Food on Airlines: How foody are you?

To some, traveling by air comes with their occupation, some depend on it for work and with many being tourists whisked away on vacation. As the distance increases, so does the time on board. Along with the roaring engines and seat belts, comes the crew and the food on airlines. Beginning with the chocolates, nuts and burgers, airways are now providing a wide variety of food available to the business class, basically the ones willing to pay more. Some airlines have been expanding their menus extensively Pan-seared scallops, artichoke sauce with white truffle, crisp polenta and sugar snap peas are items from the menu Air France began serving to select business class passengers from February this year.


Food on airlines

Michel Roth is the latest Michelin-starred chef working with Air France to provide the highest paying passengers with quality cuisine.
He follows in the footsteps of fellow Frenchmen Joel Robuchon and Guy Martin. Top chefs like Michel Roth are the latest darlings of the airline industry. “It’s not about a gimmick or outdoing your competitors,” says Godwin Mak, marketing and communications manager, Air France and KLM. “It’s about keeping your customer satisfied”, a conversation on CNN.

David Hughes, a frequent corporate traveler, says he can’t imagine a situation where he would pick an airline based on the food.

“The main choice parameters for me are; safety, schedule, price, comfort and frequent flyer program — being treated as ‘special,’” he says.Hughes does concede that employing celebrity chefs can show the airline is “doing everything it can to treat you special, and we’re investing in you by splashing out on chefs who know what they’re talking about.”

Ekkebus says customer feedback indicates they’re enjoying the fine dining experience. The response to British Airway’s umami menus has also been extremely positive according to Tazzioli.

It’s one of the ways airlines are now trying to woo and retain their most valuable passengers.
KLM World Business Class has employed top international chef and culinary director at Michelin star Amber restaurant in Hong Kong, Richard Ekkebus.

Last year before the London Olympics, British Airways launched an in-flight menu for first and business class created by Heston Blumenthal and Michelin-star chef Simon Hulstone.

The Everyman Guide to Coffee

A Guide to Coffee

I’m pretty confident in calling myself a coffee connoisseur, though not is a coffee snob and the distinction between these two is crucial to my personal journey through coffee trails and errors that follows. Coffee snobs will drink only one type of coffee, one region of beans, one style of roasting, or even order from only one coffeehouse: the right coffeehouse.

I am both a full-blown caffeine addict and a man on a budget. When offered the perfect, slow filtered Ethiopian Arabica cup, I will accept with exceeding joy. When I need something in a large enough quantity to fill my pot every morning at home, I don’t hesitate to pick up the grocery store brand, $2.99-a-can dirt. The taste and nutrition value of my dark sludge are no match for my wallet. No matter what you drink, don’t sell yourself or your cup short. Here are some notes to keep in mind for sampling, judging, and understanding the murky waters of the dark cup:

Drink YOUR Coffee

A common adage among the upper-echelon of coffee drinkers is that the only way to truly taste and understand coffee is to drink it black. Coffee is not to be diluted with milk or sweetened with sugar. I wish these people luck on first dates.

I personally do in fact drink my coffee black and for me it is the best way to really taste the brew. But I do not believe it is the universal best way to drink coffee. When trying to decipher even the finest points of a particular blend’s aroma, strength, and flavor you have take your headspace and comfort level into account as much as the preparation and presentation of the cup.

coffee beans roasting
by Bloodthirsty Vegetarians

If black coffee is too bitter for your personal taste, you won’t be able to taste anything but the bitterness and that will become your one and only criteria for a good cup. Bitterness is important but if it’s all you can focus on you’ll be missing all the other factors that separate types of coffee, the sweetness of Arabica beans versus the earthiness of Robusta’s for example. Make your cup the way that will allow you the best chance of enjoying it and let the coffee prove itself to you, don’t try and prove yourself to the coffee.
Smell is Half the Battle

You can learn an enormous amount about what kind of coffee you’re drinking, where it comes from, and even how it was grown just from the smell alone. Most coffee sniffers divide coffee aromas into three important categories:

“Enzymatic” smells are the smells left over from the growing process and the fruit that the coffee bean is extracted from. Beans from Latin America are known for a fruitier scent while Ethiopian blends are commonly associated with a tangy, lemongrass aroma. Picking up a hint of tomato or tartness? Good bet Kenya was the birthplace of your bean

– “Sugar browning” smells are the chemical byproducts of roasting. The strange term borrowed from the chemical reaction that turns your white bread into dark toast or clean sugarcane into dark caramel. These smells will be the level and nature of the sweetness in your coffee; toasted nuts, barley, even cocoa hints are produced by sugar browning.

