Blog Posts by Zester Daily

  • Double Your Indulgence -- Wine and Chocolate

    5 wine and chocolate pairings that can't miss.By Susie Norris

    Chocolate and wine offer flavors of faraway worlds -- either cacao's fragrant rainforests or the grape's pastoral vineyards. But when it comes to paired tastings, chocolate has always played second fiddle to wine.

    That's starting to change. "As recently as five years ago, most people only paired chocolate with port," says award-winning chocolatier Norman Love, who conducts chocolate and wine tasting classes in his Florida factory. "Now, there are no rules."

    Finally, fine chocolate is standing up to the classic character of fine red wine, and tasters are realizing how sophisticated the perfect pairings can be.

    Related: An elegant wine for a sweet feast.

    It makes sense that these two would be complementary, even though they're rarely served together. Both flavors inspire rhapsodic followings. Both fruits contain high levels of flavanols, the nutrients that assist cardiovascular flow and healthy hearts. While they differ in texture and mythology,

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  • Gas or Charcoal? 5 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Grill

    To get the perfect sizzle with that steak, you need to choose the right grill.By Clifford A. Wright

    The grilling season is upon us, and we'll be flabbergasted, yet again, as we witness some blockhead attempt, with the usual undeserved confidence and bravado, to get the grill started.

    Your grill is obviously the most important piece of equipment for grilling.

    If you're in the market for a new grill this season, remember, man has been grilling forever, and man never worried about his grill until 1955. There are a lot of grill possibilities such as in-ground stone-lined pit barbecues, braziers, hibachis, in-door fireplace grills (Tuscan grills), uncovered grill carts, wagon grills, spit-roasting grills and some others.

    Tip #1: Look for heavy, solid construction. You want a solidly built grill that has a burner box made of heavy-duty cast aluminum.

    Tip #2: For gas grills, avoid paying a lot of money for useless bells and whistles. Features you can skip include windows, timers, fuel gauges (just keep a spare tank handy) and temperature gauges.

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  • What Sweet and Spicy Root Veggie Should You Get to Know?

    Parsnips are a sweet surprise of springBy Clifford A. Wright

    The parsnip must be the most surprising root vegetable. It's a slightly gnarly, wedge-shaped white tuber the sight of which isn't promising. Then it's cooked and the wonderful glorious parsnip reveals itself. I love the expression of someone who's never eaten a parsnip before.

    The most remarkable thing about parsnips is how naturally sweet and spicy they are. In the economic sense, this is a disadvantage and attraction for the plant. It's a disadvantage because blander root vegetables usually win out in popularity because they can be combined with more foods, for example, the potato.

    Related: How to love a turnip.

    It's also a plant that doesn't produce much food given the room it takes up in the garden. But the attraction is a root vegetable that truly doesn't need much and is easy to cook.

    Globetrotting parsnip history

    One of the odd things about the parsnip is that it is originally from the Mediterranean, but hasn't been terribly popular Read More »from What Sweet and Spicy Root Veggie Should You Get to Know?
  • How to Avoid the Fat and Make Bacon's Cousin the Star in Pasta

    Pork belly is surprisingly easy to cook.By David Latt

    Old, reliable recipes keep meals on the table, but sometimes it's good to challenge yourself with a new recipe and break out of the routine. That's good for the cook and good for the diners.

    In my opinion, a roasted pork belly pasta with garlic sautéed vegetables is a recipe worth the extra effort.

    Pork belly is used routinely in restaurants but less frequently in home kitchens, even though Americans use pork belly all the time. Cured, smoked and sliced, they know that cut of meat as bacon.

    I only became familiar with pork belly once I started frequenting Asian supermarkets where it is a staple of cooking, used extensively in Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Korean recipes.

    Related: What's the secret to a great carbonara?

    Prepared correctly, with the fat rendered into sweetness by prolonged braising, oven roasting or fried into crisp cracklings, pork belly meat is delicious. It is full of fat, but restaurant chefs know the fat does

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  • 3 Top Tips to Making Your Own Vanilla Extract in a Snap

    You can use fresh vanilla to make your own extract for baking.By Susie Norris

    When you think about vanilla, you might picture the familiar brown bottle of extract next to a bowl of butter, eggs, sugar, eggs and flour. Chances are you can practically smell the vanilla's potent fragrance -- warm, earthy and resonant with cherished memories of cookies past. We know vanilla as an important flavor component in irresistible sweets, but by itself, vanilla is not sweet at all. What, exactly, is vanilla?

    Recipe: You can make candy at home too. Try peanut brittle.

    Vanilla comes from a rare, light-green flowering orchid native to southern Mexico. The climbing rain forest vines sprout delicate blossoms, which then turn into long seed pods. The vines grow in the shade of large, leafy tropical trees like cacao and banana, deep in the forests of Guadeloupe, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Reunion (an island that's a French territory in the Indian Ocean) and Tahiti. The orchid flowers blossom briefly, and once pollinated, nine months pass before

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  • Want a Tofu Dish that Even Confirmed Carnivores Will Love? Try Fried Tofu Nuggets

    Crispy fried tofu nuggetsBy Carolyn J. Phillips

    Chinese culinary creativity is rarely surpassed, and with soy beans and bean curd, chefs have the perfect medium with which to exercise their imaginations.

