Monday, March 29, 2004

The "Ask Alyce" question of the day:
What's the difference between black and white pepper?

Well, both are berries from the same tropical plant. The black are picked when not quite ripe, and dried. There are many varieties available, from the common plain "black peppercorn" to Tellicherry or Szechwan, both of which are more flavorful than the common grocery variety.

The white are ripe berries that are soaked in water, with the hull, or dark outer covering, rubbed off before drying. Although there is a difference in taste (I personally prefer the taste of the black, a bit more pungent than the white), the bigger difference is aesthetic: many chefs think the white pepper looks better than black on light-colored dishes, such as cream sauces, poached or baked fish, or light meats.

As long as we're talking about peppercorns, we might as well talk about the green ones, which are the very under-ripe berries, usually preserved in brine, although they are also available freeze-dried. And pink peppercorns aren't peppercorns at all, but from a completely different plant. Pungent and slightly sweet, they too are available either brine-packed or in the more common freeze-dried form.

Whatever your choice, all peppercorns are best freshly ground. I have individual little peppermills for the table at home, with a mixture of all four types of peppercorns. For cooking, I have one mill with black and a smaller one with white peppercorns. Whatever form your peppermill takes, please make sure to clean it frequently!

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

There have been so many articles lately that tout chocolate as not only good, but good for you! Darker chocoloate is better than lighter and active ingredients called flavenals act on "bad" cholestrol to reduce it. So you have our permission to indulge in any of the wide variety of chocolates we keep in stock! For a fun view of chocolate facts and trivia, plus some interesting looking chocolate products, Cocoa Pete's Chocolate Adventures is one place to look!

Friday, March 12, 2004

If you speak French, you might like to take alook at Supertoinette , a web site with tons of French recipes, cooking forums, and menu ideas. Even if your French is just remnants of high school classes, you still might want to check this out! I've gotten several interesting recipes. The really fun ones are the ones put forth as "real American" and the ways they deal with it. The pimento cheese was a riot, but now I can't seem to find it to point you toward it. At any rate, this can be a fun few minutes!
Some news from Mantia's: A cooking class: On Thursday, April 18, at 6:00 PM, "Southeast Regional Cuisine," with Jeffrey Dunham, Executive Chef of the popular Grove Grill. From the Carolinas down, a new style has evolved using new twists to traditional dishes. Chef Jeff presents exciting new dishes, with "themes and variations," to brighten up your winter dinners. The cost is $30 per person with advance reservations required.

A wine tasting: On Friday, April 19, John Adams, of Star Distributors, will present "New Wines from Spain." One of the latest hot spots culinarily, the newest wines coming from Spain are excellent. As always, Chef Patrick Hopper will prepare wonderful tapas to accompany the wines. The cost is $20 per person.

And another function with Chef Bubba: This is one we have promised for a LONG time: a cook-off, Iron Chef style. Or maybe we should call it "The Teflon Chef"!!! On Saturday, March 20 it's finally going to happen. Since Big Mike's mother, Billie Whitfield, has developed problems requiring kidney dialysis on a regular basis, we have decided to make it a benefit with all profits going to the National Kidney Foundation of West Tennessee in her honor.

At 6:00 PM, each of us will be presented with a bag of groceries, purchased jointly by Darlene Pruett (Mike's wife) and Joanna Martin (our day manager). We will have a set time (yet to be decided) to come up with and prepare a full dinner menu.

We will have two levels of participants: Each of us will accept two assistants, who will be asked for a donation of at least $75 each. In addition, we will have the "audience" who will be asked for a donation of at least $50 per person. During the cooking we will serve appetizers and wine, and at the end, everyone gets to taste it all, and vote for the best. (We haven't come up with a prize for the best...or maybe a forfeit for the loser?) More details will follow, but we will begin taking reservations at once. This is definitely reservation only, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it fill up within hours!

For more information on any of these events, or for reservations, please call 762-8560.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

I ran across some good basic advice on How to Host a Wine Tasting Party that I thought you might be interested in. Take a look, and then call us for your cheeses (for, as they mention, later!). It is generally accepted among wine lovers that all wines taste better with cheese. The French say "Sell wine on cheese, buy wine on bread" which reflects this sentiment. If you need some ideas on wine selections for your tastings, e-mail us (see the link "Ask Alyce") and we'll have our Elizabeth Mall, a certified sommelier give you some suggestions!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The French defend the Big Mac? Who would think it! Check out Le Big Mac !

