my answer was a definite “YES”!

Their history producing wine comes from much earlier than the foundation of its Nationality; its history tells us that the Greeks in and around the area borders Pre-Portuguese Republic were already producing wines, and became involved in the wine trade soon after. The early history of Portugal, whose name derives from the Roman name ‘Portus Cale’ has a Mediterranean climate. Csa in the south and Csb in the north. Portuguese wine comes from vineyards that are planted from the northern to the southern regions. Portugal is a small country, but it has a variety of soils and climates that make for so many interesting wine choices.

Portuguese wines have deserved international recognition since the times of the Roman Empire, which associated Portugal with their god Bacchus. Today the country is known by wine lovers and its wines have won several international prizes. Some of the best Portuguese wines are: Vinho Verde, Vinho Alvarinho, Vinho do Douro, Vinho do Alentejo, Vinho do Dão, Vinho da Bairrada and the sweet: Port, Madeira Wine. Moscatel from Setúbal, and Favaios. Port Wine is well known around the world. The Douro wine region is the oldest in the world- ranked 10 in wine making around the world.

Arguably, I read in Wine Spectator, Chryseia could very well be Portugal's top red wine that's not a Port - this wine is unusual, tasty, and an amazing deal for a world class bottle of wine. Reminiscent of a 1st growth Bordeaux, but made from Portugal's native varieties: Touriga Nacional, a low yielding variety of great complexity and finesse, and Touriga Franca (was Touriga Francesa) which is more tannic. Also used are Tinta Roriz, known as Tinto del País (Tempranillo) in Ribera del Duero, and Tinto Cão, a variety with a most attractive aroma.

Chryseia Winery- "A joint venture between the Symington family and Bruno Prats, formerly of Chateau Cos d'Estournel in Bordeaux, has produced Chryseia (House of Dow, Warre, Graham Ports). The wines produced are a fully extracted wine, with purple colors and rich tannins, but it is also finely balanced and very elegant. Most when released are still young, with a dry finish, it should develop in a classic Bordeaux way over the next 5-10 years."

'Partner In Wine'* Chryseia Notes:

Typically if you have not ever attended a wine tasting class- you have six glasses, a tasting note sheet, pencil, and an array of snacks to nibble on while the class takes place (to coat the palate). Tonight was no different. Michele had the learning table set up; ten people signed up to participate; two and half ounce pours of each wine are waiting in each glass, and an experience with this Portuguese wine story to share. Let the tasting begin!

Not all classes have the wines poured and ready. This is part of the aeration that takes place in the glass we discussed in the past 'Wine Myth' post. A classy move on the host part. As discussed young to older wines should have room to breath. Breathing does not take place in the bottle. One wine is even chosen to be decanted, and waits on the kitchen counter. A bonus pour- Post Scriptum, a sixth wine will sit as we spend time with all the big brothers.

(Michele has stated that she found these wines online. Peaking her curiosity she ordered one in particular, the '03, and felt a side by side wine tasting is in order. She also shares that the third wine stood out upon tasting at her last group, and is her all time favorite. All wines we are told, are medium to heavy body. The following are my own tasting notes.)

All the bottles contain some combination of the 4 varieties that I mentioned above: Touriga Nacional,Touriga Franca,Tinta Roriz, aka Tempranillo and Tinto Cão..
Wines listed by (bottled) date, left to right-

These wines are meant to be fruit forward. Berries of either dark cherry, blueberry, or even raspberry with subtle french oak aspects. I love the oak aspects of wines, but felt these were not at all out there. 

'00 & '01:   I felt these two are acidic and high tannic on mouthfeel, but '01 changes with salami and cheese, so my fondness grows. Both fruit forward, and lighter in body.

'02:  This year was never bottled, does not exist.

'03: My first impression upon swirling and sniffing was 'Wow', and cherries. If Michele had not made any statement about this being her favorite, I would still have chosen it as my #1 favorite of the bunch. Straight across the board good with or without food. The purple fruit presentation and mouth feel are feminine, medium body, but soft with low tannin - the oak is there too but sparingly used.

Wine Spectator & Wine Enthusiast both rate this - 92

'04: Ultimately, it may come down to your style preferences, but I felt this was good, but the '03 was better. The tannins were more present, but again with the fatty meat and cheese, and time it opened up. After a few more years it may compare to the '03.

Mark Squires, The Wine Advocate- 93

'05: Beautiful rich blackberry and black cherry fruit by the addition of wood spice and vanilla. Tannins are supple, yet firm enough to give the bold fruit focus and structure on the finish. I read that many of these are better the second day, and as they sat they did open up by the hour.

These all are refined, well integrated tannins around the edges that become more prominent with air, and it grows on you.

Mark Squires, The Wine Advocate- 92

'05: Post Scriptrum de Chryseia- This wine's name comes from the wine does not live up to its big brother, '05 flavor profile, but is always made whereas the Chryseia is only made in good years.

Wine Spectator Rating - 86

The wine is made from the traditional Douro/Port varieties Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Cao, in that order. It’s a fine mouthful of black fruit and spice, with the elegance you’d expect from a Bordeaux master. I have placed my order for the '03 and '05 Post Scriptrum de Chryseia. I would recommend you buy a bottle of this if it is available in your area; available on-line. Shipping to certain states is prohibited, so make sure you check with on-line retailers. Pricing varies from $28 - $60 per bottle. 

Medium to heavy body allows for food pairings from Chicken, quail, beef, wild game, pork, potato, rice, pasta, egg dishes, and with a variety of sauces. I could even see some of these paired with smoked meats, and an edgy spice, or BBQ sauce with hints of cherry in the flavor profile.

