Drink and Food

Monday, February 26, 2007

What's To Know About Tea?

It might surprise you to learn that tea is the second most commonly consumed beverage in the world, beaten only by water. Not only is it refreshing and palate pleasing, but it also has plenty of health properties. All tea contains polyphenols, which give tea wonderful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are what help to protect our bodies from damage by free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer, particularly gastric, esophageal, skin and ovarian. Polyphenols can also help to prevent blood clotting and they lower cholesterol levels too! All this in a humble cup of tea!

How does the caffeine content compare to coffee?

A single cup of tea contains roughly 40mg of caffeine, about half that of a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Decaffeinated tea may lose much of the polyphenols in the decaffeinating process.

Herbal teas are a different story Mostly, herbal teas are not really tea at all. They are infusions consisting of herbs, flowers, spices and roots and the correct term is ‘tisane’. Tisanes are not as polyphenol-rich as tea but some offer other health virtues including relaxation, stimulation, energizing and calming.

Make your own Commercially produced bottles of iced tea may seem like a healthy alternative to fizzy soft drinks but with over 800kJ and 13 teaspoons of added sugar, plus a cocktail of artificial ingredients, you’re far better off making your own at home. And it’s so easy! You can even add alcohol for a bit of kick if you like. Try gin, Cointreau, rum or even Malibu.

Basic Ice Tea
4 teaspoons loose tea or your choice
2 cups boiling water
sugar, to taste
fresh mint sprig, for garnish
lemon wedge, for garnish

Stir tea, water and sugar together then chill. Serve over ice with mint and lemon wedges to garnish.

Hint Of Mint Iced Tea
1 litre boiling water
4 teaspoons of your favourite black tea leaves
1¾ cups fresh mint leaves
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup lime juice

Steep the tea leaves, mint and sugar in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Strain and chill. Add lime juice right before serving. Serves 4.

Home Made Peach Iced Tea
1 litre of peach juice
2 litres tea made up to taste
1 cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients. Strain tea leaves. Chill. Serve over ice.

Raspberry Iced Tea
2 cups tea, strained
2 cups raspberry juice
¼ cup honey

Mix tea, raspberry juice and honey. Whisk to dissolve honey. Serve cold over ice. Serves 4.

How To Cook An Egg

How to Cook an Egg was requested by one of my e-newsletter subscribers. Having been in the restaurant business for over 20 years, I was not surprised by the request. I have actually met chefs who could not properly cook an egg, let alone cook an over easy egg.

This request started me thinking about my egg cooking experiences.

High school home economics class was my only real experience before I was married and I guess that didn't sink in.

The only thing I remember about eggs in that class was making Egg ala Goldenrod (which I still love) and beating an egg and then measuring it in tablespoons for the purpose of making a recipe that required half an egg. I never, ever came across another recipe requiring half an egg.

And I never learned how to cook an egg.

So basically as a new (young) bride I had to start from scratch. I married a very finicky egg eater and after being scolded for imperfect over easy eggs, I began throwing eggs away if they weren't "just right."

I must have ended up throwing away dozens of eggs while perfecting my egg cooking skills. I thought I must be a slow learner. I just had to learn how to cook an egg! Had he known, my thrifty, finicky husband would have lectured me about wasting food. But as the words of the song "Margaritaville" say, I thought it was "his own darn fault." I never did reveal my secret.

Practice does make perfect, as it is said, and eventually I learned how to cook an egg.

After the death of my first husband (no, not my cooking), I married another wonderful man. I was pleased that I could cook perfect over easy eggs for him. Being the thoughtful man he is, he didn't mention for some time that he really preferred his eggs over hard.

Oh, the cruelties of life! I don't mind saying that it was very hard for me to break those yolks!

You can read all the details of how to cook an egg at http://www.real-restaurant-recipes.com/how-to-cook-an-egg.html

Baked Whipped Fruit Dessert

Desserts do not have to be loaded with fat and empty calories all the time. Fruit whips are simple to make and it seems like there is always room for a light, tasty end to a great meal. This dessert contains only 4 ingredients and none of them have hidden fat waiting to clog your arteries unless you want to smother it in whipped cream.

