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Ask a Foodie: What Is the ‘Secret’ Ingredient in Turkish Delight?

Ask a Foodie: What Is the ‘Secret’ Ingredient in Turkish Delight?

Q. I read that something called mastic is used in the candy, Turkish Delight. What is mastic exactly? And is it used as anything other than a food product?  — D.M.

Check out recipe here for Turkish Delight. It uses gelatin and cornstarch rather than the more exotic mastic.

Turkish Delight 2 cropped better

Turkish Delight is a candy that uses mastic as a binding ingredient.

A. You possibly came across Turkish Delight in an import store and gave it a try, or if you are lucky, a friend brought some to you from a trip to Greece or Turkey.

Mastic, one of the candy’s ingredients,  is a powerful binder that holds together foods such as pomegranate seeds and pistachios and gives the treat its very chewy texture. Turkish Delight not only tastes good, its texture, almost like chewing gum, is a nice contrast to the freshness and crunchiness of the nuts and fruit. In Greek, the candy’s name ‘loukoumi.’

Mastic is an interesting ingredient. It is a natural gum that comes from a tree related to the pistachio that grows only on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, says Aliza Green in her compact but precise “Field Guide to Herbs & Spices,” (Quirk Publications, $15.95). The following information is also taken from Green’s guide.

This ancient tree yields clear resin that hardens into brittle, crystalline pieces referred to as “tears.” In fact, the German word for the substance translates as “tears of God.” The mastic is processed so that it becomes a food item that contributes a little to flavor, but is important for its smooth texture and use as a binding agent.

Wikipedia mentions that gum arabic, another binder-type product with many uses, should not be confused with mastic — they are two different substances — although to make things just a little more confusing, mastic from the Greek evergreen tree is sometimes called arabic gum.

Turkish Delight is a chewy candy that contains fruit, nuts and a sweet binder made of mastic.

Turkish Delight is a chewy candy that contains fruit, nuts and a sweet binder made of mastic.

As for the non-food uses of mastic, Wikipedia offers these: Mastic is used in some varnishes. Mastic varnish was used to protect and preserve photographic negatives. Mastic is also used in perfumes, cosmetics, soap, body oils, and body lotion. In ancient Egypt, mastic was used in embalming. In its hardened form, mastic can be used, like frankincense, or Boswellia resin, to produce incense.

Another bit of interest, from Wiki for word people: The word mastic is derived from the Greek verb, μαστιχειν “to gnash the teeth,” which is the source of the English word masticate.

We were also interested to find that Turkish Delight is the name of an X-rated movie. And, it makes an appearance in “Narnia – the Musical’ which is based on “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In this song, called “Turkish Delight,” the White Witch tempts Edmund with the candy’s tasty charms.

“There’s a tantalizing candy no one can resist!
All it takes is just a single bite!
When you try this choice confection
Suddenly your tongue will do a genuflection!
Turkish, Turkish Delight!”

 

Photographs by Bonnie Walker

 

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Ask a Foodie: What Are the Perils of ‘Boba’ or Bubble Tea?

Ask a Foodie: What Are the Perils of ‘Boba’ or Bubble Tea?

Mango Bubble Tea Smoothie -Photographed on Hasselblad H3D2-39mb CameraQ. While eating at an Asian restaurant recently, I watched a dad helping his son choose from the menu of “boba” or bubble teas. Are these dangerous? I read that the tapioca bubbles have PCBs and that you can choke on the large “bubbles.” Also, why are the bubbles dark-colored? –KM

A. We’ve been drinking bubble tea occasionally for the past 15 years or so with no unfortunate events.  However, the last time I had a (delicious, strawberry-banana) bubble tea, with the black tapioca pearls at the bottom, I thought about the second part of your question.

Just as one could drown in a soup bowl full of water, I imagine one also could choke on the springy tapioca pearls that form the bubbles in the tea. Very simply, don’t inhale them!  Pull the bubbles only so far as your teeth, so you can chew them, which is simply the best part of bubble tea! If you are giving the tea — which is more often a creamy, smoothy type drink —  to a child, instruct them carefully on the procedure, then keep an eye on them.