Michele A. Heaton- American Wine Society Member, and wine advocate has been sharing and tasting wines for many years. Always did like wine as I never acquired a taste for beer - Boone's Farm, White Zin. Graduated to Rieslings then took a wine class in 2002 and within 10 weeks was turned into a red wine lover - Petite Syrah and Zins especially Rosenblum Zins became my favorite. Now I'm heavily into Grenaches - Rhone, Spain or Oz.

Currently taking Wine & Spirit Education Trust classes...first steps to a Master of Wine.

If you are interested in participating in her well guided wine classes please contact me, and I will forward your information.

*Partners In Wine is a partnership, and business venture between Chef E Stelling- Member AWS who is adventurous in all reds, whites, fortified spirits, and most of all a Scotch/Whiskey lover! She enjoys pairing wine with food, travels the country in search of good wine, as well as takes continuing education wine and food classes.

Adrienne Turner, Member AWS- is a wine writer and advocate who loves her reds, especially Baby Amarone, but shares a love for tasting and talking about how wines can change one's life. She also shares her partners love for Scotch/Whiskey, and is involved with continuing wine education classes.

A website for their joint venture is in the works!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Smothered Steak & Beech Mushrooms

My second dish made with St. Louis boy this past month is quite easy, but what made it so special were the Beech Mushrooms we used. Both of us loving mushrooms, these were some neither of us had seen before. Schnucks is  a local food market in the St. Louis area and their offerings of ingredients was quite pleasing compared to what I had remembered. I even bought Lemon Grass for soup I will be sharing in a future post.

We found the beech mushrooms had a nice earthy smell, but a bitter taste when eaten raw. I researched and found after cooking their flavor will liven up in true earthy mushroom manner. They added a great flavor to the gravy while slow cooking (we had bagged up the left over chuck roast gravy, and used it for this recipe).

The Brown Beech mushroom is a highly nutritious mushroom containing significant amounts of potassium, protein, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium and Vitamin D2 (please refer to Nutrition Facts in Fresh Mushroom Products section). The Brown Beech is highly valued for its culinary properties. Recent research indicates that this mushroom also has strong medicinal activities. 

Unpublished research in Japan found that the addition of Beech mushrooms to the diet of mice with deficient ApoE levels reduced the density of serum cholesterol and the areas of arteriosclerosis around the heart and main artery by 74% when compared to the control group (see section titled "Recent Medical Research on Beneficial Effects of Mushrooms on Health). Matsuzawa (1998) reported that adding Beech mushroom fruitbodies to the diet of tumor-bearing mice resulted in a potent anti-tumor effect. This research suggests that the significant increases in antioxidant activities (AOA) in the plasma may be a mechanism of the cancer preventative effects.

Brown Beech- Hypsizygus tessulatus
White Beech- Bunapi-shimeji

Alternative Names:
Hypsizygus marmoreus, Buna Shimeji, Hon Shimeji


Cultivated varieties harvested in tight clusters with mushrooms attached to common base, and typically grown on beech trees (hence the name). Caps 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches wide, brownish with mottled "water spots" (Brown). White caps indicate white beech. Stems and gills white to cream in color.

Known Active Constituents:

Ergosterol - Provitamin D2

Purported Uses:

Arteriosclerosis treatments
Skin treatments
Immune system enhancement

Medicinal Properties and Modes of Actions:

The Brown Beech mushroom is a highly nutritious mushroom containing significant amounts of potassium, protein, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium and Vitamin D2 (please refer to Nutrition Facts in Fresh Mushroom Products section). The Brown Beech is highly valued for its culinary properties. Recent research indicates that this mushroom also has strong medicinal activities. Unpublished research in Japan found that the addition of Beech mushrooms to the diet of mice with deficient ApoE levels reduced the density of serum cholesterol and the areas of arteriosclerosis around the heart and main artery by 74% when compared to the control group (see section titled "Recent Medical Research on Beneficial Effects of Mushrooms on Health). Matsuzawa (1998) reported that adding Beech mushroom fruitbodies to the diet of tumor-bearing mice resulted in a potent anti-tumor effect. This research suggests that the significant increases in antioxidant activities (AOA) in the plasma may be a mechanism of the cancer preventative effects.

The Beech mushroom also has been reported to have beneficial effects on skin conditions. A high-end cosmetic company (Origins) includes Hysizygus mushroom extracts in some of its skin treatment products.

The Shimeji should be cooked, it is not good raw. When raw, mushroom has a somewhat bitter taste; the bitterness disappears completely upon cooking. The cooked mushroom has a pleasant, firm, slightly crunchy texture and a delicious slightly nutty flavor. Cooking makes mushroom easier to digest. It is good with stir-fried foods, wild game or seafood. It is used in soups, stews and sauces. When cooked alone, Shimeji mushrooms can be sautéed as a whole, including the stem or stalk (only the very end cut off), using a higher temperature, or they can be slow roasted on a low temperature with a small amount of butter or cooking oil. Shimeji is used in soups, nabe and takikomi gohan.

Crock Pot Smothered Steak

4-5 tenderized cube steak (if you cannot find this, I have tenderized round steak instead, my son laughed when he did  not have a tenderizer hammer the last time, and I used a plastic wrapped soup can!)
1 sliced red onion
3-4 cloves of mashed garlic
salt/pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of paprika
2 eggs, beaten well, and mixed with 1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 cups beef or vegetable stock

Season meat, and then dip them into egg/buttermilk mixture; dredge into flour and place in crock pot. Add onion, mushrooms and stock. Cook for up to three hours, or until tender. Serve with a green vegetable. We used raw clean spinach.

Cube steak is a cut of beef, usually top round or top sirloin, tenderized by fierce pounding with a meat mallet, or use of an electric tenderizer found in most butcher markets. Many professional cooks insist that regular tenderizing mallets cause too much mashing to produce a proper cube steak, and insist on either using specialized cube steak machines, or manually applying a set of sharp pointed rods to pierce the meat in every direction. This is the most common cut of meat used for chicken fried steak.
Minute steak

In some parts of the United States, cube steak may be called a minute steak, because it can be cooked quickly.