For this dessert I use dried fruit. Prunes will give you fiber which is usually not found in cakes or pastries. Apricots, raisins or dried cherries are also good to use. I remember my grandfather eating this with his breakfast. He would always make sure there was some left for his breakfast. I prefer it as a dessert.

To make this I take1/2-pound of pitted prunes and cover them with water and let them soak all night. The next morning I cook the prunes in the same water in which they were soaked until they are tender. I let them cool and puree them. Next I add 1/4-cup of sugar and cook for 5-minutes. Then I let them cool to room temperature.

Next I beat 2-egg whites until they are very stiff. Next I stir 1/2-tablespoon lemon juice into the prunes. I then fold the beaten egg whites into the prune mixture. I lightly butter a shallow baking dish and pour the mixture into it. I bake it for 20-minutes in a pre-heated 325-degree oven. This very good served warm or cold and with or without real whipped cream.

If other dried fruit is used just remember to use 1/2-pound of that fruit.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Using Potato Chips In Cooking

Many of think of potato chips as those crunchy chips we put on a plate alongside a sandwich. However potato chips can add a wonderful flavor to many recipes.

One of my favorite recipes using potato chips is something I call “Crunchy Chicken”. I coat chicken pieces with either melted butter, mayonnaise, sour cream, or plain yogurt. You then roll the chicken pieces in crushed potato chips. My kids have always loved this recipe. If you use flavored potato chips, such as barbeque or sour cream and onion, this will add to the flavor of the chicken. I have always used chicken pieces with skin on. The skin ends up very crunchy and salty from the potato chips.

Have you ever put potato chips ON your sandwich? My kids have always loved putting potato chips right on the sandwich itself. You can do this with tuna fish sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or even egg salad sandwiches. Many of enjoy lettuce on our sandwich’s as lettuce is crunchy. Well, so are potato chips.

Have you ever tried potato chip cookies?

Potato Chip Cookies

5 cups crushed potato chips
2 cups flour
1 cup each, brown sugar and white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans (I prefer omitting these)

Mix crushed potato chips with the two sugars. Beat the two eggs and add to sugar and chips. Stir in milk and vanilla. Mix the flour and baking powder together and then slowly add to other mixture. Mix well. Grease baking sheet and drop by rounded teaspoonful. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes, or until golden.

Do you have a favorite brownie recipe? Next time you make the brownies, try adding 3/4 cup crushed potato chips to the mix. If the brownie recipe calls for salt, do not add salt, when adding the potato chips.

Potato chips are not just for munching with your sandwich.

Bon Appetite!!

Using Hot Dogs in Recipes

People eat hot dogs for many reasons. I actually love hot dogs. Other people make them because they are a child friendly food. Still others make them as they are inexpensive and you can create a meal with a half package of hot dogs.

My kids have always loved hot dogs. We buy only the all beef hot dogs and over the years we have discovered many uses for hot dogs.

For a simple meal, grill them on the barbeque, add your favorite toppings and serve with a salad. When I make hot dogs, I put ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise on the table, along with relish and chopped up onions. My own personal favorite is mustard and onions.

When the kids were young, we used to tempura hot dogs. We’d buy batter at the store, and then coat and fry both hot dogs and veggies. It was a great way to get the kids to eat vegetables. We’d offer both tempura sauce and also ketchup. I think kids like most anything dipped in ketchup.

Buy refrigerated crescent rolls. Roll up one hot dog in each crescent and bake until rolls are done. You can also add mustard to the uncooked dough before rolling up.

Do you like corndogs? Make your own corn dogs by preparing a cornbread mix, and rolling the hot dog in the mixture. Add a bit of extra milk to make the batter a little bit thinner for dipping. Add a popsicle stick and cook until bread is done. While I enjoy dipping corn dogs in mustard, you can also dip them in ketchup and barbeque sauce.

Another favorite of mine are chili cheese dogs. We make a batch of chili, smother the hot dog with the chili and then add cheese on top.

A lot of people enjoy a casserole of baked beans with cut up hot dogs. You can also try barbeque baked beans. Both offer a very different flavor.

If you like bacon, try wrapping a slice of bacon around the hot dog and then adding melted cheddar cheese.

