Cooking Tips · Techniques

Gnocchi — a different Italian dish

When you think of Italian food, what do you think of? Is it pizza, spaghetti or lasagna? There is so much more to Italian food than that. One of those “other” dishes would be Gnocchi. What gnocchi is, how to make it and how to serve it are the subjects of this Cooking Tip.

The word “gnocchi” actually means “lumps”, although the word is said to derive from the old Lombard phrase knohha, meaning “knot” or from nocca, which means knuckles. We often call these” Potato Dumplings” but they were not always made with potato. This dish dates as far back as the 1300s when it was made from flour or breadcrumbs. A cookbook from 1570 contains a recipe made from flour/breadcrumbs/water and pushed through the holes of a cheese grater. The potato version probably began in the 16th or 17th century.

Since potato gnocchi are the main variety found outside Italy, let’s discuss how to make them. The goal is to make light and airy gnocchi although it is easy to end up with dense and heavy ones if you aren’t careful.

The type of potato is important. Almost all experts recommend using a dry, floury variety like Russets. Some feel that a white all-purpose or a Yukon gold are acceptable but if you have never made them before, stick with the Russet. They have a lower water content and a higher starch content. Because of this, you can add less flour, which means less gluten and an end product that is more tender.

How you cook the potatoes is a bit of a debate. There are those that only recommend baking them in their skins as this will remove moisture. Others feel the potatoes can be boiled but do advise to boil them in the skins to reduce moisture.

Whichever method you use to cook the potatoes, you then want to mash them while they are hot. The absolute best method for this (as well as making mashed potatoes) is to use a ricer. These are inexpensive tools that are worth the money.

After ricing (or mashing), the hot potatoes should be spread out on your cutting board or baking sheet so they cool and to maximize moisture evaporation.

Eggs are not a traditional ingredient although many recipes will add one as it makes an easier to handle gnocchi due to its capacity to help bind the dough together. This prevents the gnocchi from disintegrating in the boiling water. Eggs also add richness to the finished product. The downside is that the egg white can contribute to a denser and chewier gnocchi. Using only the yolk is a great alternative.

Once cool, it is time to make the dough. Mound up the cooled potatoes and start to add a bit of flour and egg, if using. As excess flour is the enemy to light and tender gnocchi, you only want to add as much flour as necessary to get a cohesive dough. Harold McGee says you should need less than 1 cup per pound of potatoes. Cook’s Illustrated recommends weighing your ingredients and using 4 ounces of flour to 16 ounces of riced potatoes. Whatever recipe you follow, do not add all the flour at once. Add it in stages to get the proper result.

The ingredients should be gently kneaded into a dough. Using something like a bench scraper and just scraping and folding can help in preventing over-kneading. Your goal is a moist but not sticky dough.

After you obtain a nice dough, it is portioned and rolled out into a thin rope. It is cut into pieces, generally about ¾ of an inch in size. Shaping into the traditional ridged C-shape is next. This can be done by using a gnocchi board or a fork. A wonderful friend who had lived in Italy gave me a gnocchi board and I love it. It is very easy to use.

For cooking, they are normally gently placed into boiling, salted water and cooked only until they rise to the surface. They are plated and dressed with a sauce. Some find that they can be cooked directly in the sauce without the boiling stage.

Sauces are varied but include marinara, pesto and a butter sauce with sage, herbs and/or garlic. One of my favorites is a sun-dried tomato pesto.

What are the problems that arise in making gnocchi?

  • Dense and chewy gnocchi – this is normally due to adding too much flour and/or kneading too aggressively.
  • Lumpy mashed potatoes – using a ricer will give you a smooth and airy result.
  • Bland flavor – cooking them in salted water and then serving with a flavorful sauce is the answer to this problem.

Every area of Italy has its distinct gnocchi style and sauce.

  • As mentioned above, gnocchi can be made with just flour and water although they will be heavier and denser than potato gnocchi.
  • Gnudi di Ricotta – ricotta dumplings
    • These are more common in Tuscany and use no potatoes. Rather, strained ricotta, egg, breadcrumbs and cheese are combined and rolled into balls before being dusted in semolina. After cooking, they are fried in butter until golden brown.
  • Gnocchi alla Romana – semolina gnocchi
    • This dish originated in Rome and is made with semolina flour. Traditionally, the dough is chilled, cut and baked with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
  • Gnocchi Parisienne
    • This is a French version of gnocchi. The base is a choux pastry (the dough used to make profiteroles.) The dough is dropped into water via a piping bag to cook followed by putting them into a pan of butter to crisp up. Finally, it is dressed with lemon juice and herbs.
  • Malloreddus
    • Eaten on the Italian island of Sardinia, this variety is made with only semolina flour and water, sometimes colored with saffron. This results in a denser and chewier gnocchi.
    • The traditional sauce is Campidanese, a sausage, tomato and fennel ragu.
  • Malfatti
    • These are very colorful as they are made from ricotta, spinach and Parmesan bound together by semolina and egg. They tend to be larger than other gnocchi, about the size of a golf ball.