Others distinguish minute steak as:

* minute steak is simply a cut, not necessarily tenderized;
* minute steak is thinner than cube steak (hence does not need tenderizing);
* minute steak is cut from sirloin or round, while cube steak cut from chuck or round.


1. ^ "What is a Minute Steak?". Retrieved 2009-06-20.
2. ^ Randal W. Oulton. "Cube Steak". Retrieved 2009-06-20.

St. Louis boy asked me what the difference between Swiss and Smothered steak are. I replied that 'Smothered Swiss Steak' is an oxymoron in my book...

* Swiss steak- The subtle difference between Smothered and Swiss steak is the use of vegetables and tomatoes in most Swiss steak recipes.

The name does not refer to Switzerland, but instead to the process of "swissing", which refers to fabric or other materials being pounded or run through rollers in order to soften it.

Typically called smothered steak in the US, and other countries such as England, this dish begins with a thick cut of beef-usually round or chuck-that has been tenderized by pounding, coated with flour and browned on both sides. The meat is then smothered with chopped tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, beef broth and various seasonings before being covered and braised, baked or simmered for about 2 hours.

[Photo courtesy of  Wikipedia- Viennese Schnitzel]

I have learned that the preference of ingredients in either dish over the years separates the two in kitchens, but both came from essentially the same idea. Eventually 'Chicken Fried Steak' resulted from the core idea of dredging cubed steak in flour, and serving with pan gravy, serves as a inexpensive dish for low income families. The roots of this dish originated in the south, in and around the Appalachian mountains when German settlers brought their homeland recipes to the area.

The most obvious dish being the Wiener-schnitzel from Germany, and using pounded pieces of pork. What worked for pork in Germany was quickly adopted for the beef in the Southwest areas of our country.

Information on slow cooking, crock pots, Beech mushrooms, and cubed steak- Thanks! Wikipedia, History of Slow Cooking by C. Jeanne Heida, Alexis AKA Mom, and 'Food Around The World' Culinary Text.

Selected Beech Mushroom References:

Ikekawa, T. et. al., 1992. "Antitumor activity of Hypsizygus marmoreus. I. Antitumor activity of extracts and polysaccharides." Chem. Pharm. Bull. 40(7):1954-1957.

Matsuzawa, T, et. al., 1997. "Studies on antioxidant effect of Hypsizygus marmoreus I. Effects of Hypsizygus marmoreus for antioxidant activities of mice plasma.

Matsuzawa, T, et al., 1998. "Studies on antioxidant effect of Hypsizygus marmoreus. II. Effects of Hypsizgus marmoreus for antioxidant activities of tumor-bearing mice". Agricultural Technology Institute of Nagano, Japan. Yakugaku Zasshi Oct; 1998(10):476-481.

Saitoh, H. et. al. 1997. "Antitumor activity of Hypsizygus marmoreus. II. Effect against lung metastasis on Lewis Lung Carcinoma. Yakugaku Zasshi 117(12)1006-1010.

Tsuchlda, K. et. al. 1995. "Isolation of a novel collagen-binding protein from the mushrooms, Hypsizygus mamoreus, which inbitis Lewis Lung Carcinoma cell adhesion to the Type IV collagen". Journal of Biological Chemistry. 270(4):1481-1484.

I got a really nice message from a blog asking for the slider roll recipe from one of my last posts, and since I did not have my regular yeast roll recipe with me in St. Louis,  I simply used one from Sara @ Our Best Bites I had bookmarked. I just added zest and juice from a clementine to the flour before mixing; did a egg wash to brown them, and cooked in his brownie pan. I slathered the Mojo marinade on top (they were cooked a few days before, and simply covered with foil), and re-warmed. The citrus flavor complimented the Mojo buffalo sliders in a way you might not expect, and I will be making these again!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Crock Pot Carnivores

Has crock pots, or slow cooking make a comeback in the last few years? Maybe they have never really gone anywhere? Like fondue pots they are sitting quietly back in the corner of your kitchen cabinets waiting to be dusted off. What is the appeal to slow cooking your food while you sleep? Who wouldn't love leaving for work early in the morning and return home to a hot family meal?

If you follow me, you know I have to look deeper into just where those avocado green and gold beauties got their start! Can slow cooking, and the gadgets that make the life of Alexis AKA Mom (she posts so many wonderful crock pot recipes), and could make our life so much easier!

St. Louis boy has decided he loves the crock pot I passed on to him when he moved away a few years ago. I inherited it from a friend who never used it, and it was still in the box. Go figure! Evidently it can be a mom's and a students most prized piece of kitchen equipment, or so I hear. Like my mom, I rely on the low temperature of an oven, and the grill for my cooking, but I am willing to show my son you might be able to teach an old dog new tricks.

Finding no pin pointed date only the year 1971 for the beginnings of the slow cooker. Crock-Pot (a trademark that is often used generically in the USA) and the Slo-Cooker (a trade mark that is often used generically in the UK), is a counter top electrical cooking appliance that maintains a relatively low temperature (compared to other cooking methods like baking, boiling, and frying) for many hours, allowing unattended cooking of pot roast, stew, and other suitable moist dishes.

A LITTLE HISTORY: Ever since man first tamed fire, slow cooking was discovered as a way to soften up and tenderize those tough slabs of meat and fibrous root vegetables. In prehistoric times, indigenous peoples often cooked wild root plants in a slow burning fire pit for a full 24 hours. This released the nutrition locked into the bulbs and made them much more tender and tastier to eat. Tough meat cuts especially benefit from slow cooking. Slow cooking these chewy cuts broke down the collagen in the meat and turned it into a gelatinous broth. As the fibers of the meat separated and shrunk during slow cooking, the juices would moisten the meat and turn even the toughest cuts into a mouth watering meal.

