FOR THE LOVE OF TRAVEL & FOOD

Never go on trips with anyone you don’t love….Ernest Hemingway "I am not a glutton -- I am an explorer of food." Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

French Food and Its Regional Influences

In some regions people contained there regional specialties but most of them became famous and enjoyed all over the world. In their own region of origin you can mainly find their specialty with more quality of preparation and ingredients, even if you can find them throughout France. In each region they have also their typical way of choosing the ingredients and cooking their meals. For example Tomatoes, different kinds of herbs and Olive oil are a must in the Cuisine in Provence.

Here are a couple main influences of regional cooking:

Economic conditions and history: The economic conditions, lifestyle and the culture of course have formed the local food traditions in different areas. Firm cheeses are found in the mountain regions since that over difficult and long winters they can be preserved. In the history when we speak about economy, we find that in some limited areas this firm cheeses are also the main means of support for a lot of homes since they can be produced in the mountains for the livestock. Over several centuries the economic prosperity of the region of Burgundy was great due to their excellence in raising cattle and that also helped them to provide their rich cream sauces and meat dishes.

Local availability: Fresh local ingredients that are not transported for long distances are of better quality and are the basics of the best food and of course the French nation of gourmets knows that. For example, the community of areas where herbs and fruit grow easily will use them in their local cuisine. Likewise, inland areas don`t really use a lot of sea fish but on the contrary Northwest coastal places of France like Normandy and Brittany offer a typical way of eating sea fish meals.

Immigration and neighbouring countries: The neighbors cuisine is formally incorporated in areas of France which border onto other countries. Near to the Italian border for example it will not be surprising to find Italian dishes. Because of immigration, the North African people residing in the South of France are letting enjoy the French people of their original African dishes. And also after various wars the border of Germany has been moved back in the area of Alsace but until now you find the German « Sauerkraut » and wine that became very popular in that kind of areas.

You will find in all parts of France, both in homes and in restaurants, a great range of dishes far extending beyond the regional specialities. However you will always remark the local influences in terms of cooking and ingredients. Local recipes and ingredients seem to be the best cooking and the most available in its own region. Therefore, the types of food one desires to enjoy is a great consequence of the choice where to visit or live in France.

These are a couple of examples:
  • Fresh water fish is consumed in the inland areas, like in the Loire Valley, while sea food is preferred in the Mediterranean and near the Atlantic coast.
  • The hot climate throughout the south, favorites the use of fruit and vegetables.
  • The « Sauerkraut » and beer have been influenced in the northeast of France, like in Lorraine and Alsace, by the German.
  • Apples, creme fraiche (soured cream) and butter are used in the cuisine of northwest France.
  • Tomatoes, herbs and olive oil are mainly used by the French Mediterranean.
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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gourmet Gift Basket - A Truly Special Present

The gourmet gift basket is a really special and wonderful present that you can give to someone you care about at any time of year and not just during the holidays. Certainly the most popular of all gourmet gift baskets that are available today are those which either contain food or wine (or even both). There are literally thousands of gift basket companies online, some of which are better than others and below we look at just a few of the more reliable and reputable ones that can offer you good quality gourmet gift baskets at a price to suit your budget.

1. Delightful Deliveries

This site offers a wide variety of gourmet gift baskets from ones made up of Bakery items to ones that either contain fruit, gourmet foods or gourmet wines. Really with this site you are spoilt for choice and the service they provide to their customers is very good also.

2. Fill-r-Up

This is a company which can offer you a customized gourmet gift basket and they have a retail store which is located in Manhattan (New York). The team at this company can offer you a brilliant collection of both creative and unique gift baskets and all of which are very reasonably priced.

3. Prime Wine

This is the site where you look for a gourmet gift basket that is ideal for the true wine aficionado. They can provide you with a selection of the most beautiful quality wines as well as gourmet foods such as cheese, smoked salmon and chocolates to complement the particular wines in the basket. Each basket that this company produces is made to order and so you can either choose the wines yourself or let one of their experts make the choices for you.

4. Zingerman's

This is one of the best places you will find to purchase a good quality gourmet gift basket from. They can produce a gift basket made up with some of the most fantastic foods that you are ever likely to find from Artisan cheeses, through to rare oils and vinegars and much much more.