There are so many ways to enjoy a hot dog, and almost all of these recipes are kid friendly also.

Green Tea and Your Health

There's quite a buzz these days surrounding green tea and its many health benefits, including weight loss. From books to magazines to the "Oprah," show, everyone is talking about green tea. So what exactly is green tea and what is so special about it?

Green tea is derived from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a powerful antioxidant. Although green, oolong, and black teas all come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, green tea leaves are steamed, which prevents the EGCG from being oxidized. Black and oolong tea leaves are fermented, which means the EGCG is converted into other compounds that are not nearly as effective in fighting and preventing various diseases.

For approximately 4,000 years, green tea has been used by the Chinese as a medicine to treat everything from headaches to depression. Today, scientific research is providing hard scientific evidence for the health benefits of drinking green tea. A study published in 1994 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicated that drinking green tea reduced the risk of esophageal cancer in both Chinese men and women by almost 60 percent. More recently, in 2004, Harvard Medical School researchers found that a compound in green tea inhibits the growth and reproduction of cancer cells associated with Barrett's esophagus (a condition caused by stomach acid rising up into the esophagus causing the cells lining the esophagus to change, raising the risk of esophageal cancer by 30 to 40 times). Also, research indicates that drinking green tea lowers total cholesterol levels, as well as improving the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to bad cholesterol (LDL). A few other medical conditions in which drinking green tea is said to be helpful is cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, decreased risk of stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, infection, impaired immune function, fighting cavities, and slowing down potentially harmful blood clotting.

There is also scientific evidence showing that green tea also promotes weight loss. In the November 1999 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that men who were given a combination of caffeine and green tea extract burned more calories than those given only caffeine or a placebo.

There are a variety of green tea flavors, including apricot, cocomint, mandarin, ginseng, and many others. Green tea is also available in decaf, so no need to worry about caffeine, although regular green tea has less caffeine than coffee, with a 6-oz cup of coffee having 100 mg of caffeine compared to a 6-oz cup of green tea having only 30 mg. Also, you get the same benefits from the green tea no matter if it is hot or iced. You can even cook with green tea.

Benefits of Tea

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company. ~Author Unknown

Company and solitude besides, a teapot is surely a storehouse of many valuable treasures that are beneficial to human health. The fact that Tea is the most widely and also commonly consumed beverage in the world gives rise to a lot of speculation about the benefits of tea. Even though most of us who enjoy a cup of tea every morning do not bother much about the medical, or other, benefits of tea except the fact that it rejuvenates us, tea is a beverage that has many benefits. People drink tea for different reasons. Most of us, as mentioned above, drink tea for the sense of rejuvenation that it imparts after a long sleep. Many others enjoy a cup of tea for its taste, the warmth it provides during the winters and for the pleasure of company, while others may just drink a few cups of tea at different times of the day out of habit.

Whatever the reasons for the consumption of tea, it is a fact that almost all tea drinkers are immensely benefited by the consumption of this beverage. Most people believe that it is only the green tea that is beneficial for health, while other varieties of tea may actually cause damage, if consumed in higher quantities. This is a misconception. Almost all varieties of tea, whether it is green, black or red, contain polyphenols that impart to tea its antioxidant properties. The difference in the color of the different varieties of tea is based on how long the tea is processed. The longer a tea is processed, the darker the color of the tea. The processing time, and subsequently the color of the tea has no impact on the content of the polyphenols in the tea.

Polyphenols are most commonly renowned for their anti-cancer properties. It is therefore obvious that the consumption of tea will save you from skin, gastric, ovarian and esophageal cancers. The other benefits of polyphenols include the lowering of cholesterol level and prevention of blood coagulation. The content of polyphenols in tea gives tea the status of a nutritive beverage that can be compared in terms of its nutritive value to fruits and vegetables.

Green or black! Does it make a difference?

It is widely believed that the medical benefits attributed to tea can only be associated with Green tea. Even though researchers have proved that all teas, black, green or red contain the invaluable polyphenols who impart tea its cancer-fighting properties, it is a fact that Green Tea has been acclaimed much more than the other teas for its health benefits.