Monday, March 08, 2004

Well, what was I thinking! I posted the information about Tasting Places, and completely failed to mention the class experience I had last year in Florence, at La Divina Cucina. My travel companion and I met Judy, an American who has lived and cooked in Florence for many years, at her appartment, just across from the Florence Central Market. After an early morning wine/munchie pick-me-up, we toured the entire market. She knows absolutely every vendor there, and we had a great time just doing that. (I have some very interesting photos; if you are interested, drop by the store and I'll share them, with some of the stories.) Then after we decided what we wanted to try to cook, we shopped for food, wine and bread, and then cooked and ate all afternoon. When we were finished, she took us to shops to find cooking implements we wanted, and seeds for some of the vegetables and herbs not available in Memphis. Altogether a most agreeable day, and I highly recommend it!

Friday, March 05, 2004

Just a thought: folks often ask about places to study authentic regional cookery in an English-speaking environment. I went to a week-long class in Orvieto a few years back, arranged by Tasting Places and enjoyed it hugely. Check out their site for numerous classes all around Europe and in Thailand. If you are willing to take a chance, they have great deals on last minute classes. Right now they are featuring a cut-rate deal on a long weekend in Tuscany. I wish I could go!

Thursday, March 04, 2004

I just received an e-mail asking if there is a way to leave comments on this blog. there isn't! However, if you will go to "Ask Alyce" and send us an e-mail, we will post all appropriate ones, and answer any questions. Thanks for your interest!
Harvested in Tuscany in October, fennel pollen is a typical ingredient of Tuscan dishes. It is traditionally used in salami and cured meats, or as a rub for pork and poultry. The aroma is sweet and pungent, and the taste is yummy.

Mix with sea salt and sprinkle on chicken, firm-fleshed fish or pork, or mix with olive oil or melted butter and brush or drizzle on roasted or grilled vegetables or potatoes. It is also a treat added to fish soups instead of saffron. I first heard of it in Faith Willinger's Italian vegetable book, Red, White and Greens, but was unable to find it in the US. Last year in Italy I found some and have been hoarding it. Now I have found a source, and I have brought in a few bottles. Although quite pricey, a little goes a long way. For more information, here is an interesting article.

Here are a couple of recipes to inspire you:


2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1-1/2 tsp fennel pollen
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 lb purchased fresh tortellini
In a medium skillet, hear olive oil and add garlic and shallots. Sauté over medium-low heat until soft but not browned, Add fennel pollen, cream and parmesan cheese. Heat to a simmer and let reduce by about 1/3, or until you like the thickness. Taste and add salt and white pepper to taste. When sauce is almost ready, cook the tortellini in plenty of boiling well-salted water. Drain and add to the sauce. Stir to combine, put into warmed flat pasta bowls and add more Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
3 tbsp fennel pollen
1 tbsp sweet paprika
2 tbsp kosher or sea salt
1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp celery seed, crushed (optional)
1 pinch cayenne or crushed red pepper
Place all ingredients in a jar and shake well. Sprinkle of fish filets, pork chops or chicken breasts before roasting. Also great on sautéed veggies. Keep in a dark place and it will last up to a year.

Here's another idea, not exactly a recipe: Mix fennel pollen and olive oil (say about 3 tbsp fennel pollen, and 1/4 cup olive oil). Separate the skin from the breast of a nice fat capon or roasting chicken and very carefully smear the pollen-oil mixture all around under the skin. Use any remaining oil to smear over the thighs and legs. Sprinkle liberally with salt and roast as usual. Be sure to deglaze the pan with a little water or white wine so you don't lose any of the great flavor!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

With luck, this will be a series of thoughts about cooking, eating, and the world of food. We'll be reviewing some of our own functions, telling you about new products at Mantia's. We'll be talking about new trends in the culinary landscape and more! We will also be responding to some of your questions sent to our web site. I'll be suggesting information on interesting websites and still more!

Today's question concerns "bouquet garni." Although this is indeed available dried in bottles, I much prefer to make my own. The classic combination is parsley, thyme and bay leaf. You may wish to add other herbs, either fresh or dried, depending on the other ingredients in your recipe. The "bouquet garni" can be tied together, or into a square of cheesecloth. You can also use a tea ball, that little aluminum gizmo, pierced with a screw on top hanging from a chain. Then when you have finished simmering your broth, soup or stew, you can easily remove and discard it.

More, later!