Archive for the ‘Cooking 101’ Category

The movie Julie and Julia will be released this week in theaters nationwide. Directed by Nora Ephron, it is a fascinating tale of two women – one is the culinary icon Julia Child and the other a New York blogger named Julie Powell. The two women never met – yet cooking became the thread that tangled their lives together in a most unexpected way.



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Have you ever heard of the flat iron steak? ┬áIt is a tender, relatively-new cut of steak that is becoming very popular on many restaurant menus including Chili’s and TGI Friday. Upscale restaurants often serve flat iron steaks cut from Wagyu beef. Read on to learn more about this succulent, yet economical piece of meat. You will find an easy recipe below for preparing a Southwestern-style flat iron steak on the grill. (more…)

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Edible Pansy

Few things in the world are more heartwarming and lovely than the sweet faces of flowers. Their stunning colors lend instant visual appeal. Flowers offer a variety of taste sensations, ranging from mild and sweet to bold, spicy and complex. They add a lingering fragrance and provide interesting textural contrasts. Cooking and decorating foods with flowers may seem like an exotic idea at first, but like cooking with vegetables, its a natural!


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Happy Thanksgiving! Click here for a long list of turkey hotlines in a post I wrote last year. Read my post in the State Newspaper for great tips on brining your Thanksgiving turkey. The brining process creates the most delicious, moist turkey you will ever taste.


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How to Brine a Turkey

Brining basically means to soak the poultry in a salt/water solution. Food Scientist Shirley Corriher explains that “brining makes meat juicier by increasing the amount of liquid inside the meat cells.”


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“To me, peanut butter is the breakfast of champions!”-Greg Louganis, Olympic Diver

Peanuts are about to take their place in South Carolina’s culinary hall of fame along with shrimp & grits and sweet tea. The State Senate recently passed a bill stating that “the General Assembly finds boiled peanuts are a delicious and popular snack food that are found both in stores and roadside stands across the State.” The bill describes the snack as “peanuts boiled in the shell at least one hour.” It will become official when it is signed by the Governor.

Boiled peanuts have been popular in South Carolina at least since the Civil War era. (Soldiers dined on ‘peanut porridge.’ ) When boiled in salted water, peanut shells become soggy and the peanuts taste a bit like fresh-cooked legumes. Most people boil them for several hours.

Whatever their political affiliation, folks in South Carolina seems to enjoy peanuts – one of life’s little pleasures. In 2005, planted acreage of all types of peanuts in South Carolina was 62 thousand acres, up from 35 thousand acres in 2004. South Carolinians eat boiled peanuts at the fair, on the back porch, in the car and at backyard barbecues. They taste best eaten warm but you can keep them in the refrigerator up to one week.

Boiled and roasted peanuts are a popular nibble to accompany drinks. Peanuts and RC cola, anyone But did you know that peanut butter is the leading use of peanuts in the USA. Peanut butter with jelly (or banana) sandwiches are a huge favorite with kids (and many adults). Women and children seem to prefer creamy, while most men like the chunky type.

There are many jokes and poems about peanut butter and sticky situations. It can definitely stick to the roof of your mouth and although I wouldn’t recommend this, one jokester playfully feeds a gob of it to his dog for cheap entertainment. According to the National Peanut Board, peanut butter was the secret behind “Mr. Ed,” TV’s talking horse. Did you know that ‘arachibutyrophobia’ is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.

Peanut butter is more than kid stuff and deserves a great deal of nutritional respect. In 2002, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a Harvard School of Public Health study of nurses, reported that “consuming a half serving (one tablespoon) of peanut butter or a full serving of peanuts (or one ounce of other nuts), five or more times a week is associated with a 21 %and 27 %reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, respectively. ” (Type two diabetes has tripled in the last 30 years.) Higher consumption seems to provide a greater protective effect.

The study suggests that nuts should become a regular part of the diet. Peanuts contain mainly unsaturated fat and are low in saturated fat. Peanut butter can be eaten as a replacement for refined grain products and red meats. Most brands have undetectable levels of trans fats even through partially hydrogenated oils are listed as a minor ingredient. Peanuts are naturally cholesterol-free. They are rich in vitamin E, potassium, zinc, antioxidants and phytosterols, important to good health. Peanuts are a good source of folate, which can reduce the risk of certain birth defects in the brain and spinal cord.

The peanut is actually a legume related to beans and lentils. It grows on vines rather than on a tree. The edible ‘seeds’ are found inside the thin long pods. There are four types of peanuts are grown in the USA. – Runner, Virginia, Spanish and Valencia.

Peanuts originated in Brazil and Peru and are a staple South America, Africa, and Asia. The Portuguese carried the peanut to Africa where it was planted as a high yield, low cost crop. Peanuts are called ‘groundnuts’ in Africa.

Africans brought peanuts to America. ‘Goober’ is the nickname for peanuts in the southeastern United States. It comes from the Kikongo work ‘nguba,’ which applies to all root foods. African cooks have ground peanuts into stews for centuries. They introduced peanut soup to Colonial Americans. It is a favorite southern dish and one of George Washington’s favorites, as reported by his daughter-in-law. It is still served at Mt. Vernon and in Colonial Williamsburg. Some of the first vines in this country were found on Monticello, the Virginia farm of gastronome Thomas Jefferson.

