Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rice, crisis? Really.

I have read with interest about people walking in to their closest market or big box store and finding rice being rationed in some areas of the country. This caught me by surprise as I had not heard there was a problem with rice production in the U.S. So I decided to a bit of research.

The California Rice Commission (ask me about agricultural commissions sometime) there is no shortage of rice. California rice that is...
You see we are growing lots and lots of rice here in the rural community state. (Yes, guvner Schwarzenegger, most of us here in California live in rural areas. Not big cities, and that mouthful of veggies you're enjoying, some country/rural bumpkin grew it for you.) Where the shortages are taking place are in places like India, Thailand, and China. U.S. farmers grow 90% of all the rice U.S. citizens eat. While the U.S. rice farmers grow 90% of what we eat, they only priduce 1 -2 % of all the rice eaten world wide. Wow. There is a lot of rice being raised elsewhere too! That's where the problem begins.

You see there is this evil group out there selling "premium" rice seed. It is being sold to poor farmers in poor nations. It is being sold to them with lies. The farmers that are buying this "premium" seed are being told it will produce a heartier crop, and they will have a great harvest. Well, it does. The farmer, like all good farmers, save a portion of their crop for next year's planting. It help defray the cost of planting and makes sure the farmer can produce a consistent crop. But oops! Did we forget to tell the poor farmer that when they plant that second year, using seed they saved from last year's harvest won't grow! Oh, we did leave that out poor farmer. It has been genetically altered to only produce one time. It is called a terminal seed. One time shot, and we have taken away the gene the great creator put in it to produce itself year in and year out. Because if we didn't do that, you would have no need to buy from us again. And we really want you to be able to only do business with us. Because we did something else too. We put a genetic marker in our seed that will pollute you fields. It will tell us that no matter when you plant again, you will owe us money. Yep, good business, good business indeed. Well, for us at least.

So when the farmers world wide planted the rice crop they thought would grow, it didn't. And now that they crop didn't produce a harvest, the world is short rice. And people are starving. We only have Monsanto and and the rest of the GMO kings to thank.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's time for another giveaway!

Bag Giveaway, originally uploaded by foodchronicles.

Yes, Matthew over at The Penguin Group has given me the opportunity to do another giveaway! This time it revolves around the newly published book "Comfort Food" by Kate Jacobs. Some of you may know her book The Friday Night Knitting Club. She's written another great book and I get to giveaway 5 copies and 7 tote bags! The totebag is gorgeous! It's 11x18 with a copy of the bookcover on it and made of nice quality canvas.

The book synopsis reads: "Shortly before turning the big 5-0, boisterous party planner and Cooking with Gusto! personality Augusta “Gus” Simpson finds herself planning a birthday party she'd rather not—her own. She's getting tired of being the hostess, the mother hen, the woman who has to plan her own birthday party. What she needs is time on her own with enough distance to give her loved ones the ingredients to put together successful lives without her. Assisted by a handsome up-and-coming chef, Oliver, Gus invites a select group to take an on-air cooking class. But instead of just preaching to the foodie masses, she will teach regular people how to make rich, sensuous meals—real people making real food. Gus decides to bring a vibrant cast of friends and family on the program: Sabrina, her fickle daughter; Troy, Sabrina's ex-husband; Anna, Gus's timid neighbor; and Carmen, Gus's pompous and beautiful competitor at the Cooking Channel. And when she begins to have more than collegial feelings for her sous-chef, Gus realizes that she might be able to rejuvenate not just her professional life, but her personal life as well. ..."

If you'd like to win either the book or the totebag leave your name in the comments section! I'm not keeping one for myself, just passing all these wonderful goodies on to you my wonderful readers! Enjoy!

I'm heading out to a university graduation, leaving the husband at home, and when I get back Monday afternoon, I'll do the drawing.

UPDATE: Numbers have been drawn! If your number was chosen, you should have an email from me (that is if you left me an email address!).

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Now for a smoothing lesson. Tutorial!

Crumb coat, originally uploaded by foodchronicles.

Smoothing a cake eludes most cake decorators. It is something you practice and practice. Everyone I know has tried at least six different methods for smoothing a cake. Some shops have specific methods and you learn them or else. The most famous cake smoothing technique I am familiar with comes from Sylvia Weinstock's shop. Her people can smooth a cake faster than anyone I've ever seen! 30 to 45 seconds a tier. Yep, 30 to 45 seconds.

I am not going to say this method will get you to that speed, but if you check the photos on my flickr page you can clock my process on this one. The times are actual and you can see how long it took me to do this, including taking photos of it.

1. Put a piece of non-skid padding on the turntable. Set your cake on top of it and you cake won't slide as you are smoothing it.