“Dry distillation” smells are also byproducts of the roasting process, but these are the physical or environmental smells that creep in. These smells will be those most commonly associated with coffee, the burnt or bitterness it seems to give off.
There’s no correct balance or level of any of these smells but knowing what it is you’re smelling and why can help you differentiate between those cups that you just can’t quite put your finger on what it is you like or hate about it and stop you from making the same mistake twice.

Coffee Addiction vs. Enjoyment

The official term for the moment a novice coffee drinker becomes baptized into the church of specialty coffee—yes there is an official term—is the “God-Shot Moment.” Euphoria, mystery, and thirst for knowledge about the drink as strong as your need for an actual sip are all common symptoms that you’re having a God-Shot Moment. But this is a one-time deal though many think the best coffee for them is the one that gives them this feeling over and over.

Coffee Addiction
By Arthur Clark

If you find yourself feeling euphoric and relieved by your first sip day in and day out, you may or may not have found a great coffee, but you’ve definitely found a caffeine addiction. Too often, people get hooked on a particular blend before they’ve even had a chance to question what, if anything, they like about it. If you find yourself on vacation or even just in a rush one morning with no time to make your own brew, you may find yourself with nowhere to turn to know what’s going to do the trick for you and what’s going to leave a bitter or burnt taste in your mouth. Make sure you are caffeinated enough before trying a new kind of coffee (though not so much so that you get the shakes after a few sips) to be able to go for the taste, not the fix.

Bearing these three points in mind will help you begin your journey to research and learn about the kinds of coffee you can encounter at all ends of the price spectrum and what each of them says about your tastes as a fine connoisseur of common gold.

Alternative Christmas Dinners from Around the World

Alternative Christmas Dinners

It seems like our choice of Christmas dinner can say so many things about us. Each year, January through November, my grandmother mentioned our English and Welsh heritage once, maybe twice. Living in the Southern US and descended from West Virginian coal miners, we knew that having a British Isles background wasn’t exactly a rarity. When the time came around for her annual Christmas Dinner, however, she was suddenly quite boastful of her heritage, and was adamant that we will not have a stereotypical American Christmas. It was time for a traditional Christmas dinner of standing rib roast of beef, Yorkshire pudding, and potatoes, finished off with a trifle.

Christmas dinner preparations 1931
By Mears, E.H.; Contributor(s): The Queenslander [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Whether you’re an ancestral-opportunist like my grandmother, or just someone who is tired of the same old Christmas dinner they’ve had for years, these Christmas dinners from around the world will be sure to change up your meal-time. These foods vary drastically from country to country, and can be closely linked to the particular rituals and traditions that are carried out during the holiday. You’ll be saying “Hyvää Joulua!”, or “Nadolig Llawen!” and eating Pavlova or drinking glögi in no time!

It’s almost impossible to talk about Christmas without mentioning Finland—according to Finns, Santa Claus lives in Lapland! A theme park called “Christmas Land” is situated near where they say he lives, delighting Finns and tourists alike. Needless to say, the Christmas holiday is very important to Finns. On Christmas Eve, rice pudding and plum juice are consumed in the morning, followed by tree decorating. That night, a large display of food called a Joulupöytä, or “Yule Table,” is set up for the traditional Christmas dinner. The Joulupöytä consists of foods such as Christmas ham and mustard, salted salmon and whitefish, various types of pickled herring, and an assortment of casseroles. Liver, potato, rutabaga, carrot, and turkey are just a few of the ingredients you might find in the number of casseroles on this table. For dessert, Finns might have gingerbread, rice pudding or porridge topped with cinnamon, sugar, and milk. Glögi, or glogg, is a mulled wine and quite popular in Scandinavia; it is drunk along with Christmas beer, red wine, or even sour milk!

If you’ve ever wished for more desserts at Christmas, then I would suggest moving to Provence! This region in France practices a tradition called the “Thirteen Desserts,” in which Christmas dinner ends with not one, not two, but thirteen dessert items. Representing the twelve apostles and Jesus Christ, these desserts are set out on Christmas Eve and will remain on the table for three days. As different regions of France have different types of terrain and harvest yield, Christmas dinner varies as well. These meals can include anything from oysters, smoked salmon, and foie gras, to goose, crëpes, and chestnut-stuffed turkey.

Other desserts from France include le pain calendeau, a Christmas bread from the south of France, part of which traditionally goes to a poor person, and the bûche de Nõel, a log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. But nothing says going overboard for Christmas like thirteen desserts!

Some countries historically affiliated with colonial English rule still maintain a great deal of English tradition in their Christmas dinners, but at the same time, some dishes are created that are fully unique to their country. For example, in New Zealand, a lighter-than-air, meringue-based dessert called Pavlova is served. Have you ever heard of the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova? It is believed that the dessert was created after she toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. Pavlova is made from beaten egg whites and corn flour, which gives the dessert a crisp outer shell and a soft, marshmallow-like inside.