Fresh gnocchi can be frozen uncooked for up to 2 months. Boil them frozen although it will take a bit longer. Store cooked gnocchi in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Have you made gnocchi? Although they do take a bit of practice and patience, they can be a delightfully different Italian meal.

Cooking Tips

Bread from around the world

In the last Cooking Tip, I discussed lean and enriched doughs, how to recognize them and what type of product they produce. It is just amazing that the same simple ingredients – flour, water, salt, sometimes yeast – can be used to produce such very different breads. As we learned in last week’s Tip, adding enriching ingredients such as eggs, butter and dairy will produce a much different type of bread. Other add-ins or flavorings may be added. Techniques used also can produce different results. In this Tip, I will go over just some of the myriad types of bread that can be found around the world. This list is far from comprehensive. For example, I have only listed five kinds of Italian bread whereas there are at least 350 different types. You will recognize many of the following but will also probably find some that are new to you.

Italian Breads


This is an Italian yeasted Easter bread that was supposedly made after Easter to use up leftovers. It is stuffed with meat, cheese and even hard-boiled eggs before baking. It is baked in a round shape with a hole in the middle.


The word “ciabatta” means “slipper”, a reference to its oval shape. It is an Italian yeasted bread made with a lean dough. It has a chewy crust and soft interior due to a high water content. It is characterized by numerous air pockets in the interior and is excellent for sandwiches and paninis.


This Italian bread is baked in a sheet pan to produce a flat loaf with a texture similar to pizza dough. It is made of flour, yeast, salt, water and olive oil. Before baking, it is usually dimpled and coated in olive oil, creating a crunchy, thin crust. Many bakers will add herbs, garlic and/or flaky salt. Others will top this bread with veggies or meat.


This is an Italian breadstick that is crisp and dry.

Pane Toscano

This translates to “Tuscan Bread” and is a regional specialty of the Tuscany area. Another name is “pane sciocco” and is translated “tasteless bread”. That name is due to the absence of salt in the dough. It is thought to have begun in the Middle Ages and was a way for the people to protest high taxes on salt. Since the absence of salt does make it bland, it is not normally eaten on its own. Rather, it is typically served with cured meats and/or strong cheeses.

French Breads


This is a yeasted bread that makes one automatically think of France. It is typically long and oval in shape with slits in the top that allow for gas expansion while the bread is baking. As its only ingredients are flour, water, yeast and salt, it would be considered a lean dough.


This is another French bread but one made with an enriched dough containing abundant butter and eggs. The crust is soft and the texture light. The flavor is rich and slightly sweet. It is delicious to eat on its own but also makes a spectacular French Toast or bread pudding.


This delicacy is not only yeasted but is laminated, a process that involves rolling and folding the dough numerous times with plenty of resting times as you go along. It is this process along with the butter that creates the flaky, crispy layers that we all love.


This is France’s version of focaccia. Traditionally shaped to look like a leaf, it is spongy and light and often garnished with fresh herbs. Other typical ingredients include sundried tomatoes and cheese.

Pain de mie

Another yeasted bread, it has a very thin crust and a thick interior. These characteristics are achieved by baking in square or rectangular covered pans. The lid prevents the bread from fully rising, giving it a fine, compact crumb. It looks like your typical American sliced white sandwich bread and is ideal for the classic Croque Monsieur sandwich.

Indian Breads


A type of unleavened Indian flatbread that is usually grilled rather than baked. It is typically eaten with meals but can be used to scoop for eating.


A very popular Indian flatbread that uses yogurt in the dough, which adds softness, chewiness and acidity. It is traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven but there are methods to make great Naan in your home kitchen.


Another unleavened Indian flatbread that is very flaky due to layers formed during the shaping process.


A deep-fried unleavened Indian flatbread that has simple ingredients of flour, water and maybe cumin seeds. The dough is rolled into flat round disks and then deep-fried. It is during this frying process that the puri puffs up like a pillow.


