Suzi’s Blog

TBT Cookbook Review: The World of Caffeine

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I’ll place a bet with you. Go to your smart phone or tablet and open up Google maps. Then search for “Starbucks.” How many Starbucks places are there within just one mile of where you live?

Is there one? Two, perhaps? Golly, you have five?

I live in Tribeca in Lower Manhattan and within one mile of me there are 33 Starbucks. More on the way I assume and there are at a dozen other coffee/tea places nestled here and there.

Caffeine it turns out really is the world’s most popular drug. Which is the subtitle of The World of Caffeine from Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer. Published in 2001, this book has become ever more interesting and pertinent in our very coffee world. And hot chocolate, too, for caffeine is the driving chemical in that wonder as well. And tea, I know, although it’s something I am not fond of. [Suzi likes chai with Scotch – more on that in another blog].

Caffeine is divided in five parts:

  • Caffeine in History
  • Europe Wakes Up To Caffeine
  • The Culture of Caffeine
  • The Natural History of Caffeine
  • Caffeine and Health

You can read the whole book, from beginning to end, or just drift around, mixing and matching as your interest piques.

I happen to love the very last chapter: Caffeine Dependence, Intoxication and Toxicity. An 1893 study already focused on caffeine addiction. Take away the morning coffee and people experience: sleepiness, work difficulty, irritability [or is that IRRITABILITY], decreased sociability, and flulike symptoms. For well over a century, more and more research has gone into studies on these effects. In our modern world of science with all kinds of chemical analysis possible, we know the molecules that apply and how the pathways to our brains are affected. Yes, toxic, too. Drink too much caffeine and you die. Something to ponder during your next sips.

Yet we drink away.

The very word, caffeine, comes from the French café. And surprisingly, the word only appeared around 1850. Before that, we talked about coffee, the beverage. Now we are so much more scientific so we drink the coffee but we analyze the caffeine.

Coffee was rapidly embraced in Western Europe, beginning in the late 1500’s. So rapidly that the coffee trade actually supplanted the spice trade. Many of us can go a whole day or two without some cinnamon or nutmeg, but take away our coffee and … Well, we become a tad unsocial.

And coffee had some immediate benefits. In the 1500’s and beyond, a lot of beer was consumed because it was a healthier alternative to raw water which was often heavily contaminated. Water could make you sick. Beer, with its alcohol, could make you happy. And eventually fat. Coffee was better alternative: no alcohol to slow you down, the stimulation of the caffeine, and no calories unless you poured on the sugar.

At 350 pages, Caffeine will take you a few cups to work your way through. It’s well written and dense with facts, figures, history, and entertainment. And perhaps more than any of the other coffee tomes out there, it does answer that basic question of life: why are there so many Starbucks out there?

Super Bowl Food: Burrata-Stuffed Meatballs with Pistachio Basil Pesto

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It's a week to Super Bowl Sunday. Time to plan.

How about a plate of meatballs. Meatballs are popular. They must always have been popular.

Actually, no. There is a tool from Google, the Ngram, where you put in a word and see how frequently is has been used in millions of books over the years. You can get that “usage” history going back to 1800.

What is the history for “meatballs?” Until about 1930, the word hardly appeared at all, then began to creep up, perhaps the result of Italian immigration. By 1960 “meatballs” began to skyrocket in usage. Today, we use the term almost ten times as often as we did back in 1960.

Ever popular, there is an endless supply of recipes. How do Suzi and I judge one of those recipes to see if we want to make it? The very first thing we look at is the meat: we look for a mix of at least two and ideally three meats. And here, in this lovely recipe, you do get the Meatball Trinity: pork, beef and veal.

There is a surprise, here, too. Each meatball is stuffed with Burrata cheese. That makes each and every meatball both rich and rewarding. There is a sauce, a Pistachio Basic Pesto, to accompany these meatballs. The combination of cheese inside and this different sauce outside makes this a meatball candidate. Where did we find this recipe? My Life on a Plate by Kelis, a book filled with flavor and, obviously, color.

Add a salad and the beverage of your choice, and you have a superb meal. It’s a great party food and the recipe can be easily scaled for your crowd size. For your Super Bowl Party, these will be remembered long the Seahawks win the game.

My daughter lives in Seattle. My wife loves Jimmy Graham. And I love to watch Russel Wilson dash around the field and then casually toss ball fifty yards.

Okay, I’m writing this seven weeks ahead of the actual Super Bowl. So, either I can going to seem like a football genius to you, or someone who should avoid fantasy football. We’ll see!