Ground peanut paste was first marketed by George A. Bayle Jr. around 1890 on the advise of a St. Louis physician. It was used as a protein substitute for people with bad teeth who couldn’t chew meat. Bayle mechanized the process and began selling peanut butter for 6 cents a pound. Peanut butter was introduced to the world in 1904 at the Universal Exposition of St. Louis. In 1908, Krema Products Company in Columbus, Ohio became the first American company to market peanut butter. They would only sell within the state since peanut butter was packed in barrels and there was no interstate system to move it quickly. Several brands were soon being marketed in California and churned like butter for a smoother texture. A special process was created to keep the oil from separating from the nut paste. Swift & Company was one of the first to adopt this process. The company was renamed Peter Pan in 1928. Skippy and Jiff brands soon followed. Peanut Butter was on its way to becoming an American favorite!

In 1903, Dr. George Washington Carver began his peanut research at Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama. The agricultural researcher developed more than 300 uses for peanuts. He envisioned the peanut as a replacement for Southern cotton crops ravaged by the boll weevil in the 1890’s. Dr. Carver once served a special lunch to a group of Alabama businessmen-that consisted entirely of peanuts. The courses ranged from peanut soup to roasted peanut coffee. George Washington Carver so improved peanut horticulture that he is considered by many to be the father of the peanut industry.

Peanuts continue to reach new heights in professional kitchens. Chefs and food writers are using peanuts and peanut butter to update the American classics in a variety of recipes for soups, breads, ice cream, main dishes, barbecue sauce, soups and salad dressings. A few years ago, even the famous Four Seasons Hotel put a Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Souffle on the menu.


The U.S.D.A. says all peanut butters must contain at least 90 percent peanuts. Most national brands contain about 94 percent along with a small amount of sweetener and salt for flavor and and a stabilizer such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. No artificial flavor, color, or sweeteners are allowed.

Natural or old-fashioned peanut butter, without stabilizers, has a layer of peanut oil on the top. The oil separation is natural; just stir it back into the peanut butter and store in the refrigerator. Refrigerate after opening.

These days, I particularily like the fresh roasted flavor of Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter. But for the most authentic evaluation of peanut butter products, it’s best to ask the experts – a test panel of kids. They probably won’t vote for less-sweet taste of natural peanut butter, although grown ups seem to really enjoy it. It’s all in what you are use to eating

Boiled peanuts can be purchased many places around town including at the Farmer’s Market and Cromers (803-771-8807) – voted the source of the best boiled peanuts by Columbia Metropolitan Magazine.

Look for peanut recipes in other posts.

Read Allison Askins’ food article in the State Newspaper, April 26th, 2006.


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Peanut Recipes

Thai Cowboy Steak With Peanut Sauce This hearty dish is from the Lemon Grass Restaurant in Sacramento, California. The nationally acclaimed restaurant specializes in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. It has a loyal following with its generous steak portion paired with the addicting spunky, spicy peanut sauce! Oyster sauce adds a rich, savory flavor to marinades -not at all fishy. Look for a good brand, such as Lee Kum Kee. The steak is even better grilled outdoors over charcoal.

2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brandy
4 (10- to 12-ounce) New York steaks (about 1 inch thick), each cut in half
1/2 cup Peanut Sauce (see recipe)

Place the garlic and cilantro in a mortar and pound into a paste. (Or you can finely chop by hand.)
Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the oyster sauce, soy sauce and brandy. Add the steaks and marinate for about 1 hour.Preheat the broiler or grill to medium high. Grill the steaks to the desired doneness, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side for medium rare. (You also may pan-sear the steaks.) To serve, place 2 to 3 tablespoons of Peanut Sauce on a plate, top with 2 pieces of steak. Serve with a side of cucumber salad or vegetables. Serves 4.

Per serving without sauce: 461 calories, 22g fat (8g sat., 9g mono.), 163mg cholesterol, 237mg sodium, 1g carb., 0g fiber, 60g protein.

Thai Peanut Sauce

You can add flavor to cooked noodles with this tasty sauce. Look for red curry paste in Asian ethnic markets and in the Asian food section of grocery stores. Palm sugar is made from the sap of sugar palm trees, date palms or coconut palms. Thai palm sugar is lighter than palm sugar from Malaysia or Indonesia. You can substitite white granulated sugar or light brown sugar. Fish sauce is a thin, salty fermented seasoning liquid that adds wonderful flavor to foods when used in small amounts. Golden Boy Fish Sauce from Thailand is one brand I prefer, available on Decker in Korean supermarkets.

2/3 cup coconut milk
1/2 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted peanuts
1/2 tablespoon palm or cane sugar
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce or to taste
1/4 teaspoon lime juice

Place one-half of the coconut milk in a small saucepan and heat over moderate heat. Stir until the coconut is bubbly and fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the curry paste and keep stirring to prevent burning. Add the remaining coconut milk, peanut butter, water, chopped roasted peanuts, sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. Check for a nice balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavors. Makes about 1 cup.

Per 1 tablespoon: 45 calories, 4g fat (2g sat., 1g mono.), 0mg cholesterol, 67mg sodium, 2g carb., 0g fiber, 1g protein.

Recipe of Mai Pham, chef and owner of Lemon Grass in Sacramento, California.

Courtesy of the National Peanut Board

Peanut Soup

This delicious American soup recipe comes from King’s Arms Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg at Williamsburg, Virginia. Portions are served in small cups, never large bowls.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 celery stalk, trimmed and diced
1/2 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken stock, homemade or canned
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup light cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped roasted peanuts for garnish

1. Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery and onion and saute for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, or until onions are translucent. Turn the heat to low, and stir in the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

2. Whisk in the chicken stock, and bring to a boll. Simmer for 3 minutes, and then puree in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender.

3. Return the soup to the pan, and whisk in the peanut butter and cream. Heat over low heat until it reaches a simmer, then remove from the beet, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Garnish each serving with some chopped peanuts. Serves six.

Note: The soup can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered. Reheat over low heat.


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