An unleavened flatbread that is popular in India as well as the Caribbean. There are different versions with different ingredients and are usually cooked on a griddle.

Breads from other regions


Coming from Latin America, arepa bread is made from cornmeal. It is flat and round and may be baked, grilled or fried. It may be plain or made with fillings.


A Jamaican flatbread made from cassava root, soaked in coconut milk and then fried, steamed or baked.


An unyeasted quick bread popular in the UK and traditionally made from a single type of grain such as barley, oats, wheat or rye along with water, buttermilk and baking soda. It is typically baked on a griddle.


This is an Irish yeasted bread that adds sultanas and raisins into the dough. It is said to be part of the Halloween tradition in Ireland. Various small objects may be baked into the dough and then used to tell the person’s fortune.


This Jewish yeasted bread’s typical shape is a long braid. It is yellow in color due to the addition of eggs and/or egg yolks. Other ingredient’s include sugar or honey but no milk or butter.


From Ethiopia comes this bread made from teff. It is a type of sourdough and is used to scoop up meats and stews. It has a spongy texture and slightly sour flavor.

Knäckebröd bread

This is a Swedish crisp bread that is more of a cracker than a bread, it is made mostly from rye flour. A variety of seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, flax) are often used to make different versions.


Claimed by food experts to be Armenian in origin, this is a large, oval-shaped flatbread made only from flour, salt and water. It is leavened with a sourdough starter. It is traditionally cooked by placing it against the inside of a clay oven known as a tonir. It is a staple of Armenian, Iranian and Turkish cuisine. Here’s a great video showing how it is made in Armenia.

Matzo (Matzoh)

This is a Jewish unleavened bread with the texture of a cracker that is traditionally consumed during Passover.


From the Middle East, pita bread is cooked at very high temperatures, creating an air bubble in the center. This makes a pocket into which you can stuff other ingredients.

Soda bread

It is a traditional Irish treat. This is a quick bread made with flour, buttermilk and baking soda. It may or may not also contain oil, butter, eggs and/or sugar. When made with whole wheat flour, it is known as Brown Soda Bread or Wheaten Bread. Typically, it is sprinkled on top with rolled oats.


This is an Iranian leavened bread that is made from whole wheat flour, milk, eggs and yogurt and often flavored with saffron or cardamom. It is normally baked on the walls of a tandoori oven.


This is a sweet bread from the Czech Republic that is prepared during the Christmas season. It is braided with a texture similar to brioche. It is usually flavored with rum and lemon zest and topped with sugar, almonds & dried fruit.


This is a very thin, round unleavened bread that originated in Turkey and made from flour, water, salt and olive oil. It is rolled out to a paper-thin thickness. Some feel this was a precursor to phyllo dough and is often used in making Turkish pastries. However, it may also be found filled with sandwich items.


A traditional Swiss bread that is braided and has a rich, buttery flavor. It is made of flour, butter, yeast, milk and eggs. Both in appearance and texture, it is similar to the Jewish bread, challah.

I don’t know about you but just reading and writing about all these breads makes me want to get into the kitchen and try something new. If you do that, let me know.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Bread Doughs – not all the same

Do you make your own bread? Do you want to learn how to make your own bread? When you look at recipes, there are certain similarities among the ingredients such as flour, yeast & water. However, other recipes might call for sugar, eggs, butter or milk. Why these ingredients are added in some recipes and not in others is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

All bread dough is not the same. There are different ways to categorize doughs but for the sake of this Tip, we will look at just one way. Doughs can be thought of as either Lean Doughs or Enriched Doughs.

Lean doughs

This type of dough has a short ingredient list, generally only flour, salt, yeast and water. Some lean doughs may contain sugar/honey or even oil but only in very small amounts. For example, my favorite pizza dough recipe is a lean dough although it contains olive oil but only 2 tablespoons for a pound of flour.

When baked, lean doughs produce a bread with a crusty exterior and an airy open crumb (the interior). It also has a hollow sound when baked.

Examples of lean dough products

  • French & Italian breads
  • Artisan breads
  • Sourdough bread
  • Pita bread
  • Pizza crusts

Enriched doughs

These doughs will have added ingredients such as fat, dairy, eggs and/or sugar. These ingredients enhance flavor and give you a bread with a soft and tender texture.


  • Fat tenderizes the dough by coating and shortening the gluten strands, creating a softer and more tender crumb.