Additionally, Pavlova is often topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit such as kiwi, passionfruit, or strawberries. Although Pavlova is eaten throughout the year, especially during the summertime, a Christmastime Pavlova can be topped with Chantilly cream and pomegranate seeds to display a holiday festiveness.

Photo By Gui Seiz (Flickr Creative Commons)

Fish soup is a common Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal in many Eastern European countries. In the Czech Republic, for example, Christmas Fish Soup is Vánocní Rybí Polévka, is made with carp, onion, and other vegetables, and is eaten on Christmas Eve. In Hungary, hot and spicy “Fisherman’s Soup,” or halászlé, served with lots and lots of paprika. In Poland, fish soup is served in addition to zupa grzybowa, a forest mushroom soup, and żurek, a soup made of soured rye flour and meat (usually boiled pork sausage). Carp plays a big role in Christmas dinners across Poland, as well as other Eastern European countries.

Here it can be served as a fillet with potato salad, in aspic, or in soups. Pierogi are also served at this meal as well, filled with white cheese, potatoes, sauerkraut and forest mushrooms. A Polish Christmas can’t be complete without poppy seed cakes called makowiec, or a jam-filled pastry called mazurek.

Moving West, the common Christmas fish moves from Carp to Codfish—more specifically, to bacalhau in Portuguese. Technically, the word “bacalhau” simply means “codfish,”  although it is more often than not dried and salted. Along with cabrito assado and borrego assado (roasted goat and lamb) and polvo cozido (boiled octopus), a number of variant “King” or “Queen” cakes are baked. Bolo Rei is the original “King Cake,” and is a gorgeous, colorfully decorated fruitcake. Bolo-Rei Escangalhado, or “Broken King Cake” is a traditional Bolo Rei with cinnamon and doce de gila (chilacayote jam). Bolo-Rei de Chocolate is the chocolate version of the King Cake, and Bolo-Rainha is a “Queen Cake” that has only nuts, raisins and almonds. Finish these cakes off with vinho quente, or eggnog made from boiled wine, egg yolk, sugar, and cinnamon, and you’ve got one tasty Christmas!

Although we’ve only just scratched the surface of Christmas dinners from around the world, these dishes should give you some ideas of the variety of traditions that exist in other countries. Whether you celebrate on Christmas Eve or Day, whether you have fish as a soup, or salted and dried, or whether you name your dish after a famous Russian ballerina, you are sure to create wonderful memories with your family as you try out new Christmas traditions!

The Skinny on Shiitake

Shiitake mushrooms seem a mundane option within the salad bar and grocery store, but people who select this fungus eat wisely. They aren’t only enjoying great chow- they’re enjoying one of nature’s most nutritious offerings.

See, shiitake mushrooms are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and chemicals that boost the immune system, fight cancer, and improve organs. Not only that, shiitake do one other thing- keep you ripped. That’s a whole lotta benefits packed into an edible, most particularly one that grows on rot.

Shii-watza? (Background)

Shiitake were first cultivated in the Far East upwards of 3 millennia ago. Believed to facilitate vital energy, medicinal experts throughout China, Korea, and elsewhere prescribed dried or powdered shiitake for many ailments, including fatigue, respiratory problems, and cancer. Already a food common from Thailand to Japan, plenty of ailing patients readily upped shiitake intake during meals, not to mention used the dried and powdered forms.

The ‘shroom is quite easy to grow. So long as a fallen tree is near a log with shiitake mushrooms or spores, there’s a good chance the fungus will spread. Traditional Japanese shiitake farming consists of merely downing shii trees and placing these close to vegetation already facilitating shiitake.

shiitake mushrooms

Currently, shiitake farming is a big business. Many farms grow the mushrooms from sawdust and other organic compounds. Those that want to avoid such origins grow their own, usually with the aid of ready-made kits. Be warned though- the growth process can take upwards of two years.

Shiitaki: Lean, Mean, and Eritadenine (Muscle Benefits)

Shiitake don’t exactly replace the whey protein shake. While filling thanks to its fiber, this fungus is primarily good for cutting fat. In fact, shitake is very effective at cutting fat- just check out this recent study conducted at University of Wollongong, Australia. The research group fed four groups of rats a high fat diet along with a certain amount of shiitake supplements. Those rats that received the highest amount of shiitake also had the lowest weight gain, around 1/3 less than rats fed the fatty diet without shiitake. That’s both visceral and adipose fat, folks. The study hypothesized three reasons why shiitake might be such an effective weight suppressor:

Lentinan – Shiitake is rich in beta glucans. In fact, the mushroom is practically 30% of the stuff. This fiber is widely known for being tough to digest, if digestible at all. The end result is the stomach being less effective at absorbing fats.

