Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Ice-cream, Soda and Evolution…

“Summer would not be summer without Ice-cream. Ice-cream is the favorite currency of love.” Puck

For my kids, summer translates into picnics, beaches, barbecues and of course, never to forget it, “the ice-cream“. Being in the National Ice cream Month (July) with the end of the week marking the National Ice cream Day (third Sunday of July), the truce between the “young ones” and their “veggies” was an ice cream a day for dessert. As a part of improvisation of the existing recipes and combinations, delving into the evolution and progress of ice cream makes for an interesting read.

Although the origins of this “summer dessert” have been rough traced back to the 4th century B.C.; the modern day versions with the wide variety of flavours as well as presentations were made feasible only by the 18th century. Early records of it’s popularity include the Roman emperor Nero (37-68 CE) who ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and combined with fruit toppings and King Tang (618-97 CE) of Shang, China who had a method of creating ice and milk concoctions. While “Ice cream” may have been likely brought to Europe from China. As legends go, when Italian duchess Catherine de’ Medici married the Duke of Orléans (1533), the French court had few Italian chefs who had recipes for flavored ices or sorbets. A century later, Charles I of England was impressed by the “frozen snow” that he offered his own ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula a secret, so that ice cream could be a royal prerogative. While there is no historical evidence to support these legends, the recipes for ices, sherbets and milk ices had evolved gradually over time and were usually served in the fashionable royal courts or in the upper class society.

“Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.” Don Kardong

As recipes for flavoured ices began to be published for the household cooks and ice storing became more feasible, flavoured ices were enjoyed by the middle class society. Towards the early 19th century, Augustus Jackson had created several popular ice cream flavours, packed them into tin cans and distributed them to the ice cream parlours of Philadelphia. Credited with inventing an improved method for manufacturing of ice cream, he is technically considered as the modern day father of ice cream.

Going years ahead, the Franklin’s Institute semi-centennial celebration (1874) saw the creation of the ice cream float by Robert McCay Green, Pennsylvania. The traditional account was on that particularly hot day, Mr. Green ran out of ice for the flavored drinks he was selling and used vanilla ice cream from a neighboring vendor, thereby inventing a new drink. As published by his own account in the Soda Fountain magazine (1910), states that after some experimenting (after effect of competition with nearby vendors), he had decided to combine ice cream and soda water. During the celebration, he sold vanilla ice cream with soda water and a choice of 16 flavored syrups. Although there are at least three other claimants for the invention of ice cream float, namely Sanders, Mohr and Guy; wherein the latter is said to have absentmindedly mixed ice cream and soda (1872), to his customer’s delight. However may the legends go, the combination of ice cream and soda have stayed on.

“Sometimes life is just what it is, and the best you can hope for is ice cream.”  Abbi Waxman

From being in a boxed container to served with soda, sprinkles, toppings and more, ice cream has evolved from being a simple street or roadside treat to an artistic rendering for functions. Ice cream with its’ many variants like ice lolly, Malyasian Ais kacang, Turkish dondurma, gelato, kulfi and the like; are all here to stay and evolve, changing the “sweet trends” of dessert over time.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

OF Fries, Origin and Evolution

Thin or thick, served hot, soft or crispy and had as snack food or in accompaniment to main course of lunch or dinner; french fries or just fries (known as chips or finger fries) are batonnet or allumette-cut deep fried potatoes. An all time favourite especially for children, foodies, surprise occasions; they can be had salted or plain, or with ketchup, vinegar, mayonnaise, local specialty sauces and dips, or even be topped more heavily as chilli cheese fries, poutine and the like.

“Even if I’m eating healthy, I let myself indulge with french fries. That’s my favorite thing. You only live once!” Kate Mara

Like all the best things in the “food dictionary”, the origin or creator of these “golden strips” aren’t exactly known. Although the general consensus is that the “French Fry” is more of “Belgian origin than French.”

Potatoes were first introduced to Europe through the Spanish. On the Spanish exploration of Americas, they had encountered potatoes among the native food supply. As accounts of Jimenez de Quesada and the Spanish forces ( 1537) detail the discovery of potatoes among the native villages of Colombia, where they were called as “truffles” initially. When potatoes were brought back to Spain and introduced to Italy too. Then these potatoes were quite small, bitter and didn’t grow well in both places. Over time, larger and less bitter varieties were cultivated and gradually accepted elsewhere in Europe. Spain then controlled much of the modern day Belgium. While historical accounts indicate that Belgians were frying up ( or sauteing) thin strips of potatoes ( 17th to 18th century) in the Meuse Valley between Dinat and Liege. This idea could possibly arise from the original Belgian cuisine which usually fried small fish as part of their staple meals. With shortage of fish in winter, potatoes were an alternative.