  • Sugar weakens the gluten network by bonding to water molecules, blocking the flour proteins from doing the same. Remember that flour contains the proteins glutenin and gliadin. When these are mixed with water, the proteins combine to form gluten. So, by limiting the interaction of the flour and the water, you are limiting gluten development.
  • Sugar also absorbs water giving a moist, tender crumb.
  • Sugar browns quickly and so, many enriched doughs are baked at lower temperatures.
  • A sugar content of more than 10% will slow down yeast activity by pulling water away from the yeast, which means a longer fermentation time. Some recipes will call for an increased amount of yeast to compensate for this. You may also use what is termed “Osmotolerant” yeast. It is a special strain of yeast that works well in this environment.
  • This dough will also be heavier since sugar, butter and eggs are heavy ingredients.


  • Egg yolks will weaken the gluten network by bonding to flour proteins.
  • Egg whites contribute to the dough’s structure.
  • Breads made with eggs are tender and slower to stale.


  • This is another ingredient that weakens the gluten network while also yielding tender breads with a longer shelf life.

Examples of enriched dough products

  • Brioche
  • Challah
  • Soft dinner rolls
  • Sandwich bread
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Hamburger/Hotdog rolls

You may ask why this should make a difference to you. Afterall, you just want to follow the recipe and end up with a delicious bread. Knowing the above information can help you achieve the end result you want. By looking at the ingredients in the recipe, you can immediately see if it is a lean or enriched dough. You will then know what your bread will be like – either crunchy and chewy or soft and tender. If you know what type of bread you want to have, you can then pick out a recipe that will produce that result. If you want those soft, pillowy dinner rolls, you are going to want an enriched dough recipe. On the other hand, if you want that chewy baguette, don’t use a recipe with those added ingredients.

Some people may ask which dough is better but it isn’t really a matter of better or worse. They are both equally great doughs but just give you different results. If you bake much bread, you will want to have both in your repertoire.

Here’s to a great Baking Year!

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Bread — Delicious but can it be healthy?

Do you love bread as much as I do? I made some wonderful “Honey Butter Yeast Rolls” for Christmas dinner. Yes, they were fun to make. Yes, they were delicious. However, healthy they were not. Are you able to eat a healthy diet and still consume bread? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip, the 3rd in my series on Healthy Cooking & Eating.

Let me start with the disclaimer that I am not a dietician or a nutritionist. Also, I will acknowledge that there are those who feel we should never eat bread of any kind. Starting from the viewpoint that never consuming bread is not realistic for most of us, let’s try to see if some bread is better to eat than other kinds. I am also limiting this discussion to wheat bread, not gluten-free alternatives.

In my 1st Cooking Tip in this series, I mentioned a definition of healthy foods from the American Fitness Professionals Association. “Healthy foods … are those that are close to how we would find them in nature, have undergone few industrial processes, and contain few to no additives.” How does that apply to wheat bread?

When you find grains of wheat in nature, they are composed of an outer bran layer, an inner core called the endosperm, and the germ.

  • The bran is a fibrous outer layer that has abundant B vitamins, insoluble fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals as well as a small amount of protein. This layer also contains most of the minerals in grain, such as iron, copper, zinc and magnesium.
  • The endosperm makes up about 85% of the kernel. It is about 50-75% starch and protein although it also contains some iron, B vitamins and soluble fiber. This is the part that becomes white flour.
  • The germ is high in fatty acids, a small amount of protein, trace minerals, B vitamins, vitamin E and phytochemicals.

To make white flour, the bran and the germ are removed leaving only the white endosperm. Because that process removes so many of the natural nutrients, the flour is then “enriched” by adding back in some of these nutrients. Minimum standards of how much should be added is set by the FDA. The whole grain also contains something called “phytochemicals”, the most important being antioxidants. According to Science Direct, “phytochemicals are defined as bioactive nutrient plant chemicals in fruits, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods that may provide desirable health benefits beyond basic nutrition to reduce the risk of major chronic diseases.” It is thought that over 75% of these are removed from the wheat kernel when making white flour. The healthy fatty acids in the germ are also removed to improve shelf life.

There are those that feel enriched white bread is not a bad choice because so many of the nutrients are put back into the flour. There are others that feel that the nutrients that are added in are not as healthful as they are not “natural” to the wheat. Most of those added nutrients are vitamins and minerals (although not all of them are replaced) and not the phytochemicals. One item that is definitely less in white flour is fiber but, once again, some feel the difference in fiber content between white flour and whole wheat flour is not significant. You will have to determine what is important for your family and yourself.