Enzymes– Rich in lipoprotein enzymes, shiitake may reduce nonesterified fatty acid- a chemical widely known for contributing to fat gain within adipose tissue.

Eritadenine– This chemical that potentially prevents the liver’s release of triacylglycerol, a chemical used to break down fats. Shiitake has plenty of eritadenine. If the body can’t break down the given food then it’s discarded as refuse and ends in the toilet.

Regardless of why shiitake works to prevent weight gain, one thing is certain- the fungus is good for something. Looking to maximize lifting capability? Don’t go shiitake. Looking to show off sinew? Go shiitake- and after one serving go ahead and eat some more. The best part? Based on the study, people can moderately indulge. Shiitake doesn’t exactly provide an excuse for clocking through a pint of ice-cream, but nothing really does. Seriously, don’t be gross. That voiced, the mushroom apparently does prevent the worse of adipose weight gain.

Shiitake & Your Health (Other Benefits)

Shiitake has been long revered in East Asian culture for good reason. As mentioned, shiitaki is an excellent source for nutrition and lots of benefits:

Cholesterol- Looking to live longer but not willing to sacrifice hamburger? Consume shiitake en mass. Eritadenine not only prevents weight gain, but also fights bad cholesterol. Those dealing with the likes of thrombosis should definitely make this mushroom part of their daily diet, as it also helps against blood clots and the like. While no excuse to indulge in saturated fats, shiitake lowers cholesterol like no other.

Immunity– That same lentinan which potentially stunts weight gain provides a major boost for the immune system. Those who eat shiitake can feel assured their nutritional staple is suspected to be more effective than most antibiotics at dealing with everything from HIV to influenza.

Iron– A mighty mineral, iron is necessary for our blood and energy. Those dealing with iron deficiency anemia would do well to include shiitake mushrooms in their diet.

Cancer- Lentinan not only boosts the immune system, but also helps prevent cancerous tumors from developing. Overall, studies demonstrate that cancer patients administered lentinan survive longer and feel better.

Shiitake Intake Options & Problems (Shiitake Supplements & Risks)

Shiitake aren’t exactly truffles, but they aren’t cheap either. Those serious about shiitake can find supplements that range from 500 mg to 1000. The supplements aren’t candy, though. Too much of any mineral, vitamin, or acid is either useless or bad for you, shiitake included. Most particularly, overdoing shiitake can result in:

shiitake cultivation

Gout– Shiitaki contains purines, which is broken down to form uric acid, a known cause of gout. Those susceptible to purines or already dealing with gout should steer clear of shiitake, but it would take an incredibly large amount of the fungus to give someone this ailment.

Kidney Stones- Like gout, kidney stones can result from uric acid. Also like gout, it takes a whole lot of shiitake to develop kidney stones. However, those already dealing with the issue would do best to avoid the fungus.

Dermatitis– Shitake can also result in temporary dermatitis. Generally, this results if lots of shiitake is consumed undercooked or raw. Lentinan causes the rash, which is too bad- as mentioned, it’s a known immunity booster, tumor buster, and fat fighter. Such reactions are rare. In fact, it’s suspected that only 2% of the population should avoid uncooked shiitake.

All in all, most anybody can enjoy shiitake or take supplemental extracts. Just know your preexisting conditions- but seriously, who doesn’t notice something like gout?

There’s Something Fishy in Tokyo – Tsukiji market

The wondrous Tsukiji market

When westerners get in their cars every morning, it’s safe to say very few think actively and empathetically for the assembly-line workers who built the machine; the burns, cuts, or scars production may have caused them, or even their deteriorating health from years in factory life. The same could be said for construction workers who build our homes, or even the ER nurses working forty-eight hour shifts to make sure we are healthy. What doesn’t fit into this category, what is increasingly scorned and mourned publicly, is the toll that is taken on all those associated with the food we eat. We have become, on a general level, much more conscious of what goes into our bodies and how it gets there.

Who is harmed or treated unfairly to put this slab on our plate? How are the original sources (the cows, pigs, and yes even the soil contaminated to make vegetables grow larger and quicker) being abused? These issues surround no one food source more than the Japanese fish trade, which in Tokyo at least comes to a head as a world-renown destination and darkly-viewed ground zero for these issues.

Tsukiji market  Tuna

This issue is so vast, and our time to travel and explore is often so limited that we’ll restrict our view into Tokyo as a travel destination and learning opportunity through the eyes of my personal favorite kind of fish: sushi. One of the first things you’ll notice, or at least should be on the look out for, is how much of the fresh authentic sushi that you’ll find in almost any restaurant is more likely to have been caught ten miles from your home than it was even one hundred miles from your restaurant.

