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Moving the Site!!!

Hi all,

The site has now moved to http://www.globalfoodfusion.com. We are expanding and improving the site–hope you’ll come check it out! There will be a few new posts each week featuring recipes, food information and discussions, and food-related travel stories!

Come visit the new site!! Thanks for your support everybody! 🙂

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We’ve all had a fancy schmancy meal that would have been impossible without a food processor. Or even just a milkshake or fruit shake from a blender. So many of our foods are processed by machines; in fact, most TV shows that promote “fast and easy cooking” tout machines as the best way to save time and effort. Sounds good to most of us on the go.

Feng Shui principles may point us toward a more traditional way of preparing our foods. Taking a closer look, we see that many “old world” ways of growing, hunting, gathering, and preparing food emphasize the role of food as integral to psychological ties with the land we live on, as well as health-related and social aspects of our lives. These traditions consider food as more than just items to be purchased on sale, rushed and wolfed down so we can hurry to the next thing on our to do list without even fully knowing all of the ingredients and additives that are in what we eat.

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Now that I’m back in the US, I am much more wary of the food I buy at the supermarket, and I have been doing a bit of research, some of which I will be posting in the next few weeks.

So I was thrilled earlier this week when I found organic strawberries at Whole Foods. Strawberries are more susceptible to harboring pesticide residue than many other crops, so it’s worth paying the extra dollar per pound if you can. After I brought them home, I placed them on the counter to mull over their fate. But the strawberries were looking at me from behind their plastic cage, and I just couldn’t take it so I decided to eat them that very day.

For those who have not been to Las Vegas in summer, let me tell you: it’s effing hot. I wanted something refreshing and light.

At first, I thought of strawberries and cream with mint. But, I had no mint in the house, and I haven’t planted any yet. However, I have recently planted some basil, which is in the mint family. Basil, and especially sweet basil, is an exceptionally versatile herb and can complement sweet as well as savory dishes. A little voice in my head told me to just go for it.

So. I took inventory of the types of cream I had in my fridge–Devon double cream (an imported cream from the UK that is high in butterfat content), creme fraiche, sour cream and heavy whipping cream.

As much as I love creme fraiche, I wanted less of a sour taste and so I opted for the double cream and the whipping cream (making what I call a “triple cream”–hehe). I added in some cinnamon, brown sugar, and lemon elements, and voila! This was the tasty result:

Skill Level: EASY

Preparation time: About 10 minutes.

Servings: Varies. I just made one for myself.

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Chances are, if you’re reading this, the world as we know it has not ended. But, just in case it does, we now have some of the world’s most prized chili peppers preserved in a doomsday-proof underground bunker. I mean, the first thing that comes to mind when I think “major global disaster” is “Where is the Cholula?”

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Springtime brings us one of my favorite faux fruits: the strawberry.  This “accessory fruit”–or vegetable, depending on how you define it–is, in fact, the swollen tip of the stamen, or the base where the flower grows.  The seeds, or more accurately, the achenes, that attach themselves to this swollen bit are more than just annoying specks that get caught in our teeth–they are, in fact, the ovaries that house the real seeds of the plant.  So, just as the avocado is a delectable undercover fruit that is commonly treated as a culinary vegetable, the strawberry is a tasty summer vegetable that is almost always considered as a culinary fruit.  For more information than you ever wanted to know about the strawberry, click here.

So.  Maybe I went a little bit overboard by buying one kilo when I live alone.  But, in any case, I had this kilo of fresh, delicious, real–and I believe wild–strawberries (the multiple sized kind filled with juice and not genetic copies of some aesthetically “perfect” model).  And I was determined to eat them all.  So… I began by grabbing some and eating them simply, first by themselves, then with creme fraiche, then with regular cream.  If regular cream is difficult to find where you are, just use heavy whipping cream.

Preparing Strawberries:  To prepare strawberries for these simple dishes, as a general rule I cut off the caps, then quarter the strawberries, then sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over them and mix it in.  (This amount of sugar can be adjusted depending on the natural sweetness of the particular strawberry.)  A very light syrup should start to form from the juice of the berry and the sugar.  Then mix with the cream or creme fraiche, if desired.

These were small and sweet enough that I didn't have to quarter and sugar them; but it's generally a good idea if you're getting the larger, "American" variety of farmed strawberry. With creme fraiche.

With regular cream

And after all that eating… I still had at least half a kilo left. So I began to search through my fridge and pantry, trying to come up with ideas to use the rest of the strawberries.  There was a bottle of cava (Spanish champagne) staring back at me, having been bought a week before and seemingly upset that it was sitting there, still unopened.  And I thought… wouldn’t a cheesecake that had both the strawberries and the champagne in it be simply divine?