The only problem you will have when looking to choose a gourmet gift basket to present to someone is which one you should choose. The best thing you can do is write down a list of the gourmet gift baskets that are available and then select the one which is best suited to the recipient of the gourmet gift basket that you will be sending.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Working Up An Appetite

One of the greatest experiences of being human is to be out in nature. There is just something about being in the fresh open air of the wilderness that makes a person feel more alive, more grounded. The stresses and responsibilities of life lessen in the great outdoors and it is less complicated. After a long day hiking or on the river even if exhaustion is felt, it is refreshing and invigorating. Along with the hard work comes a hearty appetite and a good meal is welcomed by everyone. Even food tastes better when enjoyed in nature and it is received with enthusiastic appreciation. The supper that is tasty is all the more satisfying. A cook can really get rave reviews at a camp. If some thought and a little preparation are made a great meal can be enjoyed and increase the quality of the outdoor experience. Here are some suggestions.

The first thing to note is that all three meals are not created equal. Breakfast and dinner are the meals that more time is put in. The first meal should be filling, one that will stay with you all day. Whole grains probably fit this requirement the best.

Even if you are not normally a cook, camping is a good place to be willing to put in some effort and time. With all the energy burned you will truly appreciate a meal that will fill you up and keep you going. Oatmeal is the first option. For those who want something hot, with little effort, oatmeal fits the bill. It will "stick to your ribs" and keep you full longer, but this breakfast seems to be a popular one on trips and because of that it gets a little old. If that is all the further you want to go in your culinary efforts you can still spruce it up a little. Add dried fruit into the mix. Raisins seem to be the old stand by, but there is a plethora of other choices. Any fruit is an option. Try mangos, apples, strawberries etc. and a little dry milk mixed in. Your regular old oatmeal just turned into fruit and cream, much more satisfying. If you are a little more adventurous pull out the pan for your camp stove. Whole wheat pancakes with freeze dried fruit are amazing. Even syrup is not necessary for these delicious creations. They will be the hit of the camp so be sure to bring plenty. When planning pancakes bring oil in a spill proof container and pour a little into the pan before each cake (about 1 tsp).

A non-stick pan is also recommended for pancakes. These cakes are filling and delicious. Freeze dried fruit is recommended over dried for pancakes because they hydrate as they cook and return to a fresh-like berries rather then staying chewy in your pancakes like dried ones would. Prepackaged meals are fine camping, but you can make your own. Not only will it be cheaper, but it will last for many trips (and even at home). Large cans (#10 size) can be purchased of the berry you prefer. Mix up the pancake's dry ingredients at home (including dry milk and dry eggs) then all you have to add is water when you cook them at camp. During the day when you are on the river you probably do not want to pull off and unpack all the gear for lunch. This is a good time to have trial mix, granola bars and jerky.

Dinner is another time that it is worth putting in the effort. Meals in the can are not recommended frequently while camping because of the trash it creates. What gets brought in, gets brought out. Instead try a box of pasta with dry packs of sauce and then add a can of tuna or chicken. Dried vegetables added to this meal would be delicious. Just rehydrate them in a little water for 10 minutes or so before cooking and you have an entire dinner in one dish.

A few last notes to make. Do not pack you fuel in the dry bags with your food. If the fuel leaks, the food will not be good. If you are going to make something new on your trip, try it at home first. Better to learn when you have more food to try again. Instead of bringing trash bags bring plastic grocery bags with you. They are smaller and even if you use a couple, because of their size, they can be stuff in corners easily. Another suggestions about these plastic bags is that it is easy to double up on them for your trash to prevents leaks and such. Do not sacrifice food on your trip, make it delicious and you will enjoy the outdoors even more.

Emma Snow is a gourmet and freelance writer. Writing for Gourmet Living http://www.gourmet-living.com and BBQ Shop http://www.bbq-shop.net

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Organic Food vs. Genetic Engineering

It's always helpful to step back and take a look at things from an objective perspective, especially when we are personally involved.

Creating and sustaining an organic lifestyle means we are in the "center" of that activity, daily. Among all the other things going on in our daily lives, as moms, we are also trying to develop new habits for our family in regards to their health and well being.

So I thought it would be helpful for us all, myself included, to just take a step or two back and revisit the basic questions and reasons why we are pursuing an organic lifestyle to begin with.

What Is Organic Food?

Certified organic food is most commonly described as food grown and packaged without the use of chemicals, preservatives or additives. Food that is either completely or at least 70% all natural.

Another way to explain it, from a bigger picture standpoint is:

"Organic food is produced through a system that is based on ecological balance and humane care for the plants, animals and people that make up the farm environment."

One important reason to consider organic food, and an organic lifestyle, that I've not read much about previously, is genetic engineering. The Sierra Club site states:

"Eating organic food is one way you can avoid genetic engineering. All certified organic produce and ingredients are produced free of any genetic engineering"

What Is Genetic Engineering?