Nearly a quarter of all Bluefin tuna imported into Japan comes from the United States, and that’s just one fish. The sushi trade has been as lauded as it’s been criticized for it’s comparatively pure reliance on supply and demand. As governments have more and more protected the Bluefin tuna, its demand has gone up. Early this year, one Bluefin sold at the famous Tsukiji fish market auction for $1.8 million USD.

But this is meant to encourage your exploration, not discourage your sense of what makes Tokyo sushi authentic. The Tsukiji market’s Outer-Market is loaded with retailors for personal consumption while the auctions and wholesale trade takes place in the Inner-Market. Browsing through the market it seems there are two ways of seeing the fish before you: you can hold firm to the irrationality of these tuna flown in from New England to sell to locals, as well as New England tourists, a food that forty years ago was considered disgusting by most Americans and Europeans.

Or you can see what is still beautiful about the Japanese relationship to these fish. Many of the markets that import from around the world send “tuna techs” as they are known to New England, Spain, Croatia, and the other tuna exporting countries to teach fisherman how to properly catch, cut, and determine which fish are of the proper quality to be sold at Tsukiji. It may seem neurotic or controlling but it is neither. It comes from a place of pride and respect for the fish and consumers alike.

Auctioneer at Tsukiji market

Locals and in-the-know activists will surely have their own views on where to travel to get the “truth” about the international fish trade but for curious travelers and non-ideological investigators, Tokyo should be embraced specifically for the range of views one can take away from it. Moving beyond the market, an important part of any investigatory trip is to view your subject “in action.”

The small restaurants Daisho Siusan, Tonsui, and Sushi Sawada are frequently praised as the best of the more traditional end of the sushi spectrum. Also make sure to carve out some time to visit restaurants featuring the distinctly Japanese, kaitenzushi method of serving. Also known as “conveyor belt sushi” these restaurants often have no menus and very few servers.

Instead a long conveyer belt with plates of one or two pieces of sushi roves its way throughout the restaurant and patrons pick and choose the bites they want. The plates are often colored different to represent the price of each piece. This is as entertaining an experience as it is eye opening.

The lack of westernized sushi entrees like the ubiquitous  Sushi/Sashimi Combination For Two is reflective of the respect for the fish themselves and the food as its own cultural institution. Sushi is to be savored not merely ingested.
More “contemporary” approaches to the cuisine can be found almost anywhere but I recommend seeking out those who hold as true as possible to the ancient ethos of sushi culture to get the best understanding of how this fish is regarded and, perhaps, why some are willing to do almost anything to keep it available.  The catching and trading of sushi-grade fish is not a perfect system but not all those involved with the trade are out to do harm to consumers or the fish themselves. It’s a complex relationship that is best understood on the personal level.

Spending time at the Tsukiji market and taking several hours to eat one piece at a time will if nothing else bring you closer to understanding, if not totally approving of, the journey these fish take throughout our physical and cultural lives. And for many, that is precisely what sushi in Tokyo is all about.

There’s Something Fishy in Tokyo (And It’s American Made)

By T.S. Allen

Do You Think You’ve Had Kobe Beef?

What is it about Kobe Beef?

How much will you pay for a good piece of steak? Thirty, forty, fifty dollars? Imagine paying five hundred dollars for the chance to consume the most prized steak in the world! In Japan, only beef from a special breed of cow from a remote, isolated region can make Kobe beef, the most prized beef in the world. You may think you’ve had Kobe beef, but odds are, if you had it outside of Japan, it was only “Kobe-style” beef, as importation from Japan is almost impossible! What’s so special about Kobe beef? Why do chefs and foodies pay over one hundred dollars a pound for the chance to taste it?

To create this special, expensive type of beef, the Tajima type of Wagyu cattle are raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture (whose capital is Kobe), according to a strict tradition. As the bloodline of the Wagyu cattle developed in this region isolated breeding, prized genetic characteristics developed as well. The main reason why Kobe beef is so prized is its distinctive flavor and intramuscular fat—called “marbling,” which stems from these genetic predispositions as well as distinctive rearing techniques. Tajima cattle are genetically predisposed to a high percentage of oleaginous saturated fat, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which contributes to the marbling of the beef. Because of the isolated areas in which the cattle are raised, they are not able to exercise on such a limited availability of land. To prevent stiffness, soreness, and to induce hunger during the humid season, the cattle’s muscles are massaged. The ranchers also rub the cattle’s hides with sake, as it is often believed that soft hides produce a more tender meat.

Additionally, beer or sake is sometimes added to their feeding regimen. As a result of this careful, attentive breeding and rearing tradition, the meat from the cattle has an enhanced flavor, a good “mouthfeel,” and a tenderness and juiciness that some say cannot be beat. As most foodies know, the flavor of a steak isn’t in the meat itself, but in the fat of the cut, and when steak is marbled like a Kobe beef steak, you can only imagine the level of flavor. While delicious tasting, Kobe beef is also a great source of vitamins and nutrients.