A crock pot is born! We can thank our ever loving beans for this gadget. Knowing the pains of not wanting to stand at the stove and continually stirring and watching the heat of a pot of beans (as my own parents did week after week when I was a girl) helps me imagine this invention being a good convenience. Canned bean selections pretty limited in the early 1960s, it's no wonder that the West Bend developed an electric bean cooker called the Bean Pot. This early electric slow cooker resembled a tradition crockery bean pot which rested on a warming tray.

The Naxon Utilities Corp of Chicago developed their own version of a bean cooker, called the Beanery. This primitive slow cooker was a self contained unit and the precursor of the modern slow cooker. In 1970, the Rival company acquired the assets of the Naxon Utilities Corp and the rights to the Beanery. Rival refined the looks of the Beanery, and in 1971, introduced the Rival Crock-pot slow cooker.

Finding that the public was not jumping at this device as they had hoped their company cooks experimented with ways of cooking many other ingredients, and found they were on to something. The Rivel Crock Pot with its removable and easy clean crock was the market appeal that brought it to the fore front in the early 70's. Eventually when more refined cooking became the in thing among couples and families, this gadget was the butt of jokes.

Some how the slow cooker is a retro comeback and sits on the shelves of many food markets and department stores. I have looked around and most of the smaller ones no longer have removable crocks, and as technology goes are disposable and cheap. My son's crock pot is one of those, and I was disappointed when I could not clean it as easily as I had thought. Alexis AKA Mom has a quick fix for that problem- Slow Cooker Liners, made by Reynolds.

The Liners come four to a box. The Liners are made of a clear plastic that is sturdy and fits a 3 to 6.5 quart round or oval crock pot. These liners are great for easy cleanup, but have a downfall. You cannot lift the food out of the crock pot in the liners, they break. Occasionally when cooking on high, there will be a brown residue on the side of the crock pot where it looks like the plastic stuck to the side. The plastic does not melt and the plastic doesn’t actually stick but it did leave a mark. This was easily wiped clean with a dish towel and a little hot soapy water.

Crock Pot Chuck Roast

1- 2 1/2 pound chuck roast
5 white fingerling potatoes
1 cup chopped or small carrots
1/2 sliced red onion

Season chuck roast, and brown in medium high skillet to brown. De-glaze pan with 1/2 cup red wine. Place roast in crock pot along with vegetables, wine, and 1 to 2 cups vegetable broth. Place on low heat, and begin cooking for 6 to 8 hours. St. Louis boy said it was not uncommon for him to leave it all night, and placing the crock pot into the fridge until he returns home later that day. Reheat a portion in a baking dish in oven, and serve.

This next dish I will write about is one of his favorites that I make each time he returns home, or when I visit him in St. Louis. Usually, I cook this dish in the oven, but I was willing to try a new cooking method. The dish- Crock Pot Smothered Steak.

I am most likely back home by the time this piece will be posted. St. Louis boy and I will be looking forward to a trip to Spain later this year where he and I will get the chance to practice more of our Spanish, since our restaurant reservation was accepted at El Bulli, Chef Ferran Adria, Barcelona (the first and top molecular gastronomy restaurant in the world)! Below is one of his college friends, Paul that I enjoyed meeting.

Information on slow cooking and crock pots- Thanks! Wikipedia, History of Slow Cooking by C. Jeanne Heida, Alexis AKA Mom, and other research.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Football Eats- Cowboy Victory

This may look like a plate of this and that, or just junk food, but it is all handmade and homemade eats! My son let me know right away that the Cowboys had made it to the playoffs, and he was having his buddies over to watch the game a week ago Saturday night. Oh my, we needed food, lots and lots of food!

I was planning to make fudge and hot wings, but he wanted nothing to do with buying, or using sugar.We could not find any wingettes, or drummets at three different stores. His work usually carries them, but I guess we were not the only ones with the idea. I told him this trip I wanted to make a few new dishes he had not made before, and about how my mom made fudge. Pass on a few more family recipes, but nothing doing. I guess the sugar post has just been reinforced in my eating this week!

 "How about buffalo sliders on homemade yeast rolls, curry meatballs, shredded chuck roast taquitos, chicken strips, and a few healthy dips and vegetables"? I asked St. Louis boy. He agreed, but with one request. Since we made a chuck roast for our dinner the following night, and he wanted to make sure he had leftovers the next day. With a hug he let me know that he liked waking up at four in the morning for work and having food ready for his lunch.

We still had Mojo marinade left, and with a comment from Buffalodick on it being great for pork, I decided to mix it in with the ground buffalo meat, and cooked chuck roast we made the night before. After rolling rounds of buffalo, I asked if my son remembered that nifty trick I taught him when he would help his uncle with grilling burgers. The one where you poke a hole in the middle to help limit the meat from puffing up, and they cook more evenly in the center. He asked me where I learned that, and I told him at a Tupperware party when I was a teenager. I have used it since.

Curry meat balls also had the Mojo marinade added, along with both basted with extra on top. I roasted them both, but adding chopped tomato, red onion, and curry seasoning to the top of the meat balls. After twenty minutes in the oven, I poured some vegetable stock over the meat balls, and then another twenty minutes. Remove the meat and cool the sauce. Puree in food processor.

We made a batch of yeast roll dough with some of the clementine zest and juice I used for the Mojo marinade, and placed them in the baking pan to rise once more. I basted them with the Mojo marinade, and then again once baked before serving. St. Louis boy and I threw together some dip, salsa, chopped celery, carrots, grapes for extra munchies on the coffee table. One of his friends brought whole wheat chips for dipping, another brought chicken strips and toquitos.