In layman's terms I would translate it to be the taking of genes from one species of plant and injecting another plant with those genes to force certain characteristics. For example, if you had a corn plant that was delicious and seemed to be resistant to pests, you would take its' genes and inject it into another plant of a different variety, in the hopes to force the taste and/or pest resistance onto the other.

Doesn't sound too bad, but when you understand the "risks" associated with genetic engineering, it doesn't sound so good either.

Here's a more technical description of genetic engineering and the associated risks:

"In genetic engineering technology, genes are isolated and transferred using a "gene gun" or a viral vector from one species into a foreign species, crossing over what is called the "species barrier." An example is the transfer of an insect-resistant gene from a soil bacterium (called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt) into corn plants to confer insect resistance. This kind of genetic transfer never occurs in nature and cannot be achieved through traditional plant breeding methods. The new gene lands in a random spot in the genome of the recipient organism, and can disrupt normal functioning of that organism in unpredictable ways."

Risks of Genetic Engineering

Non-target insects, including ones that are beneficial to farmers are harmed by genetically engineered crops.

Genetically engineered organisms have harmed soil microorganisms, leading to stunted or killed crops.

Plants engineered to be insect- or herbicide-resistant can lead to resistance in weeds and insect pests. This means more chemicals or new genetic engineering.

New allergens and toxins are the potential result of genetically engineering food. Some are detected before market approval while others are not.

Pollen from genetically engineered crops can drift into wild environments and breed with wild relatives of crop plants.

The effects of this genetic pollution cannot be predicted. Once genetically engineered organisms are released into the environment they cannot be con-trolled and they cannot be recalled. Genetic pollution is irreversible.

So we can conclude that organic food is grown WITHOUT the use or need for genetic engineering. And if organic farming can help us avoid "genetic pollution", AND it's better for our health and well being, doesn't it just make good sense for everyone?

The Sierra Club article goes on to conclude that:

"The industrial approach is to "improve nature" and make food products exempt from natural systems and laws. Harmful consequences are corrected using new and more technologies, usually leading to further problems. In contrast, the organic approach is to understand these laws as much as possible and work with them. Organic farmers practice prevention, not correction."

I think any reasonable consumer, without a financial interest in the mass production of genetically altered foods would agree that when it comes to the foods we eat and the environment we need, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

Organic farmers, like organic moms, care about the food and sustaining the land for future generations. We all know, whether we want to admit it or not, what the large corporations who mass produce traditional food crops are most interested in.

Moms Organic House (www.momsorganichouse.com) is your place for practical, everyday organic living information, tips and ideas. Whether it's the garden, kitchen, bathroom or cleaning closet, "themom" is living an organic lifestyle and sharing information and experiences along the way.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

History of American Barbecue

The history of American barbecue is strongly entrenched into its sociological history. The word barbecue simultaneously brings to our mind the US and vice versa. But BBQ is more a passionate factor in the southern states of USA than any other place. Its origin dates back to the times of the Civil War and even before it. Thus, the history of American barbecue is almost the history of America itself.

To make a long story short, though the history of American barbecue states that it originated in the south, nevertheless there is no single taste prevalent there. The taste, ingredients used and sometimes even the method of cooking varies from state to state and even town to town. It would be convenient to understand if the region is divided into the South, East Coast and Central South sections.

In the South, the meat is not at all what the original barbecue used to be made of, and they usually use mutton and beef cooked only in the slow cooking method. They also have a complete range of BBQ sauces to go with their bar-b-q that can vary between a sweet tomato sauce or a fiery red-hot one.

The East Coast however holds on to its original beginnings and has pork for its BBQ meat and vinegar sauces to accompany it. The side dishes that are a common favorite are coleslaw and hushpuppies - a cornmeal pastry. The vinegar sauces however see many variations like vinegar sauces rich in tomato, or a yellow mustard based sauce, with side dishes like bread and stew or hash with rice.

In the Central South, the meat remains to be pork and its ribs, but the way it is cut differs, in the sense it is pulled rather than chopped. They are slow cooked, shredded by hand and covered with ample amounts of sauce. The ribs are greased with sauce or covered with a mix of sharp spices before pit cooking. The sauce here however is a sweet tomato sauce with a hint of pepper and molasses. It is usually served with coleslaw, French fries, baked beans and cornbread. Further, in the west beef gets more preference over pork.

The history of American barbecue narrates a tale that has modified itself with the times, but even now, if you want a bite of the all-original American barbecue, it would do you good to visit any of the Southern states.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Using Onions In North Indian Cooking

Onions are a basic ingredient in many North Indian dishes, and they are found in most curries. By using different techniques to cook them, you can achieve the best texture and flavour for your dish, but remember: cooking onions requires a good deal of patience, and as I like to say, your love.