2. Start with a crumb coated cake. It should come straight out of the fridge and be well chilled. This makes the process a whole lot easier.
Crumb coat

3. Ice cake, sides, top and somewhat smooth it as you apply. Not a lot, though and don't try to make it perfect as you apply the frosting on this pass. At the bakery, we always add more and then remove what we need to in order to get it ultra smooth.
Icing on

4. Now for the magic! You will need one of these:
Smoothing tool

it is a painting edge sold at Ace Hardware. I cannot find this kind anywhere else! It is made out of aluminum and is very thin! That's what makes it work so well! I even bought one in Sugar City, Idaho once when I needed one. Thank goodness for old style hardware stores!

5. Holding it in your dominant hand, in a vertical position you are going to spin your turntable while you hold the painting tool close to the frosting. Keep it as vertical as possible as you want an even side surface. Put just a bit of pressure on it as you turn the cake. Now wipe off the excess frosting.
Cake smoother technique

Scraping the smoother

6. You will notice that certain parts of the cake have grooves where the icing isn't as thick as other parts. Illustrated in this picture; notice the bottom of the layer. Add more frosting to those areas. just glob a bit on in places where you feel it is needed and begin smoothing again.
!st time around

7. This should take some practice. If you want to get good at this, you will need to practice this over and over again. Once you get it down though, it is like riding a bike. It was so much easier today than when I started doing it over a year ago.

Vertical smoothing

8. Check that cake now! It is ready to have the top smoothed.
Add more frosting, smooth again

9. Wipe off your tool and remember to wipe it off every time you touch the cake at this point. You can drag the smoother toward you:
Smoothing the top

10. or away from you. Use the method that you find most comfortable. For the longest time I pulled the tool toward me. Then one day I decided to try it the other way and got amazing results. The key it to use the lightest touch you can possibly use. Barely touch the frosting at this point. When you begin, you may have to do this for 30 minutes or more to get it right.
Other way smoothing

You will also find that you drag the tool a bit deep in parts and you edges are wobbly. Keep in mind: unless it is a wedding cake you are going to add a border, so most likely it won't matter if it is wobbly. If you are doing a wedding cake, there usually isn't a top border so you need it to be even. Add a bit more frosting and begin again.

11. You now have a smoothed cake. Add some decoration to it.
Done smoothing

12. Add the bottom border.
Dots and bottom border

13. Add a top border and any other decos you wish.
Top border

Now go practice. This should take a bit of practice. I started at 1:18 and finished at 1:47. With photos that's 30 minutes start to finish. Once you've got it down, come point me to a few pics of your own! Feel free to ask questions in the comments too.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

The delivered cake

wedding cake, originally uploaded by foodchronicles.

Here is a photo I was able to snap just before people started showing up. It turned out pretty well. The bride was ecstatic. Me? I thought the chocolate cake didn't fit in so well, but she loved it all. And that's what mattered. The bottom layer is a red velvet cake with a whipped ganache frosting. Filling? Cookies and cream - whipped cream and crushed oreos.

Middle layers: Lemon with whipped cream and fresh raspberries, second one is strawberry cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Both were iced in the buttercream.

Top tier: Chocolate layer, strawberry layer, cookies and cream filling, buttercream frosting. This tier is going on the honeymoon!

All in all, it went well, was very appreciated and I could do it again. Just not this month.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Basic Buttercream for the masses

One of the things that bothers me(other than the chocolate stained grout in my kitchen) is that something as simple as buttercream can elude the masses. I have a recipe that I use that I have shared before, however, this is the recipe we used at the bakery to get us the smoothest cakes on the planet. Everyone thought it was fondant.

I'm sharing that recipe today. Yes! Save it now, and pay attention, I'm only doing this once. ;-)

Begin by having the following ready to go. Mise en place!

10 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla (clear if you wish)
1 cup of hot water
1 pound of unsalted butter, softened
1.5 pounds of vegetable shortening (I use all butter except when I'm doing a wedding cake that needs to be white!)

Measure out your sugar and put in your bowl. Add 1 cup of very hot or boiling water. Add vanilla and salt too! Mix well.

Vanilla, Salt You can tell by this photo, I recycle. Yes, the recipe is written on a pull of page of a magazine. Hey it was handy!

Hot water in

Sugar and hot water

Yes, yes. I know. This flies in the face of all that is sacred and holy in the wilton world! Mixing the sugar and water before everything else? How could this possibly work? I'll have lumpy frosting for sure! No. Keep reading. You'll be fine.

Now add your fats. Yep add all the shortening and the butter now. I softend the butter and then divide it with my fingers. Oooo. That's fun! Make sure you are weighing out your fats!