The higher levels of good fatty acids protect you from heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s Disease, and many more ailments.

If you happen to get a hold of some Kobe beef, it is of utmost importance that it is prepared correctly. A steak of Kobe beef are best cooked rare, and should never be served above medium rare in order to achieve maximum flavor. Many hotpot Japanese restaurants are even serving slices of raw Kobe beef to be cooked lightly in the steaming water. Any quick-searing technique like a stir-fry is also recommended. There are many different ways in which you can cook Kobe beef, but the one rule remains clear and certain: do not overcook it, as it loses that intense flavor the more the beef is cooked through.

Kobe wagyu cattle
Photo By Tavallai (Flickr creative commons)

Kobe beef, however, rarely leaves the country of Japan (in fact, it’s illegal in the US!), and the prices are quite steep. In the US, we understand that meat ratings go from “Select,” to “Choice,” to “Prime”—however, in Japan, Kobe beef is actually ranked “Platinum,” at least two grades higher than Prime. Additionally, in order to be considered “Kobe beef,” there are certain conditions that must be fulfilled:

1. The cattle must be Tajima cattle( you may see Wagyu  references, meaning japanese Cow) and must be born and farm-fed in the Hyogo Prefecture,

2. they must be a steer, or bullock (ie., a castrated bull);

3. they must be processed at slaughterhouses in KobeNishinomiyaSandaKakogawa and Himeji in the Hyogo Prefecture,

4. their marbling ratio, or BMS, must be level 6 and above, and a Meat Quality Score of 4 or 5, and

5. the gross weight of beef from one animal must be 470 kg or less.

One may wonder, with all of these restrictions, whether or not Kobe beef is worth all the money and hype. Some say that Kobe beef is quite similar to the ambiguity of quality in US Angus beef—that the genetics of the breed doesn’t always dictate the quality. Those who disagree say that the taste is all in the preparation, and that, if cooked wrong, one could lose the delicacy of the beef. However, this matter is continually up for debate, and restaurants outside of Japan have had a massive increase of mislabeled beef and faux “Kobe-style” beef (taken from Wagyu cattle crossbred with Angus cattle) to meet high demands in the US and around the world. Recently, programs have begun  to will eventually allow limited quantities of Wagyu beef to be purchased.

If these programs are successful, and if this type of market is profitable for the Kobe cattle industry, it may become possible for Americans to have not just “Kobe-style” beef, but Kobe beef itself. Only then will you be able to take part in the debate!

A Serving Of Scottish Rumbledethumps

Scottish Rumbledethumps

What do you do with your leftovers? Are they lost forever in your freezer? Is there a lovely frozen meal in your work refrigerator right now, just waiting to be eaten for lunch? In Scotland, leftovers don’t have to include zip-top bags, or sodium-saturated (but flavor-deficient!) frozen meals. In comes Rumbledethumps—what a name, for such a dish! Did you know that the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, named Rumbledethumps as his favorite dish? Rumbledethumps is a traditional cabbage and potato dish originally from the Scottish borders, most often made from left over potatoes, cabbage or swede (otherwise known as a turnip). It is even often made using leftovers from a Sunday roast meal.

The name “Rumbledethumps” actually comes from that rumbling noise in the kitchen and in the pot as the dish is being prepared. Think about it—the knocking and thumping of preparing potatoes and cabbage can’t be a silent process! Different countries have their own version of this comfort food, the most popular being England’s Bubble and Squeak, and Ireland’s Colcannon. It is often said that the best thing about Scottish Rumbledethumps is that, even as it can be made from leftovers, it ends up lending itself to many more leftovers as well! It is even a dish that can be made the day before, only to be heated up for lunchtime the next day!

There are a few different ways to prepare Rumbledethumps, and involve variant processes, since the making of the dish necessarily depends on what is left over. However, the traditional baking of this dish involves mixing chopped, boiled cabbage, and mashed potatoes (or “tatties”!) into a buttered frying pan. Cook this mixture gently for a few minutes so that the cabbage and potatoes are softened, but not brown. Sometimes the cabbage can also be fried without the mashed potatoes, only to be combined with the potatoes in the final baking process.

At this point, the mixture is most often covered with a sharp, white, cheddar cheese and placed into a covered, oven-proof dish, to be baked for about thirty minutes in a 350 °F/180°C oven. Sometimes it is simply served as is, without baking.