A little research into the PCB factor: While one European lab found PCPs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in pearls served by an unnamed bubble tea house in Northern Germany, the German consumer protection agency, Nordrhein-Westfalen, sampled 84 different bubble teas and found no PCBs. PCBs have been linked not only to cancer, but other undesirable health conditions.

Bubble tea also can be very sugary, and one might raise various other health alarms about sugar. If you’re watching your sugar intake,  just order a bubble tea now and then. Remember not to inhale the bubbles; forget about PCBs.

As for the dark color — on ingredient lists for black, uncooked tapioca pearls for bubble tea, I have seen the word “caramel coloring.”

 

 

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Ask a Foodie: Why Do We Put Eggs in Cookies?

Ask a Foodie: Why Do We Put Eggs in Cookies?

Grandmas Molasses CookiesQ. Why do we put eggs in cookies? –– J.B.

A friend of ours, who loves to bake — and especially with her grandchildren — forwarded this question to SavorSA after making cookies with the kids one day.

A. The art and science of cooking with eggs has filled many paragraphs in many chapters of books. We won’t go into the intricacies of the egg, or the chemistry of baking here. For the kids, the question has an easy, general answer: We add eggs to cookies for richness and moisture.

For an expert’s concise take on this question, we turn to Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen”:

“Eggs generally provide most of the water in a cookie mix, as well as proteins that help bind the flour particles together and coagulate during baking to add solidarity. The fat and emulsifiers in the yolk enrich and moisten. The higher the proportion of whole eggs or yolks in a recipe, the more cakelike the texture.”

My paternal grandmother was an accomplished cookie baker and the recipe in the link below was our favorite. A plateful, with a plastic boxful standing by, was always awaiting us when we visited.

Grandma’s Molasses Cookies

 

 

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Ask a Foodie: Is Steelhead Trout a Type of Salmon?

Ask a Foodie: Is Steelhead Trout a Type of Salmon?

Q. What is steelhead trout? I’ve asked this question from a number of people and have been told that steelhead trout is salmon, or salmon at a young age, or — another species altogether.  — L.F.

Steelhead trout's pink flesh resembles salmon, but it is a different fish.

Steelhead trout’s pink flesh resembles salmon, but it is a different fish.

A. We checked the federal game and fish website, as well as the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. The bottom line is steelhead is a trout, as one would guess from its name.  And steelhead trout are a unique species.

However, the species (Oncorhynchus myskiss) belongs to the same family (Salmonidae) as do all salmon, other trout and chars. So, if someone says the fish is a salmon, that is not correct, but if they say it is from the family Salmonidae, they are correct. Just a little confusing.

Steelhead trout do bear some similarities to some Pacific salmon. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, steelhead are born in freshwater streams where they spend the first one to three years of their lives. Then, they move out to the ocean where they spend another one to four growing seasons. The steelhead then return to their native freshwater streams to spawn.

“Unlike Pacific salmon, steelhead do not necessarily die after spawning and are able to spawn more than once,” says Fish & Wildlife.

Another interesting fact:  While all O. mykiss hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing, well-oxygenated rivers and streams, some stay in fresh water all their lives. These fish are called rainbow trout.

Recipe: Grilled Steelhead Trout with Lemon and Herbs

Find a whole lot more information about steelhead trout at these links:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources

 

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Ask a Foodie: What is the Difference Between Soup and Chowder?

Ask a Foodie: What is the Difference Between Soup and Chowder?

Q. I served corn chowder recently, only to have a diner at the table insist that a chowder made with corn was actually a cream soup, not real chowder. What is the difference? — K.G.

Chowder

Clam Chowder

A. We won’t delve too far into ancient history here, but chowder originated in France, according to a number of authorities we checked. It likely was brought to Nova Scotia by French settlers and later introduced to New England, say the authors of “On Cooking.” These chowders originated as hearty fish stews containing usually diced potatoes and milk or cream. However, one famous “chowder” eventually made its way out of Manhattan, and was made with tomatoes.