The guys said the food was great, and they were impressed St. Louis boy was always game for cooking even when mom was not around. The Cowboys won!

Want to see what other shenanigan's St. Louis boy and are up too? TMI

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wine-(Me)down In St Louis

Sasha's Wine Bar & Market opened the year I moved to St. Louis in 2002. I was working as a chef for a local Bed & Breakfast off Grand early morning, and managing/cooking at a restaurant off the Loop during lunch and late night. On my days off when I wanted to wind down I missed the great wine bars of Dallas. Like West End's Cru and Mercy. Sure St. Louis has some great $$$ eateries around the West End off Kingshighway that offer wine lists, but I lived in Clayton, and with long work days I did not want to drive far out of my neighborhood.

Sasha's Wine Bar opened and I finally had a small, but friendly haunt to visit. Their wine list boast like a novella. Offering a menu of appetizers, sandwiches, entrees to pizzettes, as well as a full bar, Sasha has lasted longer than some of the long time restaurants in downtown Clayton (after the economy went down here and in Dallas).

I believe this wine bar has become a classic (still listed as trendy in local reviews) wonderful service from long time employees, and the owners care in detail of its offerings. The interior ceiling is covered with wine box ends, comfortable booths and tables, bar seating, sliding patio doors that open up for outdoor seating (for weather that cooperates), and custom built wall to wall bottle holders for that 'to go' bottle purchase when you taste something you have to open another day.

St. Louis boy and I decided it was time to pay Sasha's a visit. He always did like the smoked salmon platter with Crème fraîche , capers, and red onions. I was in the mood for their spicy hummus and pita, and we would share a pizzette.

I decided we would order a bottle of wine that he nor I had tasted before. He mentioned chardonnay, but with the menu we picked, I felt another white would be more appropriate. A Riesling, not too sweet, not to dry!

(Notice there is a hand showing up in the food photos? Yeah, St. Louis boy was hungry and had to be reminded that photos needed to be taken for the post!)

Well the food was worth it! The salmon was just as we remembered. The hummus creamy with added paprika spice, and great with the grilled pita. Now let me tell you about that pizzette! Smoky mushrooms and locally smoked ham, oh my! That with marinara on top of that perfect flat bread. Oh my! I think you get the message. Now what wine would compliment our food?

I was leaning towards the Schloss Saarstein Riesling. Since they offer a good percentage of wines by the glass and whole bottles ($20-60 per bottle) The waiter let us try a sample to see if it was right for the food and our mood. Rieslings can be more on the sweet side depending on the region of Germany they are from, but most are semi-dry with more of a subtle sweetness.

This 2007 gem is from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany.

This was a fresh Riesling with lean flint and citrus flavor on the nose and taste buds; it was also firm, juicy and pleasing. Light floral and tangerine scents and a touch of sweetness balance the mineral acidity on the finish. I know many of my friends back home in Dallas, and Jersey will like this wine. I have only had one other wine that matched this flavor profile and that was another Riesling ($21) at Baitinghollow Vineyards on Long Island.

Like typical restaurant mark up, by the glass price is $8 (bottle $33), and you can purchase this wonderfully crisp wine for about $15 a bottle. I saw a few retailers selling it for about $13 a bottle; which it is a great bargain for a decent tasting wine that most definitely will go with most foods.

Lets hope Sasha remains on the top of its game here in St. Louis, because I plan on returning to try another platter of salmon and check off another bottle of wine off my 'to try' list.

Hey/! St. Louis boy there is one more piece of pizza left...I will fight you for it!

Sasha's Wine Bar & Market
706 Demun Ave.
Clayton, MO 63105
Price range: $$ ($9-$15)

New Location- 4069 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis MO (314) 717-7274

More on German Wine Standards:

Schloss Saarstein Estate History

The Saarstein estate owns the oldest vineyards in the village of Serrig. On the steep monopoly site of "Serriger Schloss Saarsteiner" Christian and Andrea Ebert put all their enthusiasm and dedication to produce great Rieslings. Schloss Saarstein wines are noted for their elegant steeliness balanced with crisp fruit.

Production is concentrated on the one vineyard surrounding the estate with great emphasis on strict selection when hand-picking. The wines are then carefully treated in wooden thousand-liter barrels, called "fuder", to maintain each wine's individual character. Schloss Saarstein now ranks among the leading producers of the Saar Valley.

The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region is known for the finest Riesling wines in the world. Saar wines are elegant, distinguished by a fine fruity aroma and a pleasant steely acidity.

German Wines- Germany as the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world.[1] White wine accounts for almost two thirds of the total production.

As a wine country, Germany has a mixed reputation internationally, with some consumers on the export markets associating Germany with the world's most elegant and aromatically pure white wines while other see the country mainly as the source of cheap, mass-market semi-sweet wines such as Liebfraumilch. Among enthusiasts, Germany's reputation is primarily based on wines made from the Riesling grape variety, which at its best is used for aromatic, fruity and elegant white wines that range from very crisp and dry to well-balanced, sweet and of enormous aromatic concentration.

Saarstein Riesling is rated in the medium area of Germany's QbA classification chart as far as sweetness goes, and listed under semi-dry.

Many other Rieslings coming from Germany can be in the category of Spätlese (literal meaning: "late harvest"; plural form is Spätlesen) is a German language wine term for a wine from fully ripe grapes, the lightest of the late harvest wines. Spätlese is a riper category than Kabinett in the Prädikatswein category of the German wine classification[1] and is the lowest level of Prädikatswein in Austria, where Kabinett is classified in another way.[2] In both cases, Spätlese is below Auslese in terms of ripeness. The grapes are picked at least 7 days after normal harvest, so they are riper and have a higher must weight. Because of the weather, waiting to pick the grapes later carries a risk of the crop being ruined by rain. However, in warm years and from good sites much of the harvest will reach Spätlese level.