It was the Chinese who discovered the medicinal properties of green tea about 4000 years ago. In fact, green tea was considered a panacea by the Chinese; a cure for all ailments from a minor headache to life threatening tumors. Various other researches conducted both in Asia and the west have revealed crucial health benefits of drinking green tea such as the prevention of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol, various infections and cardiovascular diseases.

The difference lies in the ‘kind’ of polyphenols

Perhaps what make green tea more special than the other teas is the presence of catechin polyphenols; and particularly the presence of a potent anti-oxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). The importance of this category of polyphenols lies in the fact that they are instrumental in not only inhibiting cancer but also in destroying the cancer cells. Since green tea is only steamed and not processed like the other varieties of teas, the invaluable polyphenpols remain intact in the green tea. In the other varieties of tea, the processing which involves fermentation converts the polyphenols into other compounds, thus reducing their potency of the polyphenol compounds to a great extent.

Certain studies have also proved that green tea is beneficial to dieters. Green tea has also been found to be beneficial in cases of tooth decay and many companies have started using green tea as an ingredient in skin care preparations, such as lotions and creams, and even deodorants

Raise a toast to your health-with a cup of tea!

So, next time you raise your morning cup of tea to your lips, don’t forget to think of all the healthy compounds that you are drinking along with this cup of tea. Ideally, tea should be brewed for at least 3-5 minutes to extract the full benefits of polyphenols. You should also restrict the intake of tea to 3-4 cups in a day. Certain additions, such as thyme, ginger, cardamom, fennel, anise, to a cup of tea can impart distinctive properties to tea. For instance, Thyme tea has antiseptic properties and soothes and even heals sinus, Ginger tea works miracles in curing digestive ailments, Cardamom tea has antispasmodic properties, tea made from rose hips removes wrinkles and hydrates the skin and oatstraw tea helps in losing weight and also boosts immunity. There still remains a lot to be discovered about the health benefits of drinking tea. What is established, as of now, is that tea is surely a recommended beverage to be consumed 3-4 times in a day. It fights cancer, lowers cholesterol and shrinks tumors. The recommended varieties of teas are the ones that are brewed from black, green or red tea leaves. It is not necessary that you should restrict yourself to ‘hot’ tea. Iced teas are as beneficial to health as a cup of hot tea. Also, contrary to popular belief, milk in no way damages the antioxidant properties of tea. So, go ahead and add a generous portion of calcium rich milk.

Of course, like anything, excess of tea has its drawbacks. Having a cup of tea immediately after meals can hamper iron absorption. Also, avoid taking any medication with a cup of tea as it may sometimes cause an adverse reaction.

All About Blended Scotch

If you don't live in Scotland, chances are you drink blended scotch. Yes there are a few informed drinkers who appreciate single malts, single grains and vatted scotch, but for the most of us mortals, its blended scotch.

What is Blended Scotch?

By definition blended scotch is a "marriage" of several different malt whiskies with grain whiskies. Malt whiskies are richer in both body and flavour, while their grain counterparts are much lighter. Blending is a master art and those who know it are usually extremely knowledgeable and talented individuals and are highly sought after in the scotch business.

The master blender samples the different whiskies and then suggests the exact proportions of the different malt and grain whiskies. The marrying is carried out in a large tub, where mechanical rotating paddles constantly blend the different whiskies. Compressed air is released from below to further blend the mix. On sufficient blending, the whisky is again returned to casks for a further period of maturing.

So, what's with the blending?

Scotch is a very complex spirit. Since, it is distilled off at a lower proof; it retains a lot of character and flavour. This, combined with the long maturing periods, makes the produce of every distillery in Scotland, different from each other. There are four main scotch producing regions in Scotland. The Highlands, Campbeltown, The Isles & The Lowlands. Each of them have their own unique product. The Highlands malts are less smoky and are light in body and flavour. The Lowlands malts are even less smoky and lighter in both respects. The Isles malts have a rich body with a smoky zing. Campbeltown malts are the most pungent of the lot and possess a distinct smoky character. Most of the grain whiskies are made in the Lowlands. They are typically light spirits. Even among these regions there is a lot of variation. Such is the variety that Scotch offers.