Burrata-Stuffed Meatballs with Pistachio Basil Pesto

Yield: 2 dozen meatballs, enough for 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • ½ red onion, minced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 8 ounces Burrata
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 recipe Pistachio Basil Pesto [recipe follows]

Preparation:

In a large bowl, mix together the pork, beef, veal, red onion, garlic, oregano, salt, smoked paprika, basil, and pepper, massaging the mixture with your hands to incorporate the ingredients without smashing the meat too much. Put the breadcrumbs on a plate. To shape the meatballs, take 2 ½ ounces of the meat and gently form a patty. Scoop a scant teaspoon of Burrata into the center, fold up the edges, and gently roll the meat into a ball. Roll the balls in the breadcrumbs and put them on a baking sheet. For perfectly round meatballs, put the meatballs in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to overnight to chill; chilling helps them hold their shape when cooked.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan with a lid. Gently tap the excess breadcrumbs from the meatballs, put the meatballs in the oil, and brown them on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and let the meatballs cook all the way through from the residual heat in the pan, about 8 minutes. Remove the lid, pour the pesto over the meatballs, and turn them gently to coat with the pesto. Serve immediately.


Pistachio Basil Pesto

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces fresh basil (about 8 packed cups)
  • 1 cup raw unsalted pistachios
  • 2 ¼ cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 to 8 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 2 ounces spinach (about 2 packed cups)
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Preparation:

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, or the jar of a blender, and puree. Season with more salt to taste.


Source: My Life on a Plate by Kelis [Kyle 2015]

Vegetable Buckle from My Life on a Plate by Kelis

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“I’d like a buckle for dinner,” I petitioned.

My wife turned to me and just said, “Dessert is not a meal. How’s your blood sugar?”

A picture can be worth a thousand words. I just turned My Life on a Plate around and showed Suzi this vegetable buckle.

For once, for once, she was speechless.

When I hear the work “buckle” I think of blackberries or blueberries. A side bowl of whipped cream. A carton of French vanilla ice cream.

Ah, not here. Kelis, music star, but also food fanatic created this dish based on her experience with a savory pancake in Poland. It must have been quite a pancake to make such an impression on a busy singer between concerts.

This is a beautiful dish, easily capable of being a one-pot meal for you on a cold night. There is no meat, but there is shredded cheese offering “substance” for the meat eaters in your family.

You could, of course, follow this dish with blackberry buckle for dessert but that is totally up to you. With ice cream.


Vegetable Buckle

Yield: serves 8 to 10 as a side, 6 as a main dish

Ingredients:

For the vegetables:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 ounces baby potatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced and ¼ cup shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 crookneck or zucchini squash, diced
  • 1 pasilla pepper (a medium-hot dried chile I pepper), cored, seeded, and diced
  • ½ red and ½ green bell pepper, cored, and diced
  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • ½ bunch of asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch segments on the bias
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups chopped kale, destemmed
  • Leaves of 3 fresh thyme sprigs

For the batter:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon each black pepper and kosher salt
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup shredded Gruyere (about 3 ounces)

Preparation:

Position an oven rack in the center and preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the vegetables, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, season with 1 teaspoon of the salt, the cayenne, and thyme, reducing the heat a little if needs be, and sauté until the potatoes start to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and cook for 5 minutes, until they are softened and the potatoes are cooked through. Remove the potatoes and carrots to a plate and set aside. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil into the pan on medium-high heat. Add the onion, season with 14 teaspoon of the salt, and sauté, until tender and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.

Mince the shallots and sprinkle with the garlic into the pan and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant, stirring constantly so it doesn’t brown. Stir in the squash, pasilla, bell peppers, broccoli, asparagus, and the remaining salt, and sauté for about 5 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the chicken stock, kale, and fresh thyme, and bring to a simmer, cooking for about 5 minutes, or until the broth is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer 2 cups of the sautéed vegetables to a bowl and set aside. Let the vegetables remaining in the pan cool slightly, then puree them with the broth left in the pan using an immersion blender to make a gravy.

To make the batter, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, rosemary, baking powder, pepper, and the salt until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the milk.

Put the stick of butter in a large (9 X 13-inch or 9-inch round) baking pan. Put the baking pan in the oven to melt the butter, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. Pour the batter into the center of pan and let it spread out naturally to cover the bottom of the pan. Spoon the vegetable mixture into different places on the batter so there is some batter visible in between clumps of vegetables. Bake on the center rack for IB to 20 minutes, until the batter is set and starts to brown. Remove the buckle from the oven and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes more, until the cheese is melted and crisp in places.

Stir in the honey, along with the espresso, black pepper, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, allspice, garlic powder, cumin, and the remaining salt. Simmer on low, covered, for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until the sauce is a deep reddish brown. Taste, and add more seasoning as needed. It will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for weeks.


Source: My Life on a Plate by Kelis [Kyle 2015]