You'll find that chicken dishes originating in North India ask for chopped onions, whereas sliced onions are more common with meat dishes. The stage at which onions are cooked can often depend on a chef's style: Mughlai cuisine chefs prefer to saute onions before cooking them along with the meat (and under their influence, this is how I usually cook my lamb and beef dishes), and Hindu chefs opt for cooking the onions first until they are brown over a low fire. You won't believe the passions that are roused by the debate over which is the right technique: I can remember being drawn quietly aside by supporters of each method to be given advice on the 'correct' method. The influence of both styles remains in my own cooking to this day.

Regardless of which method you use, be sure that you are patient with your onions. You want them to be fully cooked, and not burnt. My grandmother was always able to tell me when the onions were 'raw' in a dish, and I now share this habit of perception when eating curries.

Another point to remember is to limit the amount of onions in your dish carefully. If you overdo it, you will find that sweetness from the onions is infused through your dish. Onions should not be overpowering, but should give body to the dish.

In fact, you shouldn't even see the onion in many dishes. Rather, the presence of well-cooked onion is noticeable because of the beautiful and thick consistency of the gravy in the dish.

Beyond their use in North Indian dishes, onions can be used as a garnish. Chefs at weddings or banquets commonly deep-fry onions for this purpose (they can subsequently be kept for up to two weeks when cooked in this fashion), whereas people cooking at home will mostly just stir-fry or shallow-fry them.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Banana Facts and Information

This article is a brief study on Bananas, the history of the Banana Plant and tips on growing Banana Plant.

Banana Facts

Banana “Trees” are not actually trees but are herbaceous plants in the genus Musa and of the family Musaceae. Due to their size, shape and structure they are often mistaken for trees. Bananas are largely cultivated for their fruit. But the plant is also used as ornamental plants in gardens.

Typically, there are two types of Bananas that are cultivated, mainly in tropical regions. Firstly, there is the sweet dessert fruit that is eaten raw or used in dessert recipes. There are a wide variety of delicious dessert recipes using Bananas in almost every food culture in the world.

Secondly, plantains are from a group of cultivars with firmer fruit and used generally in cooking vegetable-based dishes like curries. Plantains are especially popular in South-East Asia, India and Jamaica.

History of Bananas

Banana plants were first cultivated for domestic use in Southeast Asia. There is evidence found in Papua New Guinea that shows banana cultivation there dates back to, possibly, 8000 BC. This would mean the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea was probably the first place were Bananas were cultivated. A whole lot of wild Bananas still grow in Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The first time Bananas were talked about in written history was in Buddhist texts around 600 BC. Then, the famous explorer, Alexander the Great found the fruit in India in 327 BC. The very first plantations was said to exist in China way back in 200 AD.

The History of Bananas continued with Islamic Conquerors bringing the fruit to the Middle East and later on, Arab Merchants exposed most of Africa to Bananas. Interestingly, the word Banana is actually of West African origin.

After that, banana cultivation exploded in most of the rest of the world thanks largely to Portuguese colonists who started banana plantations in the Atlantic Islands, Brazil and western Africa. Unfortunately for the Europeans, Bananas were not heard of in Europe until the Victorian Era and even then, only through merchant trade.

These days, Bananas can be found in practically every market in the world without much trouble at all and hurrah for everyone!

Tip and Techniques-Growing Bananas

Growing Banana Plants are easy enough if the right combination of factors is present. A Banana Plant takes about nine months to become mature and it needs a lot of tender loving care for it to grow to its fullest potential.

Generally, a Banana Plant lives up to approximately 25 years. Bananas grow from stems that grow from the ground up called rhizomes and it produces suckers that grow from the main stem of the Banana Plant. Rhizomes have a lifespan of 15 years or more.

The upright plant is called a pseudostem and when it matures, will reach an average height of 2 – 8 metres and the leaves grow up to 3.5 metres in length. Interestingly, each pseudostem produces only a single bunch of bananas. It then dies and is replaced by a new pseudostem.

Growing Banana Plants require a lot of sunlight and high level of humidity. That is one of the reasons it's found in abundance in the tropics and hot climate countries. While it is growing, it requires watering every day and a balanced fertilizer to ensure it grows well. The right temperature for growing Banana Plant should be in approximately 80 degree Fahrenheit during the day.

The soil has to be nutrient-rich and slightly acidic. It should also be able to retain moisture but not much, as roots that are filled with water will die very fast. When all the right ingredients are present, the Banana Plant grows very quickly and it is a pleasure watching it grow. Not only does it bear fruits, it is beautiful ornamental plant and really stands out in any garden.

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