Now Single Malts, Single Grains and Vatted whiskies are all great drinks. But the average consumer wants a balance among the different flavours and also a quasi-guarantee to consistency in the spirit. Scotch is an expensive drink. The consumer wants to have a certain assurance that time and time again, he will get the same flavour that he has come to love. This is where blended whiskies come in. Blended whiskies combine the flavour of malt whiskies and the lightness of grain whiskies of various ages to bring a unique blend that hides the shortcomings of certain whiskies and enhances the flavours of the others.

The Composition

Most blended whiskies whether scotch or other, contain usually more grain content than malt. This is due to a number of factors. Firstly, grain was initially very cheap to produce when compared to malt. Secondly, as we now know, that grain is lighter, hence, it appeals to much wider range of audience today. This is because the white spirits dominate today. And these are typical much lighter than a full bodied scotch malt. 1/3rd of the blended scotch produced is consumed in the United States. Thus, grain provides the lightness that is required to persuade the American palate. A typical blended whisky contains about 25 - 40 % malt and the remaining grain. Balantine's, J&B and Whyte & Mackay have a high grain content of nearly 70 to 80 %.

On the other hand, Johnnie Walker and Teacher's are two great blends, that contain a high malt content harbouring between 35 - 40%. This is the reason, the Indian Sub continent is a great market for these brands.

Additionally, blended scotch is generally a product of more than 25 different malt whiskies and another 10 grain whiskies. Whiskies from different regions, having different maturity levels, are blended together to bring about a unique blend, that the manufacturer feels caters to his audience.

To conclude this article, I'd say that blended scotch is a great drink. Before you go and purchase your next scotch bottle, remember to read about the different brands, most have their own websites. See what actually goes in the scotch. How much malt? How much grain? How many years has it been matured? In what casks? Then, pick one that suits your palate. There is no best scotch, only your most favourite one! :)

Wine Making Equipment Knowing What To Buy

Winemaking equipment is not complicated equipment. You may have some of what is required to make wine already in your cupboards. With the beer and wine making supply stores that have opened in recent years, getting the right wine making equipment should not be a problem. You can purchase a winemaking kit to go with your wine equipment from these stores and then all you will need is the bottles and a wait of about 28 days. Sounds good!

You can check out what equipment is in a winemaking equipment kit by either taking a look at your local brew shop or do a search online and then list out what the kit includes. Take a look at your cupboards and see if you already have some of the equipment, depending on how much you have, compare the prices for the extra you would need to see if the equipment kit would be a better option. Remember, anything plastic you use must be food safe quality, that's most important. Often times by purchasing the winemaking equipment kit you will come out in front and the other thing to remember is many of the items will be that purchase only, you won't have to replace each time you make your wine.

A good winemaking recipe book could be included in the equipment kit but if not then you may need to purchase one of these. You could finish up with many of them after a time, they are a little like cookbooks there is always a better recipe in the book on the shelf, you know "the grass is always greener". When you are starting out with your winemaking, then these wine making recipe books will not go to waste. You will soon get into your own way of making your own wine.

Your winemaking equipment kit should include these items or something similar:

· A 30-liter or larger food-grade plastic container (similar in shape to a garbage can) with a non-airtight lid and a mark at the 23-liter point

· A 23-liter glass or food-grade plastic carboy

· An airlock and bung (a rubber stopper with a hole in it) for the carboy

· A hydrometer to check the specific gravity (sp. gr.) of the wine

· A long, narrow tube or jar to hold the wine while you're checking its specific gravity (generally the tube the hydrometer comes in works fine)

· A dairy thermometer

· A long piece (at least 1.5m or five feet) of food-grade plastic tubing

· A long spoon that can fit into the neck of the carboy and reach to the bottom

· A wine thief to remove the developing wine from the carboy without having to tip it

You will also need apart from the grape juice or whatever you have chosen to make you wine with the following:

· Good quality water, this normally means filtered water, not the chlorinated water from many town water supplies.

· Wine Yeast, this is best tailored for the type of wine you want to produce, use bread yeast only if you can't get the wine yeast. The results with bread yeast are generally not as good.