As always, once a culinary item hits the shores of the United States, we put our own stamp on it, so we expect variations. However one thing these experts say is that a cream soup, such as cream of asparagus, is puréed for smoothness, and sometimes strained, while creamy chowder contains chunks of main ingredients and is not puréed.

So, that might have been our argument to counter the diner who claimed corn chowder wasn’t “real” chowder. Or, to keep peace at the table, as we suspect you did, we’d probably just say in our blandest tone, “You could be right.”

 

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Ask a Foodie: Why Does Bread Dough Need to ‘Rest’?

Ask a Foodie: Why Does Bread Dough Need to ‘Rest’?

 

dough1

 

Today’s ‘Ask a Foodie’ is  by baker Steve Wegner. Wegner is a chef-instructor at the Central Market Cooking School who has worked professionally as a pastry chef and baker for the last 13 years.  Although he loves cooking of all kinds, baking is his true passion.

Q. I see this direction in baking recipes, like pie dough, and almost always a bread or pizza dough. I am wondering if you can tell me why dough needs to rest? — S.T.

Steve Wegner teaches at Central Market Cooking School.

Steve Wegner teaches at Central Market Cooking School.

A. Dear S.T.  Bread recipes may call for “resting” the dough at two different times.  In each case the rests are for different reasons.

We’ve all heard of gluten.  When water is added to flour certain proteins in the flour become hydrated and start to realign themselves.  As they do a stronger, more elastic network of gluten strands is formed.  The newly formed gluten gives bread its texture and allows it to hold its shape as it bakes.

Dough is rested after mixing but before kneading to give the proteins more time to rearrange and sets the dough up to form more gluten more quickly.  With that head start, the kneading step is shorter and easier.  This is especially true for doughs mixed and kneaded by machine because over-kneading can rob bread of flavor and color

Once the dough is ready to shape into its final form, short resting periods may be necessary.   As the dough is handled the gluten network is reactivated and may contract, causing the dough to shrink back to a smaller size.  Working as quickly and gently as possible helps prevent this, but if the dough does start to shrink back when rolled or shaped, just cover it and walk away for a few minutes.  The gluten will relax and become more elastic again and you’ll be able to shape the dough the way you want.

Here are two bread recipes from SavorSA files

Kalamata Olive and Parmesan Bread, rich in olive flavor.

Kalamata Olive Parmesan Bread

 

Kalamata Olive Parmesan Bread

No-Knead Bread: A Crusty Loaf

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Ask a Foodie: How Long Do You Boil Beets?

Ask a Foodie: How Long Do You Boil Beets?

Boil red and golden beets the same way.

Q. How long do you boil beets?

— M.J.

A. When I was a child, I remember picking beets in the backyard garden before Mom would boil them until tender. Then we’d salt them and melt butter all over them.

When I started cooking on my own, most of my cookbooks recommended roasting beets instead of boiling them, but there are uses for boiled beets, such as Panamanian-Style Beet Salad.

So, if you want to boil your beets, the easiest way is to clean them, then place them in a saucepan deep enough to let you cover them with water. Add a touch of salt and, if you don’t want the color to run, a splash of vinegar. Put them on the stove and boil until a fork is easily inserted into the flesh of beet. That could be anywhere from 35 minutes to 75 minutes or so, depending on the size of the beets.

When the beets are done, remove them from the stove and run cold water over them. That will make them easier to peel.

This process is the same if you are using red or golden beets.

If you have a question for Ask a Foodie, email either walker@savorsa.com or griffin@savorsa.com.

 

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Ask a Foodie: Can I Substitute All-Purpose Flour for Cake Flour?

Ask a Foodie: Can I Substitute All-Purpose Flour for Cake Flour?

The baking season is upon us.

Q. I’ve got a recipe that calls for cake flour. Do I have to go out and buy that or can I just use all-purpose flour?

A. The holiday baking season is on us, and if we don’t set up all our ingredients beforehand, we can find ourselves in the middle of a recipe without a necessary ingredient. So, it’s good to know a few substitutions beforehand.