“I try to have no absolute nos. I love french fries, I like a good burger, and I like pie. And that’s okay.” Michelle Obama

To explain the “French” of the French fries would be possible when two historical events are taken into account. What once the French had considered as hog feed or cause of various diseases, the change in their opinion due to potatoes was largely credited to the French Army medical officer Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, who was a captive of the Seven Years War and had survived on potatoes as a part of his prison rations. On his return back to France, he had aggressively campaigned as well as cultivated potatoes, promoting it’s benefits to the upper classes as well.

Also during the Franco-Austrian War, which had taken place near around the modern day Belgium, the possibility that French soldiers were introduced to the potato fries by the Belgians exists. Although gradually potato was accepted and cultivated in France; the famine of 1785 made potatoes popular in France. Slowly newer recipes and modes of cooking these spuds were tried. Once discovered or invented or improvised (from Belgian fries?), these fries became popular, especially in Paris, where they were known as “frites” and sold by push-cart vendors on the streets.

“Show me a person who doesn’t like french fries and we’ll swap lies.” Joan Lunden

Whether from Belgium or France, once these “frites” became popular, through colonization, migration as well as wars; they had become a much loved food on the menus across Europe, Britain and Americas. With the spread of fast food chains, these “frites” began to be introduced to the world largely as “French Fries”.

“If I could eat French fries every day of my life, I would.” Adrienne C. Moore

The modern day french fries, though best loved when salted, spiced and fried in oil; for more healthier options can be baked (or even grilled) with seasonings, toppings and all. From the various types of cut fries (crinkle-cut or wavy, curly, shoestring, steak, tornado, waffle) to different preparations like french fry sandwiches, chilli cheese fries, chorrillana to mention a few as well as alternatives like sweet potatoes or potato wedges; one can go creative with these frites. To celebrate the National French Fry day ( July 13th) it would be fun to go on a limb and try the regular to the different combination of the modern fries. For the more experimental ones, it would be interesting to combine fries to the regular dishes. For those of us who dislike potatoes or want healthier options, try baking sweet potatoes, thinly sliced carrots or beetroot with seasoning and all. After all the whole point of food is to relish various flavours, experiment, enjoy and simply have fun.

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Piña Colada, Origin and Evolution

“Blend or shake 6 ounces of pineapple juice, 3 ounces of coconut cream, 1½ ounces of white rum and crushed ice until smooth. Serve in chilled glasses, garnished with pineapple wedge and/or a maraschino cherry.” – Piña Colada (1954 recipe)

Proclaimed as the national drink by Puerto Rico (1978), this cocktail although steadily popular in all Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, is widely enjoyed across the world. The popularity is affirmed by it being a part of the world of entertainment, from music, popular lyrics to cinemas. For instance, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by American musician Rupert Holmes (1979) had reached the number one spot and stayed there for few weeks.

While the name piña colada literally means “strained pineapple” in Spanish; this sweet cocktail is made with rum, coconut cream or coconut milk and pineapple juice. Usually served either blended or shaken with ice, it may be garnished with either a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry or both.

Legends abound the origin of this cocktail. The earliest known legend states that Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresí, to boost his crew’s morale, gave them a beverage or cocktail that contained coconut, pineapple and white rum; what would be later known as the famous piña colada (19th century). This recipe was believed to be lost with his death (1825). Yet this story is widely disputed by food historians.

By popular belief, the creation of the piña colada was credited to bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero (1954). Working in the Beachcombers Bar of the Caribe Hilton, one of the premier luxury hotels in San Juan; he was asked by hotel management to create a signature drink that captured the flavors of the island. By his account, Marrero had spent three months experimenting with hundreds of combinations before perfecting his sweet, frothy concoction of rum, cream of coconut and pineapple juice. Once introduced it had gained mass popularity. Marrero mixed up and served his creation at the hotel for 35 years until his retirement (1989). Concurrently another barman, Spaniard Ricardo Gracia who had served drinks at the Caribe Hilton, had claimed that he invented the cool, creamy cocktail. As per the interview to the Coastal Living magazine (2005), a strike by a coconut-cutters union (1954) had prevented him from serving up the popular mixed drink of rum, cream of coconut and crushed ice in its traditional sliced coconut. When forced to improvise, Gracia had poured the drink into a hollowed-out pineapple. When the fruit’s added flavor proved popular, Gracia said he added freshly pressed and strained pineapple juice to the previous combination of rum and cream of coconut, to create the piña colada.