· A wine 'settler', you can use sterilized bentonite or isinglass and they should be readily available from the winemaking stores.

· Potassium sorbate, to stop fermentation, you can get this also at the winemaking supply store.

· Bottles and corks

· Campden tablets, these are used to help kill all the naturally occurring wild yeasts and undesirable bacteria in must, but they can also be used to make a sanitizing solution.

Winemaking can be such an enjoyable experience, get your winemaking equipment together and get going. Once you make your first batch and you enjoy the taste then you will be well on your way to becoming a home vintner

How To Create Edible Art For Your Soiree

Imagine an edible work of art for your next cocktail party. This is a delicious how-to idea that can be adapted to the mood of your special event.

For a corporate event, perhaps a company logo or name would be appropriate.
For an engagement party, perhaps the names of the couple or their monograms.
For an artsy affair, how about a Miro-style abstract design?
The ideas are as unlimited as your imagination.

The concept is known as caviar painting and is actually quite simple. Give yourself two days and if you are artsy, you should find the process to be lots of fun!

For ingredients you will need:

cream cheese
red caviar
black caviar
golden caviar
fine crackers
(and perhaps some additional items based on your chosen design)

For kitchen supplies you will need:

mixing bowl
spreading knife or spatula
stemmed cake platter
plastic wrap

Day 1: In a bowl combine 4 parts cream cheese and 1 part butter. Spread on a stemmed cake plate. Make sure to leave about a 1/4 inch edge. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2: Remove plastic wrap. With a sharp knife, lightly trace the outline of your chosen design into the cheese mixture.

Fill in the design with red, black and golden caviar. Cover and refrigerate until just prior to your party.

Serve with crackers and flutes of bubbly champagne for an elegant, sophisticated soiree!

Your guests are sure to "ooh" and "ah" at the culinary artistry that went into creating this creative one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

The Art of Serving Caviar

Caviar’s role as the premier delicacy of kings, emperors, and other heads of state stretches all the way back to the Persian Empire and the “Cake of Power” days of the delectable Sturgeon Roe. It’s hard to come by, even harder to pay for, and what many people might not realize, hard to prepare and serve.

The most important thing to remember is that when you buy caviar, you have a limited window to use it. Fresh caviar is good for at most four weeks. Though, if you decide to purchase pasteurized product, you’ll be safe for a while longer. After opening though, you’ll want to use your caviar as quickly as possible, within a couple days at most.

In terms of taste, caviar is a very fickle food. It’s incredibly tasteful, evoking every response in the various arenas of your tongue. However, you’ll want to make sure that when you serve it to guests, you don’t disrupt that taste by drowning it out.

The best way to serve your caviar is to leave it in the tin, surrounding it with ice. If you try to take it out and pretty it up, you risk breaking the grain and losing the flavors before it even reaches your mouth. Secondly, you want to make sure whatever you serve it with doesn’t offset its flavors.

As an hors d’oeuvre it is best served on lightly toasted bread or crackers, usually with butter. You don’t want the bread or cracker to be too hard or you will risk losing flavor once more. There is a common misconception that serving caviar with eggs or other strong tastes like sour cream or yogurt is a good choice, but more often than not you only succeed in completely drowning out the taste of your caviar in doing so.

In terms of beverage, there are a few different opinions on the matter. Firstly, there is the classical choice of Champagne with your caviar. Many find it to be too sweet though, once again taking away from the taste of the caviar, but the tradition is old and so too is the draw of that tradition. Vodka is another traditional pairing, cleaning your palate each time to taste in full the various flavors.

Caviar is a delicacy of the highest order, and accordingly it’s foreseeable to be confused or even nervous about how best to serve it. There are many aspects to take into consideration; its freshness, its palatability, the after taste, and how strong other flavors come across. Keep all of these in mind when serving to get the most and the best out of your caviar.

Caviar Varieties and Variations

Since its discovery and rise to the top of the food ranks as one of the premier delicacies in the world, Caviar has been one of the most sought after rarities from the ocean. Going back to the days of Persia and its “Cake of Power” reputation, there has been a certain awe and majesty reserved for the Sturgeon from which the luxury is harvested.