When it comes to flour, you can use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour, but you can’t use them in equal amounts. If you are substituting all-purpose flour for cake flour, take away one tablespoon per cup. So, if your recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of cake flour, use 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour minus 1 1/2 tablespoons. Likewise, if you are using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour, add 1 tablespoon to each cup. So, a recipe that calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour could be made with 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour.

You cannot substitute self-rising flour for all-purpose flour or cake flour, except in certain situations. That’s because self-rising flour has baking powder and salt added to it. So, only if your recipe has baking powder and salt in it, you can use self-rising flour BUT without adding the baking powder and salt.

Also, you can use some nut flours to cut back on some gluten, but you can’t go entirely gluten free in an old-fashioned recipe, because it won’t stick together. that’s what the gluten does. So, read the label on any nut flours before making substitutions.

Happy baking.

If you have a question for Ask a Foodie, email walker@savorsa.com or griffin@savorsa.com.

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Ask a Foodie: How Can I Use Up a Big Crop of Jalapeños

Ask a Foodie: How Can I Use Up a Big Crop of Jalapeños

Jalapeños

Q. Can you tell me what to do with a lot of jalapeños. Can you can them?

A. You can certainly preserve, pickle, can, dry, smoke and even freeze jalapeños. One of the most popular uses for this spicy chile in Mexico is to pickle it with other vegetables and store in jars. Serve these pickled peppers as an  appetizer or condiment at the table. They’re good diced and added to a dip, as well as eating with beans, rice, eggs, tacos, steak — the list goes on. If you have some red jalapeños to go along with the green, the mixture in the jars will look extra festive. You can also serrano chiles in this recipe.
Jalapeños en Escabeche
1 pound jalapeños, whole
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
16-20 cloves garlic, peeled
12 black peppercorns
1/4 cup pickling salt
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water

In a pan heated pan, saute the chiles in the oil until the skin starts to blister. Add the onions and carrots and heat them for another minute or so. Put 2 or 3 cloves of the garlic (depending on your taste) and three peppercorns in the bottom of 4 sterilized pint jars. Pack the chiles and vegetables mixture into the jars leaving about a 1/2 inch of head space above the mix. Add two more cloves of garlic and 1 teaspoon salt to each of the jars.

In a pan, combine vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Pour this mixture so that it just covers the vegetables.

Seal the jars and process them in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Let them cool, then store in a cool, dark place for four weeks.

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In Need of Some Sage Advice?

In Need of Some Sage Advice?

Sage

Q. I have some sage growing in the backyard. Can I use fresh sage in my turkey stuffing?

I also have some that I dried. I know that the store-bought stuff is called “rubbed sage.” What would I do to make the dried stuff “rubbed?

— Laura

A. Sage is an herb that grows well in the area, and it adds a sweet savory taste to stuffing at Thanksgiving.

You can use fresh in place of dried, but you should use about using twice as much fresh as dried, because the dried herbs have such concentrated flavors.

When you cook with fresh herbs, you want to add them toward the end of the cooking process. That said, you’ll probably want to use dried with your stuffing, so you can include it in before you insert it in the bird. If you are making dressing, it likely won’t matter.

Rubbed sage is dried sage rubbed, often in your hands, to make it powdery.

Sage has a lengthy history both in the medicinal and the culinary field that dates back to Ancient Egypt. According to the website HerbWisdom.com, it has been used as everything from a means of easing gastrointestinal distress to a treatment for nervous disorders and delirium. It is still considered beneficial, the site says:

“It is thought that sage is similar to rosemary in its ability to improve brain function and memory. In a study involving 20 healthy volunteers sage oil caused indicated improvements in word recall and speed of attention. Meanwhile the activity of sage and its constituents have been investigated in the search for new drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease with promising results.”

Even if it only imparts its uniquely delicious flavor, sage is something to be thankful for.

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