Vegetable shorteningPound of unsalted butter

Unsalted butter, divided

Stire slowly at first

Ready! Now slowly, slow! Begin mixing it all up. First it will look like this:
half way there and then like this. Begin adding speed, about slow/medium on the dial:
Mixing it up Now turn it up to high medium and let it go. Set your timer to 15 minutes and step away from the mixer. It has to mix for 15 minutes. If you want you can stand and watch. The first time is fun, well maybe for you. Me, I go check my email or see what's happening in the blogworld.

In fifteen minutes your beeper will go off and you'll have this!:
The lightest, creamiest buttercream ever! I'll show you how I smooth it another day.

Thanks for visiting. Show's over! Go on. Make your own, and then come tell me how it worked out for you!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Wedding cake week

Yes. I'm doing a cake this week. Luckily, it is a separated cake and it should be pretty easy to transport. The bride has asked for a "theme" of cakes. Her flowers are dafodils and I am going to using the white and yellow on the cake along with the bottom tier in chocolate.

For the chocolate instead of making a chocolate buttercream, I've decided to go with Chokylit's recipe for the whipped ganache. It should make it a rich chocolate flavor and still be easy to pipe. The design on the cake is a diamond with pearls at the points.

The white cakes with be in that same look, sort of , one with diamond pattern, the other with a basket weave ala dafodils. The top tier is basket weaved also. I am looking forward to doing the cake, she be a fun week. A bit of inspiration:
Spring cake

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Eye Candy

Eye Candy

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Inexpensive meals

Yes, with gas prices soaring, housing issues, food prices going up monthly, we all could use a little bit of extra help in the kitchen. The best way to economize in the kitchen is to plan meals that use like ingredients. One of my favorites is to use a brisket. I can usually pick up a brisket for about $20. I'll use it to make at least four meals, possibly five. And each one is different enough that we don't feel like we're eating left overs.

First up: Slow roasted brisket. Cut away lot of the fat, not all of it because that's what help add flavor and tenderness to the brisket. I usually will use my Jaccard to help poke some holes in the brisket and then add some liquid smoke. Add a bit of salt, pepper and garlic and you're set. Cover it with foil, sealing around the edges of the pan and put it in the oven at 300 degrees (F) for at least four hours. That's how it gets nice and tender. You slowly cook it for hours and then it melts in your mouth. I do not sear it prior to putting it in the oven.

Slice off enough for a few sandwiches, add some barbeque sauce and a salad and you've got a great BBQ dinner.

Second: Slice off a few slices and then cut the slices into strips. Set aside. Cut a bell pepper into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Do the same with a half of an onion. (remember, if you have a large family, you'll need more). In a skillet melt two pats of butter and some garlic when the butter is melted add the onions and bell pepper and saute until soft. Remove from pan. Add the meat to the pan and heat up. You can add a bit of water to the pan if it begins to stick. When the meat is hot, add the onions and bell pepper back to the pan. Shred up some cheese, heat a tortilla or two and you've got fajitas.

Third: Slice off a piece of the brisket about two inches thick. Cube it into 1/2 inch cubes. Add to a pan with a bit of beef broth or water. Let simmer slowly bringing it to a boil. Add some bisto and thicken it to make a gravy. (What's Bisto? My favorite thickening agent for beef. Google it and buy it online if your favorite store doesn't carry it. I know Target sells it online.) Serve it over steamed rice, heat up some brocoli, and a salad and you've got your third dinner from the brisket.

Another way we use left over brisket it is to cube it and add to eggs; scramble it up and serve it for breakfast.

Fourth/fifth: You can also make your own philly beef sandwiches - California style - for a meal.

Six:Stir fry some vegeatbles, add in soy sauce and any beef left over in thin slices, with some noodles and you've got a quick stir fried dinner.

I hope you get my point. Some salad fixings, a brisket, eggs and some fresh vegetables, and some cheese should get you through the week pretty cheaply and still feed your family well. Keeping your pantry stocked should help you get the job done, quickly and easily during a hectic work week. Each of these dinners (other than the original) takes no longer than thirty minutes to put together.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Indiana Jones mms

Indiana Jones mms, originally uploaded by foodchronicles.

I was in the drugstore the other day and noticed the new Indiana Jones m&ms. They really are a great set of colors. Just a quick pic of what's in the crystal jar currently!

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Top Chef 4 and Taste

Last night I was watching TopChef 4 Cheftestants try to put together a meal reflecting their favorite movie. Some people got it spot on, others not so much. So I ask myself how do some people come up with extraordinary dishes with interesting taste? Answer: Educating their palates.

So how do you educate your palate? Well, first off you have to cleanse it. Learn to leave salt off your plate, learn to lower the volume on your sugar intake. If you go at least a week without the normal amounts of salt and sugar you are currently taking in, you will see and taste a change. Things are suddenly a lot sweeter and saltier than you could have imagined.