The wines may be either sweet or dry (trocken); it is a level of ripeness that particularly suits rich dry wines from Riesling, Weißer Burgunder and Grauer Burgunder grapes for example, as at Auslese levels the alcohol levels may become very high in a dry wine leaving the wine unbalanced,[citation needed] making wines with at least some residual sweetness preferable to most palates. However, most German wines are traditionally dry, and the amount of sugar is not the only figure balancing a wine. Dry German wines can be very balanced and usually get higher rates from German wine journalists than a comparable wine with more sugar.

Many Spätlese wines will age well, especially those made from the Riesling grape.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sweeten or Not to Sweeten- Perils of Sugar

Two weeks have passed since New Years; it is still not too late to consider a New Years resolution. The top resolution studies show us that we always think about our health; it is, and always has been in relation to changing eating habits related to weight gain, or poor health. It is never too late to reconsider eating choices and a proper diet. Below I am sure many of you will not think what I have to say below is so sweet, and it is not the sugar coated truth.

How many of us have a sweet tooth?

How many of us feel we are addicted to sugar?

We all have some kind of addiction!

Sugar causes diseases- Myth or fact?

My greatest addiction has always been sugar; it is a battle I have had to deal with on a daily basis.

While eating sugar is pleasurable, we have been told in the past that sugar consumption may pose some health risks. However, recent research indicates that many of our beliefs about sugar are more myth than fact. According to a number of prestigious organizations -- including the American Dietetic Association, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Academy of Sciences -- there’s no evidence that sugar is associated with any disease but dental caries. Sugar in moderation is okay as part of a balanced diet.

Moderation is the key! Bad eating habits can still be eliminated!

Both my parents were sugar fiends. My mom baked sweets on a daily basis, and it became apparent their addiction was spilling over into my brothers, sisters, and my own life. Sugar filled foods replaced regular meals on many occasions. Sweets were used as rewards. I witnessed it being used as a mood elevator till I had children. In reading sugar is believed to be a false high that leaves you crashing within two hours of consumption. Even though pure cane sugar, one of the first natural sweeteners and as I grew up was the primary sugar on the shelves; it was soon replaced by many other choices.

Did your mother give you a spoonful of sugar or honey after a spoonful of medicine that tasted horrible?What are we teaching our own children?

When I was young my thin body weight seemed untouchable. Don't most young adults feel they are invincible? Eventually after having children of my own I became over weight like my mother. Sugar and processed foods (fast food) was my main enemy. Sugar brought a false sense of joy for me, as I witnessed in my parents daily lives. I was challenged to eat foods loaded with sugar in moderation. Eventually exercise was an absolution in my daily routine. I got my weight under control, but I still need to get my sugar eating under control. I feel that if given better nutritional choices in my eating while growing up I might have had a better handle on eating as an adult.

A fear is of mine is being told by my doctor I have diabetes*; it does not run in either side of my family, but with obesity the percentage is higher my physician has told me. I have restricted my eating and eliminated foods with added sugar, and white pasta. I try and trade point per point in my eating. My choices have been to eat high cacao chocolate, and bake with more natural sugar like maple syrup, and eat quinoa and less pasta. My son also has been made aware of the sugar addiction in our family, and knows he faces the same challenges with obesity. St Louis boy has chosen to eliminate sweeteners in his diet by way of no soda, candy, processed foods, and food with added sugar.

How many thin people out there feel they are healthier than overweight people? Many do, and eat just as unhealthy as any one else who is in danger of bad health from bad eating choices.

Whether we choose to not eat candy, cakes, pies, or any baked goods that are considered dessert, we still consume products that contain natural sugars or most likely added sugar that can wreck our health if not eaten in portion control. At one time, and still is thought that sugar causes hyper activity. Sugar is simply harmful all around, and we should start with teaching our children to consume in moderation. Part of that education is teaching that sugar comes in many shapes and forms, and is a dangerous substance no matter what form it takes on if not eaten in moderation.

One culprit is high fructose corn syrup, or also known on labels as HFCS. If you notice adds are popping up from corn producers trying to convince us that it is natural and okay for you to consume HFCS, and that it is so much of our food. When the book Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollack hit the book shelves we all became aware of its affects on our society- a trickling effect on the economy and in our diets. Mainly because so many products contain HFCS, and unless you read your labels, you would never know.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation…

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1603

My chosen parallel is in Hamlet's dilemma. Although he is dissatisfied with life and lists its many torments, he is unsure what death may bring (the dread of something after death). He can't be sure what death has in store; it may be sleep but in perchance to dream he is speculating that it is perhaps an experience worse than life. This may seem crazy to compare eating sugar to that of Shakespeare's Hamlet, but think of unseen suicide by way of eating hidden additives in our foods. Are we aware we are committing suicide by way of our eating? We should, because many of us are: artery blockages, obesity related diseases, and many more. illnesses come from over eating...

Studies have shown that there is not much difference between cane sugar and refined sugar except a few vitamins. The subtle difference in composition between the two is simply the evaporated cane juice (ECJ) has a teeny bit more vitamin A, C and calcium (in a 100 grams sample). Take a vitamin. Lots cheaper in my opinion.

Sodas has 10 level teaspoon fulls of sugar per 12 ounces! Can you imagine the calories, and in candy, fast grab cakes and pies? Diet soda contains some kind of artificial sweetener that cannot possible be good for us! I myself cannot stand the taste of even the newer diet sodas that boast a better taste. I myself can taste artificial sugars no matter what form.