There is what is known as “ancient wheat”. This is a type of wheat that has been grown since the ancient times. One variety is called “Einkorn” and is felt by many to be far superior to our modern wheat. I have personally known people who cannot eat our processed flours who have no problem with einkorn. This even includes those with celiac disease. It is not a trial you should undertake, though, without your doctor’s advice. Still considered “ancient” but slightly different than einkorn are “Durum” and “Emmer” wheat.

How do you use all of this information? Whether you bake your own bread or buy bakery bread, you need to learn to read food labels. Even among the same type of flour or bread, the ingredients will vary according to brand. Let’s start with flours.

If you like white flour but want it enriched, it will be easy for you. Most of the standard supermarket brands will be enriched. If you would prefer to stay away from enriched flours, you need to look at the labels carefully to make sure they don’t list those items. For example, Gold Medal All-Purpose flour’s label shows this: “Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Enzymes, Folic Acid”. That is obviously enriched.

On the other hand, King Arthur All-Purpose flour has this ingredient list: “Unbleached Hard Red Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour”. No enrichment there. Bob’s Red Mill is another brand that has chosen not to enrich their white flour. A third one you can sometimes find in the stores is from Arrowhead Mills.

If you would rather get your nutrients in a whole form, opt for whole wheat flour. There should be at least a few options available where you shop. Baking with whole wheat flour, though, is not as simple as swapping it one-for-one for white flour. You should find recipes meant for whole wheat flours and do some experimenting.

Some people say they do not like the taste of whole wheat products as they are heavier and nuttier. There is a product called White Whole Wheat although not all companies make this. This type of flour is made from a different type of wheat but is still whole-grain. Baked goods using this will be lighter in texture and flavor. Not all brands make this product but King Arthur Flour does. I also saw a listing for a Kroger white whole wheat.

There are some wonderful whole wheat/grain bread recipes if you have the time to bake your own. Here are two that I have tried and liked.

If you do not want to make your own bread but just want to buy something acceptable, turn to the labels once again. Do not pay attention to the name of the bread as it can be confusing. The name might say whole wheat, multi-grain, all-natural, etc. This doesn’t really tell you much. What you want to see on the ingredient list is “whole grain” or “whole wheat”. Preferably, choose a bread where it says “100% whole-grain” or “100% whole-wheat”. At a minimum, you want the first ingredient to be whole wheat even if there are other ingredients following that. Even among different 100% whole grain products, look at the fiber content and buy the one that is highest. Try to avoid ones with added sugars. Looking at a number of 100% whole wheat breads in my local market showed the sugar content to vary from 1 gm to 4 gm per serving.

Just as you should check the labels on the store-bought bread, you should also check the nutritional facts for your home-made bread. Other than the preservatives (which I prefer to avoid) that are in the store-bought versions, the other nutritional facts may not be that different. For example, let’s look at this comparison. As you look at these, please note that one serving is one slice although the size of that slice might differ.

RecipeKing Arthur 100% Whole Wheat BreadKroger 100% Whole Wheat BreadPrivate Selection 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Serving Size1 slice/55 grams1 slice/34 gm1 slice/45 grams
Total Fat4 grams1 gram1.5 grams
Saturated Fat2 grams0 grams0 grams
Trans Fat0 grams0 grams0 grams
Cholesterol10 mg0 mg0 mg
Sodium230 mg200 mg270 mg
Total Carbs23 grams18 grams24 grams
Dietary Fiber4 grams2 grams4 grams
Total Sugars4 grams2 grams4 grams
Protein5 grams3 grams6 grams

I think most of us would agree that bread is delicious and very satisfying. It is not something, though, that should be eaten with abandon on a healthy diet. I hope with this information, you will be able to make the best choices for you.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Whole Grains can be very tasty!

In this Part 2 of my Cooking Tips series on healthy cooking, I want to talk about one very important thing you can do and that is to eat more Whole Grains. I will not be talking about flours and bread in this Tip. That will be in a future Tip. For this one, I will concentrate on grains we may serve as a side dish. All recipes I note are ones that I have tested and find very tasty. Try these recipes as a way to get more whole grains into your diet in a delicious way but also as a starting point to experiment.

What are whole grains? Grains are the edible seeds of plants and for it to be “whole”, it must contain all of the main three parts of the seed.

  • Bran – fiber-rich outer layer with B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. The latter are naturally found in food and are felt to be important in disease prevention.
  • Germ – the core of the seed that is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
  • Endosperm – the interior layer composed of carbohydrates, protein and small amounts of B vitamins and minerals.