The different processes can have different end results, as you can imagine. Sometimes it’s more of a stew, and sometimes it’s a pie in itself, similar to Shepherd’s Pie. Either way, you can serve it piping hot, or save it for tomorrow’s lunch at the office, or to feed your hungry family the following night. It can be eaten on its own, as it is quite hearty, but it is also often paired as a side dish with meat, or even with a fried egg on top. Many Scots even pair it with another traditional dish, Haggis! The beauty of Rumbledethumps lies inherently in how simple it is—there are an almost infinite number of variations to the dish, depending on your tastebuds! You can add crispy bacon, leeks, spring onions, or even spices like nutmeg grated on top.  The choice is yours! If you’re in need of a recipe, here is one sure to put the “comfort” in “comfort food”:

Rumbledethumps Ingredients:

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced-about 8 cups

2 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped chives

1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz.)

Rumbledethumps

Directions:
1. Butter an 8 cup baking dish.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F.

3. Cook cabbage in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes.

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cabbage to a bowl.

5. Return water to a boil and add potatoes.

6. Cook until tender.

7. Drain and return potatoes to the pot.

8. Add butter and mash potatoes.

9. Mix in chives and then cabbage.

10. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

11. Spoon mixture into prepared dish.

12. Sprinkle with cheese.

13. Bake about 35 minutes until cheese bubbles.

Alternatively, a dish called Kailkenny is a form of Rumbledethumps from Aberdeen, that replaces the butter in the recipe with cream. Other potato dishes that are quite similar to the simplicity of Rumbledethumps include Clapshot and Stovies from Scotland, Pyttipanna from Norway (or Pyttipannu in Finland), Trinxat from the Catalonian region of Spain, Roupa Velha from Portugal, or Stoemp from Belgium. As you can tell, pairing potatoes with greens is quite common no matter what country you’re from!

So, the next time you’re in a leftover rut, or can’t think of what to do with all of those mashed potatoes you have left over, make sure to think of Scotland and its simply-designed, family-friendly, variation-happy, Rumbledethumps!

Alternative Breakfasts from Around the World

Photo By Miia Ranta.

Good morning! Or, should I say in Finnish, “hyvää huomenta”? Morning, and subsequently breakfast, are my favorite times of the day.

Given enough time to indulge in the ritual that is breakfast, I will have had three cups of coffee, and wasted upwards of two hours watching DVR episodes of House Hunters or Gilmore Girls before I knew it. There’s nothing better than getting that precious amount of time, no matter how small, to fuel up and prepare for the day.  When I travel, my favorite moments are usually during breakfast as well—a gossip session with recently reunited friends over tea and muesli can end up taking four hours, if you do it right!

So go ahead, wrap yourself up in your favorite fluffy bathrobe and pour yourself a cup of coffee, because believe it or not, at any point in time, someone in the world is eating breakfast. And as you will see, the definition of breakfast changes with almost every country. Some see it as a sweet start to the day, whereas some prefer something more savory. Some breakfasts are large, involved dishes that fill you up for hours, and some are so small and unassuming

that eating while standing up is not only acceptable, it’s encouraged!

My first breakfast in Finland was a slow, coffee-filled event. The Finns are known for their coffee consumption, as well as their insistence on having “just one more!” cup before you go. The eating itself was substantial, and a little more savory than what I was used to. To start off, we assembled open-faced sandwiches of crisp bread, which were topped with cold cuts, cheese, and slices of cucumber. On the table sat a small plate with slices of hard boiled egg, a carton of plain yoghurt, and a small bowl of redcurrants. Almost every succeeding breakfast was exactly like this one, except for the later inclusion of my favorite breakfast dish, the Karelian pasty, traditionally from the Karelia region of Finland. It  had a potato filling (although many others are filled with rice), and was surrounded by a thin rye crust, pleated around the edges. We spread munavoi, a mixture of butter and hard-boiled egg, on top of the hot pie, and dug in.

Italian Breakfast
Photo By Nouhailler

 

By contrast, Italy treats breakfast in the simplest and sweetest of ways. Breakfast (colazione, in Italian) might even consist of a caffè e latte and little else! Additionally, it is often eaten out at one of many coffee bars, where cappuccino and paste can be conveniently eaten while standing at the bar counter. My Italian breakfast experience involved at-home events, and began with a wonderful pot of coffee made with the moka. Ever heard of breakfast cookies? They’re the Italian specialty, and my favorite part about breakfast! We had several bags of Mulino Bianco brand cookies (Pan di Stelle were my favorites) on the table, next to a jar of Nutella, ready to be eaten with a gusto!

 

German Breakfast
Photo By nayrb7

My friend from Berlin was fascinated by the relatively savory Finnish breakfast, as breakfast in Germany, like Italy, involves food a little on the sweeter side. Since the huge variety of breads (brötchen, or bread rolls) serve as the main vehicle for breakfast, toppings play a vital role in their happy consumption. There are many types of brötchen—white, rye and pumpernickel, sunflower, sesame—and these can be topped with the savory items like cold cuts and cheeses, but butter, jams, honey, and marmalade are also delicious toppers. Hamburg also boasts the Franzbrötchen for breakfast, which is a sweet roll made with honey and cinnamon. Hard boiled eggs show up in this breakfast as well, and if you don’t like sausage, perhaps German breakfast is not right for you! Wide varieties of sausage show up on a German breakfast table, as well as a preparation of minced, raw, spiced pork meat called Mett. Mettbrötchen, bread rolls with Mett spread on top, are delicious, and often served with diced or ringed raw onions.