Six million people suffer from Diabetes; it is one of the worst top  diseases and killer to exist. Many Children suffer from type 1 and now are finding themselves diagnosed with type 2.  If you already suffer from type 2 diabetes...well, then you probably have to watch exactly how much you are putting into your body. Having to deal with checking your blood sugars on a daily basis is no fun for an adult or child!

Watching a friend of mine in Dallas die years ago from not controlling this disease was horrible. Her choice to continue to eat foods she loved no matter the consequences. This was the toughest part to witness. Her friends and I watched her go into kidney failure; go through dialysis; and then she had no transplant options. Many people now days can keep it under control, but what if someone has no will power to resist foods and sugar in their diet? What if they are unaware of the hidden additives in the foods they eat?

I have to limit white and even whole wheat pasta in my own diet due to having High Blood Pressure*, another hidden killer...

The use of one sugar over another health benefits has never really been proven. Only just the fact that obesity in America has gone up in the last ten years by leaps and bounds. Like the commercial on HFCS said, sugar is sugar, no matter the form. Eaten in modest amounts, along with exercise and a well balanced diet is often approved by most medical societies. Although walking into a market filled with so much junk food is hard for a sugar addict to deal with. Become an educated consumer, and change your eating habits before its too late.

Choices are the first step in changing ones diet and health down the road. Have you ever really looked at our sugar choices? Do you realize that when you reach for  'Raw' sugar it is only regular sugar with molasses added back in, after they have removed it to begin with? Not the healthy alternative you thought huh? Light and Dark Brown sugar has also had molasses added back in. All sugar forms equal the same- Sugar is sugar! They are just produced in different forms. Have I repeated myself enough?

Addicts like me have to cut it out from our diets all together. That means reading labels and educating ourselves. I show items that I bake on my blog, but in reality...I do not cook with regular sugar. Most people who eat my baked goods do not even know they are eating a healthy version of a recipe, and I make sure I let them know. They find my food tasty and are always ready when I offer them more. If I do list regular sugar when posting, because I want to show the recipe in its true form. I try and list substitutions; unless I have trouble with the results.

Did you know honey is considered a refined sugar (simple sugar)?

Honey has the highest calorie content of all sugars with 65 calories per tablespoon, compared to the 48 calories per tablespoon found in table sugar. The increased calories are bound to cause increased blood serum fatty acids, as well as weight gain, on top of the risk of more cavities. Honey is also not the healthy alternative you thought, think about that when you reach for something to add to your tea.

Sugar and Honey can come from crops sprayed with pesticides which are harmful to our health!

Pesticides used on farm crops and residential flowers have been found in commercial honey. Honey can be fatal to an infant whose immature digestive tracts are unable to deal effectively with Botulism Spore growth. What nutrients or enzymes raw honey does contain are destroyed by manufacturers who heat it in order to give it a clear appearance to enhance sales. If you are going to consume honey, make sure it is raw, unheated honey, and grown in organic surroundings. Good to use in special cures, but not as an every day food. It is not much better than white or brown sugar. Raw honey is a better choice, but in moderation.

Maple syrup is a good example of a natural sugar to use for everyday cooking. I create all my pies and cookies using maple syrup. Eventually your taste buds adjust, just as one who reduces salt in cooking. My whole family has adjusted to this form of habit changes. Like my son I have cut out sodas, sweet tea (caffeine altogether), I make my own stock, or buy boxed stock without added sugar. I avoid the sweet isle in the store, and limit my foods that turn into sugar in your blood stream, such as pasta. I am a recovering sugar addict, but each baby step has counted in my quest for better health. Over indulging in alcohol has been restricted in my weekly diet. A glass or two of red wine is allowed, and even recommended for our health benefits, but I am talking about mixed drinks, or cocktails (I know, bummer huh?).

The bottom line- Sugar is sugar, no matter what shape or form. Be an informed consumer and read labels. HFCS is in bread, stock, many canned products, cereals, most prepared processed products, and lurking somewhere in your pantry as I speak. Cooking from scratch is not always an option, but the best and healthiest alternative to eating out and processed foods should be eaten in moderation. Think of our future generations, and what we are teaching them. Use pure cane sugar when you can, or alternatives such as maple syrup.

I am still out on the use of artificial sugar and have never used it for anything, nor will I ever.

There are many shapes and forms of sugar compared to my mother's day in the kitchen. Fifty years ago her only choice was pure cane, light and dark brown, and powder sugar, but the danger to disease and long term health effects via obesity were still present.

The ultimate New Years resolution is to eliminate unhealthy sugars and foods from your diet before it is too late. If you have too eat sugar and high fat foods in moderation, eat more fruits and vegetables. Eating fruits and vegetables that contain natural sugar, and exercising on a regular basis is the first step to good health.

Go over and read Oyster Food and Culture blog post on sugar. We are doing a duo 'Sugar Information' post this week. She has done some awesome research on the many forms sugar sold here in the US and other countries. I find it amazing how many forms of sugar even exist out there, and she explores many of them!

But remember, Sugar is Sugar no matter what shape or form!

Scientific Sugar Facts: (Information from my Nutrition Text, 2010)

The average American consumes an astounding 2-3 pounds of sugar each week, which is not surprising considering that highly refined sugars in the forms of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup are being processed into so many foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and a plethora of microwave meals.

In the last 20 years, we have increased sugar consumption in the U.S. 26 pounds to 135 lbs. of sugar per person per year! Prior to the turn of this century (1887-1890), the average consumption was only 5 lbs. per person per year! Cardiovascular disease and cancer was virtually unknown in the early 1900's.

The "glycemic index" is a measure of how a given food affects blood-glucose levels, with each food being assigned a numbered rating. The lower the rating, the slower the absorption and digestion process, which provides a more gradual, healthier infusion of sugars into the bloodstream. On the other hand, a high rating means that blood-glucose levels are increased quickly, which stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin to drop blood-sugar levels. These rapid fluctuations of blood-sugar levels are not healthy because of the stress they place on the body.

