Posts Tagged ‘food’
The word Gourmet is used to refer to the fancier grade, cut, or quality of many of the foods and beverages we consume. Gourmet foods and drinks have long been associated as the regular fare for the rich and famous who can afford the higher pricing that often accompanies many of these finer food and beverage versions. Coffee is a beverage that has been available in cheap, regular and gourmet versions for a long time and the consumption rate of coffee among people from around the world continues to increase every year. Gourmet coffee may have once only been served in the finest dining establishments and found being served mostly in the homes of the upper class, but gourmet coffee is widely available and affordable to a variety of people and is found in a variety of settings today.
Coffee is made from coffee beans which are found within the berries that develop and ripen on a number of smaller evergreen bush plant species known as the Coffea plant. After ripening, coffee berries are harvested, and then undergo a processing which also includes drying them. It is the coffee beans that remain after the processing and drying of the coffee berries. The beans are then roasted to various degrees which cause them to change physically and in the tastes they produce. Finally, the coffee beans are grinded down into a fine consistency that is commonly known as coffee grounds, and packaged and shipped to destinations around the world where consumers can buy and brew coffee grounds to make coffee in commercial, hospitality, institutional, and residential settings. Some people prefer to grind their own coffee beans before brewing them for coffee. Packaged coffee beans that have not been ground can be purchased in stores and ground using the grinding mills that are made available in most of the stores selling them, but also with grinding machines in the home.
The two most commercially grown species of the coffea plant that produce the coffee beans used to make the coffee that the world’s population consumes, are Robusta and Arabica. Gourmet coffee is made from the top tier coffee beans from the arabica coffea plant. These top tier arabica coffea plants are typically grown at very high altitudes (above 3000ft) with ideal soil and climate conditions. The coffee beans produced have fuller flavors, are more aromatic, and have less caffeine in them than other varieties of coffee beans such as Robustas. The coffee beans of arabica coffea plants grown at lower altitudes are still noted among consumers as having richer flavors than the flavors produced by Robusta coffee beans, but it is only the top tier arabica coffee beans that are considered to be Gourmet, and thereby from which gourmet coffee is derived.
Coffee bean grounds and coffee beans that have not been grinded down need to be stored in air-tight containers and kept cool in order to protect them from losing their flavor. The containers that coffee is typically sold in are not the most ideal for storing coffee for a long period of time. When you arrive home after purchasing coffee grounds at the store, consider transferring the fresh coffee grounds to appropriate storage containers to extend its shelf life and full flavor.
Coffee can be brewed in many ways such as boiling, pressuring, and steeping. Most of us brew our coffee using automatic coffee brewing machines and percolators which use gravity to pull hot water through coffee grounds where the hot water mixed with the oils and essences of the coffee grounds empties into a liquid holding container below. Filters are used to keep coffee granules from being emptied into the carafe or liquid holding container from which the brewed coffee can then be served from because most people do not want to drink the coffee granules. Coffee granules can be very bitter once the flavor able oils and essences have been removed through the brewing process. Plants and flowers love coffee grounds though for anybody who is looking for a greener alternative of what to do with coffee grounds after brewing instead of just throwing them in the trash.
Of course, Gourmet coffee beans are only the beginning to creating a truly gourmet coffee experience for many gourmet coffee drinkers. Some people are quite content with drinking their gourmet coffee black, without adding anything like milk, creamer, sugar or other sweeteners or flavorings, to their coffee. While many others want to enhance their gourmet coffee and drinking experience with tasty additions like milk that is whipped into a froth, sweeteners, and mixing in other flavors like chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, and mint, to name just a few. Big name coffee chains sell a wide variety of gourmet coffee with different tasty additions and flavors to appeal to gourmet coffee lovers. However, brewing gourmet coffee at home is usually much cheaper, and you can add what you want to your coffee to satisfy your refined, gourmet tastes.
Most people have a general idea how many calories they consume when it comes to solid foods, although it is quite common to forget that when we drink, we are still consuming calories. Alcohol drinkers, especially wine drinkers, may be surprised at the calorie intake associate with wine. So how many calories are in wine?
The answer depends on your discernment. Most wines come in under the 100 calorie mark per glass. This is assuming that you are using the appropriate wine glasses. There are fewer calories in wine than most other alcoholic beverages. White Zinfandel and Sauvignon blanc come in at 80 calories per serving. Considering that one glass of wine per evening is good for cardiovascular health, this can be a reasonable compliment to an evening meal.