Next make sure your dental hygiene is up to full health. If you have problems with your teeth or gums, it can affect the way you taste things. Make sure you are doing all you can to make tasting a good experience by taking care of your oral hygiene, using your toothbrush often, flossing and having regular check-ups.

Those two factors will make a huge difference in the way you taste things, and in the way you can begin to experiment with flavor.

My favorite dish of the evening was the Smoked Salmon with faux caviar and white chocolate and wasabi sauce (courtesy of the Bravotv website):

Andrew's recipe:

1 box tapioca pearls
3 quarts water
2 cups mushroom soy
1 cup white soy
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Dale and Richard's recipe:

8 pieces sushi style salmon, cut into 1-oz pieces
2T cayenne pepper
2T black sesame seeds
Salt to taste
3 oz rice flour
2 oz lime juice
2 oz ginger juice
Maldon sea salt to taste

Richard's recipe:

1/2 lb white chocolate
1 pint heavy cream
1 celery root
2T wasabi paste

Andrew's recipe:

Bring water to a boil. Add tapioca and cook for 17-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to avoid clumping. Once tapioca is three-fourths cooked (centers are still white) drain in chinoise and wash with cold water for 5 minutes. Once starch is washed out combine all ingredients with exception of olive oil and submerge tapioca. Afterwards, float tapioca with olive oil and allow to sit for at least 1 hour.

Dale and Richard's recipe:

Season salmon lightly with cayenne, black sesame seeds and salt. Dust skins with rice flour. In hot pan, add oil to cover, then pour out excess. Sear salmon skin side down, take out of pan then brush with lime and ginger juices. Season with maldon sea salt. Lightly smoke salmon.

Richard's recipe:

Heat white chocolate and all but a few tablespoons heavy cream to make white chocolate ganache. Cook celery root in remaining heavy cream and puree; season. Mix wasabi, celery puree and white chocolate for sauce.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cheap Eats

Okay so it seems the majority of America is looking for cheap meals. Good meals made cheaply. My advice? Shop local. Cook from scratch. Eat very well.

So how does that translate in to cheap? Simple economics. The last man holding the stick paid the most for it. What? Well, except the stick grower itself. Let me illustrate. Farmer goes into the pecan business. He buys a plot of ground, tills the ground gets it ready for planting and then sources the trees. The trees begin as 15 foot sticks. Yes, sticks. In four or five years they begin producing a crop worthy of harvesting and preparing for market.

The crop is now for sale. If you go buy the pecans direct from the farmer you pay his price. Usually a very fair price at that. He gets money to keep the farm working and you get pecans you adore eating and baking fine baked goods for all to enjoy.

Or. You go to the market and buy the pecans. How many people purchased these pecans before you did? Well, in some cases the grocer whom you purchased them from and you only pay the mark up the stores decides to set on the pecans. However, usually farmers need other people to buy their crops and grocers don't visit all the farms in America. So then a distributor is involved, the farmer pays him to sell his product to others because a distributor doesn't sell pecans he sells opportunity.

The distributor will sometimes use a broker to find accounts to sell the pecans to various buyers. He gives the broker good price (higher than he bought the product for, of course) usually a percentage of the sale to others. Restaurant chains, grocers, fine food companies, and bakeries to name a few. The distributor pays the broker to find new business he didn't have in the past and keep old customers on the selling chain too.

Sometimes the broker will sell to food producers who will in turn re-package the pecans in various forms to sell to specialty bakeries, hotels and fine gourmet stores to name a few. The broker marks the product up to them. They in turn mark the product up to cover their costs and to sell a premium product to the hotels etc. The hotel, bakery or fine food establishment then marks the product up to make a profit in selling to you. You've seen that $14 bag of trail mix in the mini bar!

So which would you rather do? Pay the farmer or him and all the people in between? Keep in mind that another advantage of buying direct from the farmer is that usually the product you purchase is fresh. It has been harvested within days of your purchase. When you buy using a supply chain, the freshness string gets altered. Either the product is picked green and forced ripened, or is adulterated with chemicals to keep it fresher longer. You can buy produce or other products that are picked fresh and sold fresh but not usually from large chain stores, they just can't deal with the losses.

Keep in mind also that when a farmer is paid a price for his product you are supporting that farmer. You are paying his obligations and his benefits package. When you pay the grocer for theirs you are paying the benefits for all the people who are in the supply line. That's why when you read a story about dairy farmers in California being paid $1.90 a gallon for milk and then go to the grocery store and pay $4.89 a gallon you can understand why the price is so high.

I have no problem supporting my fellow neighbors and Americans. However, I need to be smart about how my dollar is spent. I go direct as much as I can and when I can't I still buy ingredients, not processed foods. And I cook healthy meals cheaply.

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