 

Indian Breakfast - Poon Chani
Photo By ronancrowley

Breakfast in India, as you might guess, varies quite differently with each region. My favorite Indian breakfast, however, includes a savory southern dish called Dosa. Dosa is a fermented crepe-like structure, made from a rice and black lentil batter. It is a common street food, where the batter will be spooned onto a griddle greased with oil or ghee (clarified butter) and spread out evenly until it forms a pancake. Then, once flipped and heated on both sides so that the crust is dry, the pancake is removed from the griddle and served with vegetable or sauce fillings, or with a vegetarian side dish (such as sambar or chutney). The Masala Dosa, more recently invented, was named one of the top ten tastiest foods of the world last year, with good reason—here, the Dosa is stuffed with an onion and potato curry.

If it were up to me, I would have breakfast as every single one of my meals. Even though listing these typical breakfasts in Finland, Italy, Germany, and India doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of delectable and fascinating breakfasts from around the world, these sure give you something to think about.

At least you can be certain that they will get your stomach grumbling! Pardon me while I go on a search for some Mulino Bianco cookies…

Written by Gale Thompson

Sicilian Caponata

Caponata, a traditional dish of aubergine, onion, celery and tomatoes, is Sicily’s national dish, which, when made well, epitomizes Sicilian cooking.

Sicily is incredibly rich in fruit and vegetables, and the caponata illustrates the diversity of this island sitting at the crossroads of Italian and Arab cultures: Sicilians take great pride in the fact it is made with produce in such plentiful supply on their own island. With its beautiful rich red tones of tomato, it’s a vibrant, colourful dish that can be enjoyed hot or cold, but if staying true to its roots, should be eaten at room temperature.

Sicily is incredibly rich in fruit and vegetables, and the caponata illustrates the diversity of this island sitting at the crossroads of Italian and Arab cultures: Sicilians take great pride in the fact it is made with produce in such plentiful supply on their own island. With its beautiful rich red tones of tomato, it’s a vibrant, colourful dish that can be enjoyed hot or cold, but if staying true to its roots, should be eaten at room temperature.

To many with fond childhood memories of the dish, caponata is the ultimate comfort food, spooned straight from the bowl onto crisp bruschetta, tender, but not mushy. Some will remember eating it direct from little cans – Italian company Progresso’s canned caponata is an oily version of the classic dish that is certainly convenient, but can’t touch the homemade version.

Often mistakenly described as an aubergine stew, an authentic caponata is in fact a cooked salad, each individual ingredient clearly discernable. Made well, a good Sicilian caponata should have a lovely, creamy texture and a beautiful rainbow of colours, from the glossy purple skin of aubergine to the shiny red of the bell peppers and the ripe tomatoes. This slow, deliberate layering of many flavours requires time as well as patience, but it’s all worth it, transporting you to a late summer day gazing at the Ionian Sea.

Caponata utilises a traditional sweet and sour sauce used in the Italian kitchen, agro dolce (agro means sour, dolce, sweet), made with vinegar and sugar and believed to have been brought to Sicily many centuries ago by the Arabs. With the optional addition of olives, capers, basil, raisins and pine nuts to caponata, the Arab influence is clear.

The dish is thought to date from the ninth century, when the aubergine is believed to have been introduced to Sicily by the Saracens. Back then however it was not made with tomatoes, as they were brought over to Europe by the Spanish much later, in the 1500s; caponata in its current form has been a staple of southern Italy since the 18th-century.

The Sicilian caponata makes a great cold antipasto starter as well as a delicious main dish for vegetarians, but is typically served today as a side dish for fish dishes. It’s also an ideal bet for a dinner party, as you can easily make it the night before and the flavours just keep on getting better when left overnight.

A versatile vegetable, the aubergine should however be treated with tender care. If you can, try to find a nice, firm one with few or no seeds, and don’t cut the pieces too small. Always let the salted, cubed aubergine sit for a while before you start cooking; some people leave it an hour, others manage with less. The aubergine has a tendency to soak up the olive oil like a sponge, but try not to let it absorb too much, as it will become too heavy and lose its creamy flavour and firm texture.

Enjoy a good caponata, hot or cold, with fresh, crusty Italian bread or another regional favourite, polenta.

Sicilian Caponata Photo By Massimoweb – Creative Commons License