Concurrently two miles west of the Caribe Hilton, another San Juan hotspot stakes its claim as the birthplace of piña colada. As attested by the marble plaque outside the entrance of the Restaurant Barrachina ( established late 1850s), Ramon Portas Mingot, a Spanish mixologist who wrote cocktail books and worked in the top bars of Buenos Aires, had made the first piña colada (1963) inside its doors.

Although the piña colada, was born in Puerto Rican capital of San Juan; the identity of the bartender who first mixed up the iconic rum-based cocktail remains a point of contention. However the modern-day beach cocktail wouldn’t be possible until the invention of Coco Lopez, a pre-made cream of coconut (1954). Developed by Ramon Lopez-Irizarry, an agriculture professor at the University of Puerto Rico; he had blended cream from the hearts of Caribbean coconuts with natural cane sugar, which later became an integral part of the island’s piña coladas.

Over the years, different proportions of the core ingredients, as well as different types of rum, may all be used in the piña colada to create different and new signature varieties. While frozen piña coladas are also served today; other named variations like the Amaretto colada (amaretto substituted for rum),  Chi chi (vodka in place of rum), the Virgin piña colada or piñita colada ( non alcoholic, without the rum) or even the Soda colada (resembles the original recipe, but soda is used instead of coconut milk) to list a few. For the more resourceful or food connoisseurs and experimenters, piña colada can be blended into smoothies, milk shakes, cupcakes or even into cheesecake.

With National Piña Colada (July 10th) being celebrated tomorrow, it would be fun to experiment and create a similar based concoction, or simply enjoy the flavours of the original piña colada to mark special occasions.

CARIBE HILTON’S PIÑA COLADA RECIPE

2 ounces rum
1 ounce cream of coconut
1 ounce heavy cream
6 ounces fresh pineapple juice
1/2 cup crushed ice

Mix rum, cream of coconut, heavy cream and pineapple juice in a blender. Add ice and mix for 15 seconds. Serve in a 12-ounce glass and garnish with fresh pineapple and a cherry.

Posted in Daily, Food

Of “Portable Pies”

Although the modern lifestyle had attracted the tradition of “having food on the go” ranging from well wrapped portable sandwiches, cupcakes, tarts, salads to mention a few; portable pies were in existence since ancient times. Popularly known as “turnovers”, these portable pies were made by placing a filling on a piece of dough, folding the dough over, sealing, and baking it. Made sweet or savory, “turnovers” are often made as a sort of portable meal or dessert, similar to a sandwich; had for breakfast, snacks, desserts or quick picnics. From being baked to fried, fillings include fruits (apples, blueberries and cherries), meats ( chicken, beef and pork), vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, peas), eggs or even cheese. Specialty versions are made with fillings of wild rabbit and leek.

Traditionally turnovers are usually sweet, with popular pastry being the classical puff pastry. Known as sweet tarts initially, the term turnovers had come to reference around the eighteenth century. Made then as a sort of small, typically individual pie or pasty, in which the filling is placed on one side of a piece of rolled-out pastry and the other side is then turned over’ to cover it, forming a semicircular shape (Sporting Magazine, 1798).

Though these “turnovers” may have been there across different cuisine, albeit under other popular names. From the empanada of South and Central America (mixture of chopped meats, hard-boiled eggs, minced vegetables, olives, raisins, highly seasoned), the Russian pirozhki (meat, fish, cabbage, mushrooms or cheese), the famous Cornish pasties (large turnovers filled with beef, onions, turnips), Chinese dimsum (meat, fish, vegetables), Indian Samosas (chickpeas, potatoes, spices), Polish Pierogies, Middle Eastern Sanbousic (cheese and dill) and the Greek Spanokopitas (fillings of spinach, cottage and feta cheese with olives) are few among the many “global turnover” choices to experiment with as “quick meals or snacks” on the go.

With arising global popularity, little wonder then Turnovers have their own days. To mark celebrated food days of the National Apple Turnover Day (July 5th) as well as the World Chocolate Day (July 7th), sweet apple turnovers drizzled with chocolate may be a good way to mark them. For kitchen chefs, experimenting with turnovers may be a change from the regular desserts or savoury versions can be stuffed with meat leftovers, vegetables or just sweet fillings, depending on the mood of the hour. From sweet, savoury to spicy or cheesy; “turnover pies” have a variety of taste to offer, besides being a “quick solution” for sudden brunches, high teas or simply cravings.

