Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Chef and Cooks Make Dinner

After I assisted with a cooking class about risotto at a local cooking school, the chef sent each of us home with a dozen freshly formed risotto balls. "You cover them in flour, dip them in egg and then bread crumbs, and then you fry them," he said.

Two days later I pulled the plastic-wrapped balls from my refrigerator and dumped almost a full bottle of oil in my deepest soup pot. I filled a shallow dish with flour, beat an egg in a wide-mouthed bowl, and 'zapped' some bread in the food processor to create rough-chopped bread crumbs. Then I grabbed a 28-ounce can of organic crushed tomatoes with basil (and only 5% of the RDA for salt versus at least 20% for most commercial tomato sauce) and my husband poured it in the cleaned processor. After that he added:

3 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon minced onion
1 teaspoon oregano
2 (more) teaspoons of basil

He 'pulsed' the mixture briefly to create a slightly thick sauce, and I began frying. Now I can't remember the last time I deep-fried anything and I'd forgotten (a) that you have to work quickly to coat the food (b) you have to make sure you don't heat the oil at too high a temperature (c) and you've got to watch each piece constantly to make sure it fries evenly and with a crust that doesn't turn beyond golden brown.

By 8:15 we were diving into bowls full of this luscious stuff with no thought of salad or vegies or any other kind of side dish. Hunger won out and it tasted divine.

Raspberries + Chiles = Genius in Texas

Raspberries and chile peppers. In today's culinary environment, that sounds simple enough. But when Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods created The Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce, they were definitely ahead of the curve. And, when, potential customers tried the new product they raved about the combination of fresh raspberries balanced against smoky, seductive chipotle peppers.

Today, the sauce has put this family-owned Fredericksburg company on the map and become Texas' number one-selling specialty condiment. Decadent when served over cream cheese atop a mild-flavored cracker, and the perfect sweet-hot glaze for pork tenderloin or boneless chicken breast, the sauce actually has limitless possible uses.

But trying this legendary sauce in the original building it came from at 10 o'clock in the morning, and buying a bottle from the company's owner, made this a truly memorable taste experience.

War and Peace in Fredericksburg, Texas

I recently toured the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. This enormous collection of memorabilia related to Pacific conflict during the second World War includes a pair of automated mannequins talking on a dark battlefield, a miniature Japanese submarine, and a full-size B-25 plane. There are uniforms, medals, weapons, and literally thousands of memorabilia related to the conflict.

But my favorite section was the Japanese Garden of Peace, a gift to the United States from Japanese military leaders in honor of later peace between the two nations, native son, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, and his long friendship with Japanese Admiral Togo.

Dedicated in 1976, the serene sun-drenched garden features glistening ponds and streams, lush greenery and hand-picked stones. There are soaring bamboo plants, stone pagodas and lanterns, and a long string of origami cranes hangs from a tree - a common Japanese symbol representing peace. This natural oasis also includes a building that replicates Admiral Togo's study in Japan.

No part of the garden drew me in so completely as the circular pattern etched into a large area of meticulously raked gravel, which I wanted to follow with a rake myself. The garden provides a beautiful and peaceful respite from thoughts of war and everyday life.