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The perfect party. June 25, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Every year, my friend Cole celebrates his birthday in late August with a huge outdoor party. As a fan of cooking and of international cuisine, I really love what he’s doing.

That’s because every year, Cole picks a country and highlights its cuisine at the party. When he sends out the party invitations, he mentions the theme, giving guests plenty of time to bone up on the national cuisine. Then they’re asked to make a regional dish and bring it to the party in lieu of a gift.

Be it this year’s featured cuisine (Spanish) or previous years’ (Indian, Vietnamese, Ecuadorean, Moroccan, Korean, Ethiopian, Japanese, Turkish, or whatever), the food is always delicious and exciting, and the variety is always staggering, given the number of guests. I’m sure that this year, from tapas to paella, the dishes will be amazing.

Maybe you don’t want to have a guest list that numbers in the dozens, and maybe you’d rather eat inside when the temps hit the 90s with humidity to match. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stage your own international cuisine party. (And of course, you don’t have to wait for your birthday!)

Like Cole, after choosing the theme, you can cook some of the dishes yourself. Maybe you won’t end up feeling like you’ve actually gone to Crete or Sicily or Botswana or Hong Kong. But I promise, you’ll feel a lot closer. Fun!!!

‘Til next time,


Cooking’s trinities. June 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. You just never know what you’ll learn when you do an internet search. Having recently eaten in a Chinese restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, I came away with the question I always have after eating in Chinese restaurants: Why don’t the Chinese use onions in their dishes? Garlic, yes. Scallions (green onions), yes. But where’s the plain old honest-to-goodness onion?

I love Chinese food, but I can’t think of a dish I order (except for moo shu/mu shu vegetables) that wouldn’t taste better to me if it had onions in it. When I cook Chinese food at home, I add them and love the results. So I keep asking myself why, why are there no onions when I go out to eat?!

Mind you, China’s cuisines are vast and various. Maybe it’s just American Chinese restaurant food that shuns onions. This morning, I determined to find out. Heading to Google, I typed in “onions Chinese cuisine.” I was directed to a Wikipedia article called “Holy trinity (cuisine).”

This article didn’t address the use or lack of onions in Chinese cuisine. But boy, was it fascinating! So I decided to share what I learned with all of you cooking and food enthusiasts out there, and urge you to check the original article to find out more.

A “holy trinity” in cooking is defined as three cornerstone ingredients that define a specific cuisine, such as the celery, bell peppers, and onions that form the basis of Creole and Cajun cooking. Here are some other trinities the article listed:

Chinese: scallions, ginger and garlic, or garlic, ginger and chilli peppers, or (in Sichuan cuisine) chilli peppers, Sichuan pepper and white pepper 

Japanese: dashi (soup stock), mirin (a sweet rice wine) and shoyu (soy sauce)

Thai: galangal (a ginger relative), lime leaf/kaffir lime (leaves and rind) and lemongrass

Indian: garlic, ginger and onion

French: celery, onion and carrots

Italian: celery, onion and carrots, or (in the South) tomatoes, garlic and basil

Spanish: garlic, onion and tomatoes

Cuban: garlic, bell peppers and Spanish onion

Mexican: ancho, pasilla and guajillo peppers

Greek: lemon juice, olive oil and (Greek) oregano

Lebanese/Middle Eastern: garlic, lemon juice and olive oil

West African: chilli peppers (habaneros or scotch bonnets), onions and tomatoes

Again, I recommend that you check out the original article to find the “trinities” of other cuisines and details on how these trinities are prepared and used in the various cuisines. Let me know if you disagree with any of them!

While you’re thinking about it, what is your own personal “trinity” of essential ingredients? Yow, it’s not easy to narrow them down, is it? But I know one thing: One of mine would definitely be onions. Which brings me back to my original question. If anybody can tell me why there are no onions in Chinese cuisine, please help me out here!

                 ‘Til next time,


Speaking of spices. May 28, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here (again). Just yesterday, I was posting about Scottish spices. Then our friend Ben called my attention to an article called “A Taste for Hotter, Mintier, Fruitier” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal. (Read it for yourself at www.wsj.com.)

The article itself was about how American companies are making their foods’ and drinks’ flavorings more extreme, from Third-Degree Burn Doritos to Wrigley’s Orbit Mist Gum with flavor crystals called Micro-Bursts. “In short, American cuisine is adrenaline cuisine,” author Miriam Gottfried says. This is not what I—or presumably anyone who prefers to taste real food with real flavors, not lab-created coatings for tortilla chips and the like—would call good news, though it’s hardly a surprise. I recommend the article to your attention.

But what amazed me was a spice-related statistic: “At home, seasoning company McCormick & Co. Inc. says Americans now keep an average of 40 different spices, a figure that has grown roughly twice as fast in the past two decades as it did in the previous 30 years,” Ms. Gottfried reports. Forty spices! We’ve come a long way from salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and dried mustard, baby.

Thinking this through, I could see a sort of timeline. First were the regional herbs and spices used in traditional cuisines like that of this area’s Pennsylvania Dutch (caraway, coriander, sage, dill weed, dill seed, fennel, yellow mustardseed, horseradish, and anise) and the fiery dishes of the Southwest. Next, the Mediterranean herbs: oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, rosemary, garlic. And then French cuisine, adding tarragon, lavender, and fines herbes to the mix.

Then the spices of India and Pakistan (curry leaf, fenugreek leaf, fenugreek seed, cardamom, black mustardseed, cumin, ginger, turmeric, and innumerable others) and their spice blends (curry powder, garam masala, chaat masala, and so on, in all their variations). And then Asian cuisine, with its wasabi, star anise, sesame oil, lemongrass, chillis, coconut, and distinctive curries.

These days, we can enjoy the spicings of Ethiopia or Senegal, Lebanon or Turkey, Thailand or the Philippines, Jamaica or Barbados, with hardly more effort than it takes to go online or open the spice cabinet. Still, I’m kind of awed.

Admittedly, I have hundreds of spices, herbs, and blends. But I’m a spice junkie. That the average American kitchen now has 40 spices simply blows me away. I can’t think of stronger proof that our culinary horizons have expanded. Maybe our national obsession with fast food, junk food, and fake food will finally fade in favor of real food with real flavor. But then again, maybe we’ll just reach for another bag of Third-Degree Burn chips.

                ‘Til next time,