There are, however more than a few different variations on that classic golden extravagance that flood the market these days. The sturgeon itself is nearly extinct for that very reason. American producers who make up over 75% of the market, are forced to look elsewhere for their Roe.

What do you look for when buying your caviar though? In America all caviar is labeled with which fish it’s derived from. Salmon is a commonly used substitute for the classic beluga sturgeon, but many find it unsatisfactory because it’s not pure caviar. For that, you might turn to French sources, a country in which you are disallowed from naming anything caviar unless it is harvested from the sturgeon specifically.

What are you looking for when you buy it? The lighter and large the caviar, the better it is generally graded and thus the more expensive it is. When buying, look for the grading on the packaging, where 000 is the lightest possible color and 0 is the darkest. The lighter it is, the higher it’s been graded. This applies mainly to the sturgeon derived caviar though, as Salmon or Lumpfish derived caviar is graded slightly differently, mostly due to its naturally different colors and size.

When buying caviar, it is possible to purchase either pasteurized or fresh variants. The pasteurized is naturally considered safer and doesn’t have quite the risk of bacteria or fungi that fresh caviar would, but is also not considered to be “true” caviar by enthusiasts. Generally after purchasing the caviar you can hold it for up to 4 weeks in refrigeration before opening, and two or three days after. Of course, with pasteurized caviar, you can stretch that time to a few months as it has been safely cleaned before shipping.

Your options for caviar are of course as wide and open as the market makes it, meaning for those that aren’t quite on the budget for a $120 jar of “true” caviar, there are American variations derived from less endangered species of fish, under different grading systems and pasteurized for you safety.

Grocery Savings - What Worked For Grandma Probably Won't Work for You

Something that has not changed in this fast-paced technologically advanced time we live in is the simple need of most families to save money on their monthly grocery bill. But grocery savings in your grandma's time and even in your mother's time were not necessarily the same as grocery savings today.

How does such a fact impact you, today, in your quest for a lower monthly grocery bill? Simple. If you were raised by your mother (!), then you are probably still using her methods of saving at the grocery store.

Now you're paying attention.

In the last twenty years several things have changed in the way we shop for our groceries. Convenience food, once that little-used novelty, has morphed into, quite simply, the way we choose our food. I think my personal favorite in this category (I'm being a bit sarcastic here) is the friendly fruit snack. Don't get me wrong, we buy our fair share of fruit rolls, fruit chew-y things, and fruit-stretchy-pieces in our household. But let's be honest here. The grocery industry started with a highly nutritious and CONVENIENT food (a piece of fruit) and, well, changed it. Somehow along the way, we as consumers have begun believing this 'change' is more convenient (huh?), more tasty (yum...added sugar) and better for us all around (now we look for percentages of fruit...instead of a piece of fruit...which is one hundred percent fruit).

Now I know it's no accident that our thinking as consumers has changed when it comes to a piece of fruit. Huge amounts of money are spent every year through marketing campaigns to convince us to change our thinking.

And that's something that has changed quite a lot since mom and grandma's day in our friendly grocery store.

What used to be gentle persuasion is now serious business. Your grocery store wants your business so badly that your whole shopping experience is manipulated from the moment you walk in the door. Personally, I don't think this is such a bad thing. Grocery shopping has risen to the level of art in many stores, providing the consumer with a quite pleasurable experience.

Nonetheless, as an adult in charge of your family's grocery budget, you had better be paying attention or you can kiss all grocery savings goodbye.

I know my mom would've laughed at the idea that she was supposed to hand over extra money because someone had repackaged a piece of fruit. But then my mom cooked, too. She worked full time and came home every night and put a complete meal on the table.

What she didn't have to contend with was long commutes, rampant amounts of afterschool activities and a culture which was telling her kids daily that fast and yummy beats nutritious and cost-effective every time.

Today's mom is fighting an uphill battle if she wants her family to eat together more often than not and if she wants that food to be healthy and fit within her food budget. (If you would like more strategies on grocery savings, see the resource box at the end of this article.)

My mom gardened, froze and canned food. Today's mom needs to be a savvy label-reader and able to discern when 'convenience' means buying pre-packaged or when it is really more convenient for her to cook her own meal. Both can be true in our current food economy.