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Cooking to Culinary Arts

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

For most gastronomes, culinary specialists, chefs, nutritionists as well as home cooks, food being cooked, served or even eaten reflects a lot of the “mood within”. For instance, if one is extremely tired after a long day, the easiest meal to make in a jiffy for a home cook is pasta and cheese followed by ice cream for the sweet end. On the other hand, to mark any special occasion, the requirement of a full three course meal (salad or appetizer, main course and meat) completed by a splendid (if not necessarily elaborate) dessert is a must. When in an angry mood, every chef at heart will go with their inner basic meal, not tuning to art of the eye, but just ensuring that the basic taste is palatable. Too irritated or bothered to cook, it will be pizza or “Chinese order” on the house. And when the mood is sad, it will be the comfort food , homemade, with a striking resemblance to one’s childhood or mother’s style, or the fast food version.

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living.” Dione Lucas

Essentially, cooking is a very sensitive art. While one mayn’t have the intensive training or qualification to be a chef of Michelin three or five star rated restaurant, but if one can make a complete wholesome meal for self, family and friends, that alone is enough. In fact, cooking is an expression of love. For every ingredient which balances the meal, it is a reflection of the care, precision and the basics of science behind it.

“Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.” Francois Minot

The “effective cooking” of today, is a balance of food and fun, of taste, experimentation and readily available ingredients. While baking involves following the written or “handed down” instructions to the point; cooking involves a little experimentation of ingredients, spices as well as art. The evolution of cooking into “culinary arts” over the years, has resulted in a whole new range of varied dishes blended together with taste, nutrition, quality, tradition, serving, managing as well as visual presentation to complete the effect.

“The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Entering into the month of “culinary arts” (July); the professional cooks and chefs who bring innovative cuisine from their kitchens to our tables every day are being recognized not just for their talent but devotion as well as contribution to cooking as an art form. For the home cook to experiment with technique and style, vast differences can be made by the order of adding the ingredients, plating as well as trying and blending the new recipes with the old ones. To start off, experimenting in small amounts can be tried. While most of the time, home cooking involves the regular, to celebrate this month, it would be good to plate the regular different or try something new altogether. For every cook, is indeed a chef with a hidden artistic side.

“Culinary tradition is not always based on fact. Sometimes it’s based on history, on habits that come out of a time when kitchens were fueled by charcoal.” Alton Brown

“In the abstract art of cooking,
ingredients trump appliances,
passion supersedes expertise,
creativity triumphs over technique,
spontaneity inspires invention,
and wine makes even the worst culinary disaster taste delicious.”
Bob Blumer

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Mix Them as “Mock” or “Cocktails”

One of the social necessities of being a part of a bigger, corporate or franchise based workforce, is attending the social or business social networking, popularly under the banner of “cocktail” evenings. At times, the conversations are silently laced with hunger pangs after a long day or the stress of the day filtering through the thoughts, which can be quite dangerous especially when thoughts and words don’t really gel well with the situation. While primarily the whole purpose is to extend the social “work based” or business connections, one can hardly ignore the “hors d’oeuvre” or appetizers as well as the baseline of the gathering, “cocktails or mocktails”.

“If it’s a cocktail party, I generally make five or six different things, and I try to choose recipes that feel like a meal: a chicken thing, a fish or shrimp thing, maybe two vegetable things, and I think it’s fun to end the cocktail party with a sweet thing.” Ina Garten

 

While the inventor of the cocktail evenings is quite a controversial topic, with some believing it to be Alec Waugh of London or Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri (May 1917). The former had detailed that the Alec Waugh noted that the first cocktail party in England was hosted by war artist Christopher Nevinson (1924) while Mrs. Walsh invited 50 guests to her house on a Sunday at high noon for a one-hour affair. The St. Paul’s Pioneer Press newspaper had declared that “The party scored an instant hit,” and stated that within weeks cocktail parties had become “a St. Louis institution”.

“A cocktail done right can really show your guests that you care.” Danny Meyer

Whether purely alcoholic or fruit based, a cocktail is essentially both palate satisfying as well as a work of “art”. As defined, “cocktail” is an alcoholic mixed drink, which is either a combination of spirits, or one or more spirits mixed with other ingredients such as fruit juice, lemonade, flavored syrup, or cream. Technically it contains alcohol, sugar and a bitter or citrus. While there are various types of cocktails, based on the number and kind of ingredients added; their origins are debated.