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Produce: As Sweets

Produce as dessert can be as tricky as it is temporal. There are plenty of vegetables we consider fruits, fruits we consider vegetables, “accessory fruits” that don’t really fit into either category, and, of course, other parts of the plant that we may or may not desire as dessert. Presenting produce as dessert can be as simple as rinsing, chopping, and mixing fruits as a salad, to blending them into a shake, to adding other ingredients and boiling, baking, and/or chilling them as a more complex dish.

Then there is the matter of marrying the textures and tastes with “accent” ingredients such as cream or chocolate. Or making a new texture by adding the fruit as the accent, such as in cakes, pies and other pastries, ice creams and sorbets, mousses and puddings. So, we can have one fruit and have endless ways to make it into something unique and delicious, if we just keep in mind the capabilities and boundaries offered by that particular fruit.

Apart from applying our creativity to the process of going from plant to sweet treat, the short shelf life of produce demands that we think relatively quickly after, if not during, purchase. Many fruits don’t last more than a couple of days after arriving home, especially if they are not stored in the fridge. Some of the “tougher” fruits, like bananas and granny smith apples for instance, stay up to a week out of refrigeration; on the other hand, berries and thin-skinned fruits such as plums don’t last quite as long.

The typical food patterns we usually associate for fruit-based desserts include:

Flavor: pineapple and melon, strawberry and banana, orange and strawberry, apple and pear, and berries generally go well together (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blackberries, etc.). The red currant and its cousin, the lingonberry, go well with other fruits, in preserves, and they also complement meats very well, as we tend to see in Nordic cuisine. Cloudberries and gooseberries, also prominent in Nordic dishes, are less common in the middle latitudes and lend subtly sweet overtones to a dish.

Texture: fruit and cream, fruit and bread, fruit and honey, fruit and ice, the list goes on and on. However, how the fruit is added makes a difference. For instance, lemon-flavored Italian ice sounds good, but why does the idea of drizzling honey over lemon wedges 1) make me want to grab my Vicks Vapo Rub and 2) sound like a rather unappetizing dessert for most? Replace the lemon wedges with baked apple, pear, or even banana, and the dessert is suddenly divine. While we value the lemon for its juice and occasionally its zest, most folks do not like to bite into the meat of the lemon itself, which, admittedly, may have something to do with the bitter taste. But the acidic citrus flesh also simply doesn’t work with everything (again–this is for most people; there are always exceptions). Using lemon with cream is a great idea; but again, you probably wouldn’t serve the lemon itself with the cream; you’d blend the lemon juice or grated zest with the cream and perhaps a few other ingredients in order to neutralize the tartness and offer a smoother texture.  But strawberries with cream is a whole ‘nother story.

Keeping in mind flavor, texture, and longevity, it’s fun to play around with new ideas and push the envelope by investigating and experimenting with the various cooking options for almost every edible plant out there. To help us along, we can look to world cultures for inspiration. We can also borrow (or else fully adopt) the vegan and vegetarian options that have been developed in many parts of the world and that offer us new possibilities for almost any type of cuisine out there. Even if you’re not vegetarian, the techniques cultivated in this branch of culinary thought are very useful in applying to other dishes. And it’s always helpful to have a few recipes on hand if you have vegetarian or vegan friends or family coming to dinner. In the coming weeks I am hoping to flesh out the vegetarian/vegan section of this site (poor pun) with the help of a friend who has already done a lot of the leg work to modify old favorite recipes–stay tuned!

Whether you buy local and organic or conventional produce, the fact remains that some fruits just don’t last quite as long as others. After all, they are plants that have been recently cut and transported for consumption. A general rule of thumb is 5-7 days, refrigerated. Obviously, some can last a bit longer, and some a bit less. What this means is that you either 1) need to have the dish in mind whilst buying the ingredients at the market or store; or 2) need to have enough “helper ingredients” on hand to use whatever may be in season or whatever may have caught your eye that day.

The idea is that, unlike, say, roots and tubers, produce really does need to be used in a “revolving door”-type fashion and should always be on its way through the house rather than stored as a staple that can be kept for weeks or even months. If this option is not going to work for you, frozen, canned, vacuum-sealed, or otherwise preserved produce may be a good solution for you. But it’s never quite as tasty or as healthy as the fresh option. Usually, you’ll have to add more sugar to frozen fruits.  On the other hand, usually people keep the sugary syrup in which many fruits are canned and consider that useful flavoring.  But you may need to rinse off any legumes or veggies that are jarred or canned as those are often treated with some sort of preservative that isn’t quite as tasty or useful.  But it’s your kitchen–your call.