Marsala also weighs in at a mere 80 calories per serving while Chablis is a mild 85 calories. Red Zinfandel as well as the majority of other popular wines, comes in at 90 calories per serving. Riesling, Chardonnay, White Burgundy, and Cabernet Sauvignon all round out at 90 calories per 4 ounce serving. Topping it off with just 5 additional calories you can sip Red Burgundy, Red Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Merlot, Rhone, or Rose.
Considering that most people have more than just one glass, the remaining wines are considered to be a little heftier in calorie count. While a single 4 ounce serving may only add about 100 calories to an evening, those who drink wine regularly tend to do so with a certain amount of vigor, consuming between 3 and 5 glasses in an average evening.
Wines such as Mosell, Pink Champagne, and Chianti contain 100 calories preserving while Sangria and Sauterne climbs that calorie ladder by and additional ten calories. Dry Champagne meets them in the middle at 105 calories.
It’s not just about the calories in wine when trying to maintain a low calorie lifestyle and still participate fully in social events or a romantic evening. Some calories are easier to burn while others are easier to store. Wine comes from fruit which is a form of sugar. The sugar in wine, even dry wines, makes the calories a bit harder to burn off. Sugar that comes from fruit is a natural and healthy energy, although once the fruit has been fermented, the sugar content raises and becomes more fructose-like than its original form.
Other wines weigh in much heavier in the calorie counting battle. Muscatel comes in at 160 as does Madeira. Tokay sneaks up to 165 while White Port hits 170. Ruby Port tops the list at 185.
Now, keeping in mind that an average gin and tonic comes in around 280 calories and that most frozen delectable alcoholic drink can average 800 calories or above, wine is certainly a low calorie choice given the options.
And of course we are all familiar with a “beer gut,” which is never referred to as a “wine gut.” Regular beer can be anywhere from 140 to 200 calories per 12 ounce serving and light beer weighs in on average around 100 calories. The conception that light beer means that it is calorie free has produced a high level of sales for the lighter version of the basic favorites. In no way are these beers saving on significant calories. Not to mention they are filled with empty calories.
It is perfectly possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle and still enjoy the occasional evening out or a couple glasses of wine with dinner. The wine drinker is fortunate as the calorie count in most wines do not necessarily call for large alterations to diets in order to enjoy a few drinks. For the occasional social wine drinker, cutting out about 100 calories per meal during the few days before a social event will help to keep a solid daily average. The calories in wine are low enough that most people can simply cut out the desserts offered at the social event and just one or two lighter calorie meals preceding the event. For daily wine drinkers, skimping a few calories out of every meal will allow for basically normal eating and avoid the build up of additional calories.
Skipping meals before a social event is not likely to keep the calorie count down. In fact, it is likely to raise the overall calorie count for the evening, as alcohol in any form lowers blood glucose levels and tells the brain to signal to the body that it is experiencing hunger. A few drinks in the system and what would normally be a decision based on health becomes a decision based on a lack of willpower or the attitude that “it’s only one night, it can’t hurt to throw my cautions to the wind!” Which can be true, but in most cases those who are trying to maintain a low calorie diet are tempted to “make up” for their sinful evening by crash dieting the following two or three days which only creates yo-yo dieting.
The calories in wine can easily be adjusted for simply by keeping track of the basic consumption for each situation and adjusting by about 100 calories for each glass of wine. Unless someone is a continual and heavy wine drinker, the daily food consumption really shouldn’t suffer due to the alcohol consumption. If it is, then it is time to get some help.
When I first ate Chinese food in the UK in the 1970s, it was really quite unappealing. Everything came in a gloopy sauce and seemed to taste the same, due to the overuse of monosodium glutamate, supposedly a flavour enhancer but in reality, nothing of the kind. Then in the 1980s a new breed of Chinese restaurant arrived (at least it took that long to reach the provinces) which provided lighter, tastier Chinese cooking demonstrating regional differences. There was one drawback, however, which was that this new type of restaurant was much more expensive than the original cheap ‘n tasteless ones. Consequently, I thought how nice it would be to cook Chinese food at home but I had no idea where to start until BBC TV came to my rescue in the shape of Ken Hom, the USA-born chef of Cantonese parents.
Ken presented Chinese cuisine in such an easily-understandable way, demonstrating techniques and suggesting alternative ingredients should the originals not be available in your local supermarket. The book which accompanied the series, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery became my bible and I still have my copy, pages stained with oil drips and smears of sauce.
To help you on your way to cooking Chinese food at home, I’m going to briefly describe the basic equipment, ingredients and techniques which you need to know so that you can produce some simple and tasty dishes. I hope you enjoy the article and that it inspires you to get cooking!