So...if you're still clipping coupons because your mother did, better get out a calculator and a clock to see what you are really saving on your groceries, and if it's worth your time to do it. (The answer is, it depends upon your buying habits and your family's eating habits.)

Today's consumer has to think on her feet and be aware that she is a player in the grocery game, whether she wants to be or not. It is not difficult to maximize grocery savings for your family, but you'll need to have the knowledge and resources to do the job. In addition, you need to give yourself permission to learn a few new tricks that can get your monthly grocery shopping done more efficiently plus save you money at the same time.

That's something I'll bet your mom would be delighted for you to learn.

Organic Food vs. Genetic Engineering

It's always helpful to step back and take a look at things from an objective perspective, especially when we are personally involved.

Creating and sustaining an organic lifestyle means we are in the "center" of that activity, daily. Among all the other things going on in our daily lives, as moms, we are also trying to develop new habits for our family in regards to their health and well being.

So I thought it would be helpful for us all, myself included, to just take a step or two back and revisit the basic questions and reasons why we are pursuing an organic lifestyle to begin with.

What Is Organic Food?

Certified organic food is most commonly described as food grown and packaged without the use of chemicals, preservatives or additives. Food that is either completely or at least 70% all natural.

Another way to explain it, from a bigger picture standpoint is:

"Organic food is produced through a system that is based on ecological balance and humane care for the plants, animals and people that make up the farm environment."

One important reason to consider organic food, and an organic lifestyle, that I've not read much about previously, is genetic engineering. The Sierra Club site states:

"Eating organic food is one way you can avoid genetic engineering. All certified organic produce and ingredients are produced free of any genetic engineering"

What Is Genetic Engineering?

In layman's terms I would translate it to be the taking of genes from one species of plant and injecting another plant with those genes to force certain characteristics. For example, if you had a corn plant that was delicious and seemed to be resistant to pests, you would take its' genes and inject it into another plant of a different variety, in the hopes to force the taste and/or pest resistance onto the other.

Doesn't sound too bad, but when you understand the "risks" associated with genetic engineering, it doesn't sound so good either.

Here's a more technical description of genetic engineering and the associated risks:

"In genetic engineering technology, genes are isolated and transferred using a "gene gun" or a viral vector from one species into a foreign species, crossing over what is called the "species barrier." An example is the transfer of an insect-resistant gene from a soil bacterium (called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt) into corn plants to confer insect resistance. This kind of genetic transfer never occurs in nature and cannot be achieved through traditional plant breeding methods. The new gene lands in a random spot in the genome of the recipient organism, and can disrupt normal functioning of that organism in unpredictable ways."

Risks of Genetic Engineering

Non-target insects, including ones that are beneficial to farmers are harmed by genetically engineered crops.

Genetically engineered organisms have harmed soil microorganisms, leading to stunted or killed crops.

Plants engineered to be insect- or herbicide-resistant can lead to resistance in weeds and insect pests. This means more chemicals or new genetic engineering.

New allergens and toxins are the potential result of genetically engineering food. Some are detected before market approval while others are not.

Pollen from genetically engineered crops can drift into wild environments and breed with wild relatives of crop plants.

The effects of this genetic pollution cannot be predicted. Once genetically engineered organisms are released into the environment they cannot be con-trolled and they cannot be recalled. Genetic pollution is irreversible.

So we can conclude that organic food is grown WITHOUT the use or need for genetic engineering. And if organic farming can help us avoid "genetic pollution", AND it's better for our health and well being, doesn't it just make good sense for everyone?

The Sierra Club article goes on to conclude that:

"The industrial approach is to "improve nature" and make food products exempt from natural systems and laws. Harmful consequences are corrected using new and more technologies, usually leading to further problems. In contrast, the organic approach is to understand these laws as much as possible and work with them. Organic farmers practice prevention, not correction."

I think any reasonable consumer, without a financial interest in the mass production of genetically altered foods would agree that when it comes to the foods we eat and the environment we need, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

Organic farmers, like organic moms, care about the food and sustaining the land for future generations. We all know, whether we want to admit it or not, what the large corporations who mass produce traditional food crops are most interested in.