One of sugar's major drawbacks is that it raises the insulin level, which inhibits the release of growth hormones, which in turn depresses the immune system. This is not something you want to take place if you want to avoid disease.

An influx of sugar into the bloodstream upsets the body's blood-sugar balance, triggering the release of insulin, which the body uses to keep blood-sugar at a constant and safe level. Insulin also promotes the storage of fat, so that when you eat sweets high in sugar, you're making way for rapid weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels, both of which have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Complex carbohydrates tend to be absorbed more slowly, lessening the impact on blood-sugar levels.

Four classes of simple sugars to avoid (over 15% in one's daily diet): Sucrose, fructose, honey (raw organic certified is best), and malts.

There are two types of sugar: Refined, and natural.

Almost all of the sugar consumed in the United States originates as sugar cane, which accounts for about 60 percent of the sugar. Sugar beets account for about 40 percent. Sugar cane is grown primarily in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world where temperatures and humidity are high. Sugar beets are grown in more temperate zones. Other sources of sugar include fruit (fructose), honey, sorghum and the sugar maple tree.

The juices of sugar cane and sugar beets contain natural sucrose. This natural sugar is concentrated through a refining process that involves numerous cycles of washing, boiling, centrifuging, filtering and drying. The initial result is "raw" sugar, which is not actually raw but has yet to undergo the final stages of refining. Sugar left at this stage is sometimes steamed for sanitizing purposes and sold as turbinado.

All white table sugar at one point was similar to turbinado; that is, brownish in tint and consisting of larger, rougher individual crystals. The final stages of the refining process involve the use of bleaching agents like lime or carbon dioxide to whiten the sugar and passage through a bone char filter to remove any other impurities. "Pure" sugar, as it is often labeled, refers to the chemical purity of the product and its lack of other nutrients, not a particularly natural or wholesome state.

*White pasta contains a large amount of high GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates. That means that the carbohydrates contained in pasta made from refined white flour will release sugars into the bloodstream quickly. This causes a steep rise in blood sugar and a similarly steep reactive rise in the body’s sugar regulating hormone, insulin in order to counter its effects. This is something that diabetics and people with high blood pressure must avoid and is something that in itself can trigger type II diabetes to manifest in a person who eats a lot of white pasta a lot of the time.

Myths or fact?
*Sugar can suppress the immune system.
* Sugar can upset the body's mineral balance.
* Sugar can contribute to hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, concentration difficulties, and crankiness in children.
* Sugar can produce a significant rise in triglycerides.
* Sugar can cause drowsiness and decreased activity in children.
* Sugar can reduce helpful high density cholesterol (HDLs).
* Sugar can promote an elevation of harmful cholesterol (LDLs).
* Sugar can influence hypoglycemia.
* Sugar contributes to a weakened defense against bacterial infection.
* Sugar can cause kidney damage.
* Sugar can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
* Sugar may lead to chromium deficiency.
* Sugar can cause copper deficiency.
* Sugar interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
* Sugar can increase fasting levels of blood glucose.
* Sugar can promote tooth decay.
* Sugar can produce an acidic stomach.
* Sugar can raise adrenaline levels in children.
* Sugar can lead to periodontal disease.
* Sugar can speed the aging process, causing wrinkles and grey hair.
* Sugar can increase total cholesterol.
* Sugar can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
* High intake of sugar increases the risk of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
* Sugar can contribute to diabetes.
* Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis.
* Sugar can cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity.
* Sugar leads to decreased glucose tolerance.
* Sugar can cause cardiovascular disease.
* Sugar can increase systolic blood pressure.
* Sugar causes food allergies.
* Sugar can cause free radical formation in the bloodstream.
* Sugar can cause toxemia during pregnancy.
* Sugar can contribute to eczema in children.
* Sugar can overstress the pancreas, causing damage.
* Sugar can cause atherosclerosis.
* Sugar can compromise the lining of the capillaries.
* Sugar can cause liver cells to divide, increasing the size of the liver.
* Sugar can increase the amount of fat in the liver.
* Sugar can increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in the kidney.
* Sugar can cause depression.
* Sugar can increase the body's fluid retention.
* Sugar can cause hormonal imbalance.
* Sugar can cause hypertension.
* Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines.
* Sugar can cause an increase in delta, alpha and theta brain waves, which can alter the mind's ability to think clearly.
* Sugar can increase blood platelet adhesiveness which increases risk of blood clots and strokes.
* Sugar can increase insulin responses in those consuming high-sugar diets compared to low sugar diets.
* Sugar increases bacterial fermentation in the colon.

Chef E Stelling is certified in Nutrition via culinary college courses in Texas, and New Jersey. Certification refresher courses are required to be taken every two years. *This information is taken from Sugars Defined, Nutrition Knowledge, and Obesity In America. This chart is not Chef E Stellings personal feelings, only witten in a spirit meant to make you think.


1) Clementine oranges are my choice of sugar when they are available in the market. They are high in vitamin C to help boost your immune system, and help fight off colds. They are sweeter than most oranges due to their size and which adds to their concentration of natural sugar. Their zest packs a good orangy punch in recipes.

2) Baking with orange juice and apple sauce are a healthy alternative to adding sweetness to baked goods.

3) Pan or oven Roasting vegetables brings out their natural sugars and adds wonderful flavor to soups and salads.

DISCLAIMER: This is not diet advice, but a reinforcement for my own healthy lifestyle. We all have our own struggles in our lifestyles, but with encouragement and support from one another we will know we are not alone in our battles. I have lost weight and have kept it off for the past six months, and hopefully I will be revealing a new slimmer, and HEALTHIER me by the summer. Exercise is an important part of being healthy.