 

Also, when a mixed drink contains only a distilled spirit and a mixer, such as soda or fruit juice, it is a highball. When it contains only a distilled spirit and a liqueur, it is a duo. On adding a mixer to the duo, it becomes a “trio”. The additional ingredients may be sugar, honey, milk, cream, and various herbs. Mixed drinks without alcohol that resemble cocktails are known as “mocktails” or “virgin cocktails”.

“A cocktail can be made by the bartender. But the cocktail also can be made by the chef.” Jose Andres

The first use of the term “cocktail” is highly debatable. As per The London Telegraph, a satirical newspaper article (March 20, 1798) about what must have been a hell of a party had accounted the drinks imbibed by William Pitt (the younger) which included “L’huile de Venus,” “parfait amour,” and “‘cock-tail (vulgarly called ginger.)’” The challenge was whether “cocktail” in this article truly referred to an alcoholic drink, or something else. Another record was the article from The Farmer’s Cabinet ( Vermont, April 28, 1803), where to drink a cocktail was claimed to be “excellent for the head.” By 1806, the word “cocktail” had reached it’s current meaning as defined by the newspaper, Balance and Columbian Repository( May 13, 1806), the editor defined a cocktail as: “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind – sugar, water, and bitters.”

 

The exact derivation is attributed to multiple origins. One origin of “cocktail” is as a mispronunciation of the French word for eggcup “coquetier” (said as cocktay in English). In the late 18th century, apparently Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a New Orleans apothecary and inventor of Peychaud bitters had served brandy mixed with his bitters in eggcups. The second belief states that the name is derived from the term “cock tailings,” which was the practice of tavern owners combining the dregs (tailings) of nearly empty barrels together into a single elixir that was sold at bargain prices. In those days, the spigot of a barrel was sometimes referred to as a “cock.” Another reference was from the “cock tail” of regular “adulterated” horses entered into the races with the thoroughbred horses of docked tails, which during the early 17th century. As Liquor and races go hand in hand, this theory states that “mixed or adulterated drinks” were likened to the “cocktail” of the regular ( non-thoroughbred) horses in the race.

Whatever and however the origin may be, from mocktail to cocktails, the evenings for social or business purposes need them to keep the conversations flowing, mixing work with comparatively less stress of the regular work schedule. With summer in full swing, it would make these occasions more entertaining as well as in demand.

 

Posted in Daily, Food

Puddings..of Chocolate and More

[1730]
“Chocolate Puddings. To a Pint of Cream take eight Eggs, the Whites of four, beat them well together, and mingle with your Cream; put in some Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Ginger, a quarter of a Pound of Naples Bisket, and a quarter of a Pound of Chocolate grated very fine, put in a little Orange-Flower Water, and a little Citron minc’d; mingle it mighty well together, and if you bake it, put a Sheet of Puff-paste in your Dish, and raise a little Border in the Rim, put in your Pudding and cross-bar it, and ice it with thick Butter and Sugar, and bake it in a gentle Oven, and when bak’d serve it away, or you may boil it if you please.”
—The Complete Practical Cook, Charles Carter, facsimile 1730 edition [Gale Ecco Print Edition:Detroit] (p. 106)

One of the highlights of having warm weather is when impromptu visits are possible, especially on chance meeting of old friends or neighbours. With plenty of delivery services available at ” the fingertips or touch of thumb pads”; it’s often the desserts that need to be made or created in a jiffy. Which is why, certain desserts especially custard, ice cream, puddings to name few easy ones are one of the necessary knows for every “fledgling” cook.

 

One of the easiest desserts to make with the ingredients of cornstarch or flour, cream, milk, butter and vanilla for the most simple and basic puddings. Adding in cocoa, bananas, battered breadcrumbs and even eggs are the small variations that make an entirely new recipe and flavour of the “new pudding”. Few “pudding pointers” to keep in mind include:

  • Although easy to make, complete and whole attention is required from making the batter to setting it to chill or baking it.
  • Constant stirring is needed while cooking the pudding to avoid lumps or burning.
  • The flavours, texture and consistency is very adaptable, so don’t be afraid of experimenting.
  • Make sure the flour is sieved properly because no matter how it is whisked, if the flour is not smooth it will give you a lumpy texture.
  • To store it, cover it with a plastic wrap to avoid the formation of a layer. The same applies while chilling the pudding too.
  • For baked puddings, grease the tin with butter and then refrigerate it for few minutes. This will form a layer and avoid it from sticking to the base.

 

With National Chocolate Pudding Day tomorrow, one can go a step further with whole or shots of “pudding cakes” or “pudding shakes” with whipped cream, sprinkles and M &M’s to add on; not to forget the ice cream too.

“Life’s a pudding full of plums.” 
W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)