Storyboard: Chestnuts

Growing

Chestnuts are a funny looking nut with a fuzzy covering over their hard shell. There are several varieties of chestnut trees in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Due to high levels of tannic acid, chestnuts cannot be eaten raw. The fuzzy exterior must be removed, then the nut is roasted and the hard shell removed. The actual nut is starchy and low in fat, with a sweet flavor and meaty texture. Chestnuts are wild and cultivated. Reading Starting with Ingredients, I learned that cultivated chestnuts (called “marrone” in Italian and “marron” in French) are a single nut in a fuzzy case, while wild chestnuts (“castagna” in Italian and “châtaigne” in French) yield several small nuts inside a fuzzy case. Chestnut trees grow in temperate climates. In the U.S. blight has been a major problem for growing chestnuts, but the industry is making a recovery. To see what chestnuts look like on the tree, check out these photos by Maria over at the blog Scandi Foodie.

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Storyboard: Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts look like tiny cabbages growing in clusters along the thick, sturdy stem of the Brassica oleracca plant which is several feet tall. According to the Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, the name probably comes from the fact that they were cultivated in 16th century Belgium. The plant reminds me of a broccoli plant, a large and leafy brassica that takes up quite a bit of space in the garden. In the book, Chez Panisse Vegetables, Alice Waters writes that “Brussels sprouts do not develop their delicate sweet, nutty flavor until cold weather comes, especially after the first frost.”

Purchasing & Storing

Big stalks full of Brussels sprout buds can be found in markets, and these are preferable to loose packaged buds. Whatever you do, make sure and select bright green sprouts with tight heads and no wilted leaves. Avoid large buds, which can be tough and bitter. The smaller the bud the sweeter their flavor. The longer Brussels sprouts are stored, the more intense their flavors become, so it’s best to bring them home and use them within 3 days. Store Brussels sprouts in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge.

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Storyboard: Beer

Beer Storyboard (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

What is Beer Made of?

Water

Reading The Complete Handbook of Beers and Brewing by Brian Glover, my eyes were opened to the key role each ingredient plays in making a good beer. Even the minerals found in the water that goes into beer can have drastic effects on the color and flavor of the end product. Minerals like bicarbonate can affect acidity which changes how much sugar is extracted from the malt. Magnesium found in water is a nutrient yeast depend on for fermentation. For these reasons, breweries truly treasure their water sources. Some believe Guinness made in Ireland tastes better than Guinness made in other countries because of the water. The Coors Brewery here in Colorado boasts that snow melt from the Rocky Mountains gives their beer a better, more refreshing flavor.

Malt

According to The Complete Handbook of Beers and Brewing, malt is “the body and soul of a brew.” Malt determines much of the color and body in beer. Several cereal grains can be used for malt, such as wheat, oats, and rye, but barley is most commonly used because it provides the most sugar. To make malt, barley is dried for storage, then taken as needed and steeped in water to promote germination. The barley is removed from the water and spread onto a large area. It must be aerated regularly to allow the barley sprouts to grow. Germination produces sugar which will later feed the yeasts for fermentation. To preserve the sugars the malt is baked. Malt comes in several varieties depending on how much it is cooked and how strong the flavor is.

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Storyboard: Blue Cheese

Making Blue Cheese

Blue-veined cheeses are a family that shares the characteristic appearance of blue mold bursting through creamy white or orange flesh. Cheesemakers innoculate cow, sheep, or goat cheese with a strain of bacteria spores (such as Penicillium gorgonzola or Penicillium roqueforti, among others). These spores give rise to an edible blue mold that contributes complexity of flavor to the cheese. The Cheese Lover’s Companion describes the process and I was interested to read that the blue-mold strain is added to the milk or curds, which are scooped into cylindrical molds and allowed to drain naturally, with out pressing. Once the cheese has set it is removed from the mold, rubbed with salt and sent to an aging environment (cave or cellar). The most fascinating part is that the cheese’s interior will not turn blue in color until exposed to air. Cheesemakers use metal skewers to pierce the cheese and allow the bacteria to feed on air, producing the blue veins.

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Storyboard: Sriracha

Sriracha Storyboard (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

You’ve seen the large red bottle with an electric green top placed inconspicuously on tables everywhere from all American diners to Asian restaurants. Sriracha pronounced “see-RAH-chuh”, is a chili sauce. To call it hot sauce would be an insult. Sriracha has a flavor with depth and complexity. Initially it tastes a bit sweet, with the bright fruitiness of red jalapeño. Vinegar adds tang, the slightest hint of sour. Then the heat begins to build, slowly. In the background is a rich, pungent flavor- garlic. As the fire intensifies sugar is there always, mellowing the heat just enough. While researching sriracha I came across the same word over and over again- addictive. Those who know sriracha love it intensely and will proclaim that this spicy sauce is “good on everything” from pizza to Vietnamese pho. You know what? They are right.

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