    Bean curd comes in so many different textures and incarnations that books could be written about little else in the Chinese culinary firmament. Solid squares of regular or soft bean curd are the most common forms, and this is what usually appears on your plate in Chinese restaurants. But extra-firm bean curd (lao doufu), is better suited for skewering or for use in recipes where the tofu might otherwise break apart.

    Related: Looking for tasty Hawaiian-style tofu?

    When blocks of bean curd have had most of their moisture squeezed out, the result is meaty pressed bean curd (doufugan). When the tofu is formed into sheets that are flattened into the thinnest of layers and then folded onto each other it is called a "hundred layers" (baiye).

    Related: Going vegetarian? Real veggies trump faux

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  • The One Thing You Need for the Ultimate Birthday Cake -- Chocolate

    Even chocolate snobs will swoon for this recipe.By Laura Holmes Haddad

    As a mom of two and an auntie to three kids, making birthday cakes is now less a hobby and more a vocation. Every year I ignore the pleadings of my daughter for the turquoise Little Mermaid cake with eight inches of frosting in the supermarket bakery, and I head straight to the kitchen. While my cakes aren't the fanciest on the block, they taste like actual cake and won't turn the kids' tongues neon colors.

    Related: Join the red velvet cake renaissance with this surprising recipe.

    And now that my once vanilla-only daughter has turned into a true chocoholic, I had to perfect the chocolate cake. Chocolate cake recipes abound -- ingredients from mayonnaise and sour cream to coffee and booze are often included. But my mom recommended an oldie-but-goodie: the recipe on the back of the Hershey's unsweetened cocoa box. I was suspicious; I'm a bit of a chocolate snob, and I wasn't sure whether Hershey's could stand up to my Sharffen Berger obsession.

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  • The World's Best Butterscotch Recipe

    Good boozy butterscotch from Grange restaurant in Sacramento, Calif.By Elaine Corn

    First, let's clear up one thing. Butterscotch is not caramel. Caramel is cooked sugar. It starts clear and bubbly, and if you keep cooking it, it turns color, becoming amber and ending about the color of iced tea. (And it can quickly burn!) If you add cream to that nicely browned liquid sugar, you get caramel sauce, which looks like butterscotch.

    For butterscotch fundamentals, Teresa Urkofsky, pastry instructor at American River College in Sacramento, Calif., tells it straight.

    "The essential ingredients are brown sugar and butter," she says. "It can be light brown sugar or dark brown sugar."

    Urkofsky makes butterscotch pudding on top of the stove. She browns the sugar and butter, letting it lightly caramelize, then adds milk and cornstarch. "I like the low reaction temperature with cornstarch. You don't have to cook out a flour taste," she says.

    She tempers in eggs, pours it into serving bowls and stashes them in the refrigerator.

    There is no

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  • The Secret (Greek) Ingredient You Need for Perfect Guacamole

    Greek yogurt is the perfect companion for avocados in a creamy guacamole.By Diane Kochilas

    There is a certain simpatico in the marriage of Mexican and Mediterranean (in my case Greek) cuisines.

    There are a number of similarities in the cuisines of Mexico and Greece. Both share peasant roots; both have an affinity for sauces and condiments pounded in a mortar with a pestle; both rely on vegetable casseroles and use a fair amount of cheese.

    Related: Eat like Greek shepherd.

    Mexican cooks wrap and grill in corn husks; Greek cooks do similar things with grape leaves and fig leaves. What is an empanada but a glorified boureki, and what is a boureki but a glorified empanada? Both are hand-held, stuffed, savory pastries. The spice palettes are totally different, of course, but many of the techniques are similar.

    Related: Cozy up to authentic Mexican with home-style pozole with a red-chile base.

    Long before this fusion was trendy, I used to pop open a bira, as we call cervezas in Greek, pull off the cap of a can of La Morena chipotles,

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  • 2 Surprising Ingredients for Perfect Cookies

    Panko chocolate chip cookies have a nutty flavor and great texture.By Zester Daily Staff

    When it's time to bake, we think almost exclusively of sweet ingredients from sugars to fruits to chocolate. But sometimes the perfect dessert gets its special flavor or texture from a surprising -- savory -- ingredient. Consider Panko Chocolate Chip Cookies and Brown Butter Bacon Shortbread the next time you need a conversation-starting dessert. Here's the special ingredient for each recipe:

    #1 -- JAPANESE BREAD CRUMBS

    Panko is one of those formerly obscure items that has become, seemingly overnight, a staple in many American kitchens as well as in the kitchens of retired Americans in the Caribbean and beyond. Compared to other familiar Japanese products like soy sauce (first made 3,000 years ago), panko is a relatively new invention.

    During World War II, Japanese bakers began to bake bread without ovens, using electric current and producing large crustless loaves. Sliver-shaped crumbs were made by passing the loaves through special screens.

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