Although there are many implements and pieces of equipment you can buy, to start on the road to cooking your own Chinese food, you really only need a good knife or two and a wok. Woks come in all shapes and sizes, they can be non-stick, flat-bottomed, they can even be electric these days but I still prefer my old carbon steel wok with it’s rounded bottom and one wooden handle. This is a Pau wok. These are readily available in Chinese supermarkets and are much less expensive than other varieties. There is one important task though, before you will be ready to cook with such a wok and that is to season it. You will need to scrub it with a cream cleaner to remove any residues of machine oil and dry it carefully. Put the wok on the hob over a low heat. Rub the inside of the wok with two tablespoons of cooking oil using kitchen towel. Let the wok heat slowly for 10 to 15 minutes then wipe the inside with more kitchen towel. The paper will come away black. Carry on coating, heating and cleaning off until the kitchen towel comes away clean. Your wok is now ready to use. After use, wash only in water without detergent and dry thoroughly over a low heat. You may also apply a little oil if you wish. This should prevent the wok from rusting but if it does develop rust, just scrub and season again.
As well as the wok, you will need a wok stand, particularly if you have an electric hob. This keeps the wok stable if you are using it for braising or deep frying.
You will also need something to stir with – any spatula, slice or slotted spoon will do – metal for a metal wok and plastic or wooden for a non-stick wok.
Before you rush out and buy up the whole Chinese section at the supermarket, bear in mind that some ingredients don’t keep well if left unused. Just select something simple from your chosen cookery book and buy the things that you need for that then you can expand your selection as you progress through different dishes.
Some common store-cupboard ingredients that you will almost certainly need are dark and light soy sauce, some sort of cooking oil and sesame oil, cornflour and rice wine or sherry. For more information, see my article Chinese Cooking – Ingredients and Equipment.
The most well known Chinese cooking technique is stir-frying. This is where your wok comes into its own as it’s shape and size (at least 14 inches diameter with deep sides) is ideal for quick cooking. The secret to successful stir-frying is to have all your ingredients ready in advance.
Meat should be cut according to the recipe but normally in thin strips. Vegetables likewise but in any event should be of similar shapes and sizes to ensure even cooking. Long thin vegetables such as spring onions, carrots or asparagus are often cut on the diagonal so that more surface area is exposed for quicker cooking. Measure out sauce ingredients – check the recipe – if they are all added to the dish at the same time, you can put them all in one small bowl. If cornflour is included, don’t forget to give it a good stir before adding to the other food.
Once you have everything prepared, heat your wok until it is very hot then add oil and using your chosen stirring implement ensure that the oil is evenly distributed over the surface of the wok. Before you add your ingredients. the wok should be so hot that it is almost smoking – this will prevent the food from being greasy. The exception to this is if you are flavouring your oil with garlic, chilli, spring onions, ginger or salt – these will burn if the oil is too hot.
Now add your other ingredients in the order stated in the recipe and toss them over the surface of the wok ensuring that nothing rests in one place for too long and moving the food from the centre of the wok to the sides. I suggest that you wear an apron or other protective clothing for this operation as the food often spits due to the high temperature it is cooked at.
You can use your wok for deep frying but be very careful that it is safely balanced on its stand. Under no circumstances leave it unattended. Deep frying in a wok uses less oil than a deep fryer or saucepan but you may find these safer and easier to use.
When deep frying, make sure that the oil is hot enough before adding ingredients or the food will end up very greasy. Test it by dropping in a small piece of prepared food or a cube of bread. If the oil bubbles up around what you dropped in then it’s hot enough.
Make sure that food to be deep fried is dried thoroughly on kitchen paper or drained of its marinade before cooking otherwise it will spit.
This is the same as the Western technique. Fry food on one side, then the other and drain off any excess oil before adding sauce ingredients. A normal frying pan is fine for this.
Steaming is widely used in Chinese cookery. You can use a bamboo steamer in a wok, a heat-proof plate placed on a rack in a wok or other large pan or you can use a normal European steamer.
If using a bamboo steamer or plate in a wok, bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer. Put your rack into the wok (if the bamboo steamer is big enough and will sit on the sides of the wok without being in the water, you don’t need a rack) and balance your plate or steamer of food on it. Put the lid on your steamer or wok and check occasionally to see if the water needs topping up (use water which is already hot).
Whichever method you use, make sure that the food is above the water level and isn’t getting wet.
As with Western cooking, braising is used for tougher cuts of meat and involves gentle cooking of meat and/or vegetables in flavoured stock. Red-braising is the technique where food is braised in a dark liquid such as soy sauce which gives the food a red/brown colour. This type of braising sauce can be frozen and re-used.