When you are shopping, you need to pay attention to the nutritional facts label. It is not always straightforward. A 2013 study by Public Health Nutrition looked at products considered Whole Grain and evaluated them to see what would be most useful for the consumer as far as labeling. What they found was that just looking for the term “whole grain” can be misleading. You should see “whole grain” on the label and try to pick products where it is at the top of the ingredient list. However, also look for products with more fiber but less sugar, sodium and trans-fat.

There are many wonderful whole grains out there. Although you can get all of them online, I am going to limit my discussion to those you are most likely to find in your local supermarket. Some of these are gluten free and others are not. I will note that in the description.

Before discussing the individual grains, I want to talk about cooking them. I tend to cook whole grains with the “pasta method.” Cover the grains with liquid, bring to a boil, cover, reduce to simmer and cook until done. Here is a chart from the Whole Grains Council that will give you more specifics. If you are one of us that lives at high altitude, review this Tip on Cooking at High Altitude. You will need more water and more time to cook most of these whole grains.

To liven up the final dish, here are a few ideas.

  • Cook using low/no sodium broth. Can also cook in fruit juice but those are high in sugar. Vegetable juice is another alternative.
  • Toasting the grains before you cook them heightens the flavor. Those that take toasting well are amaranth, millet, oats, quinoa & wheat berries.
  • Add nuts, seeds, citrus zest and/or dried unsweetened fruit.

Now to the actual grains.

  • Amaranth
    • Gluten Free
    • These are the tiny seeds of the amaranth plant. The seeds are not a true grain.
    • When cooked, they resemble brown caviar and remain crunchy.
    • It has a strong, grassy flavor.
    • Cook it up like grits or make a porridge.
  • Barley
    • Can be whole (hulled) or pearled. The hull is very tough and must be removed.
    • Only the hulled is considered “whole”. However, it is harder to find and takes longer to cook.
    • Can be served as a side dish or added to soups/stews.
  • Bulgur
    • Wheat kernels that are boiled, dried, husked and cracked. Also known as cracked wheat.
    • Because bulgur is precooked, it is quick to prepare. You are essentially just rehydrating it.
    • Often added to soups, stuffed veggies and salads. Tabbouleh is one very characteristic bulgur-containing dish.
  • Corn
    • Gluten Free
    • Whole kernels are ground into cornmeal, which is then often used in baking.
    • Popcorn is a different strain of corn but is still a whole grain.
    • Polenta, toss fresh corn in salads, soups and quiches.
  • Couscous
    • This is not really a grain but a pasta made from semolina flour, and therefore, is not a whole grain. There are whole grain varieties that are made of whole wheat durum flour. They are much harder to find in stores but are readily available online.
  • Farro
    • This is a high-fiber, high-protein wheat that can be found in three forms.
      • Pearled – the bran & outer husk is removed but still retains some fiber. It has the shortest cook time and is the most common in our stores.
      • Semi-pearled – part of the bran is removed. It is sort of a middle ground in terms of nutrition and cooking time.
      • Whole – the whole grain remains intact. It has the longest cook time.
    • It has a chewy texture and a nutty flavor.
  • Millet
    • Gluten Free
    • A small, round ivory grain with a mild flavor.
    • Has a mild flavor and mixes well with other foods.
    • Use like rice.
  • Oats
    • Gluten Free but some companies process their oats on the same machinery as other gluten-containing grains. So, be sure they are certified gluten free.
    • Contains a special variety of fiber that’s felt to be helpful in lowering cholesterol.
    • Both old-fashioned & steel-cut are whole grains.
    • Steel cut is chewier and nuttier.
  • Quinoa
    • Gluten Free
    • A small, light-colored round pseudo-grain. It is not a true grain but is in the same family as spinach and chard.
    • It is naturally coated with a bitter and soapy layer, called saponin, that is to deter animals. It should be removed by rinsing in water before cooking. Some brands will be pre-washed when you buy it.
    • It is quick cooking.
    • Comes in white or red varieties.
    • It has a mild flavor, is chewy and slightly nutty.
    • Good in pilafs, salads, casseroles, soups.
  • Rice
    • Gluten Free
    • Limit your intake of white rice but, instead, choose brown, red, black or wild.
    • Brown rice can be long-, medium- or short-grain. Two of the most popular rices, basmati & jasmine, also come in brown versions.
    • Pigmented rices – black, purple, red, mahogany. The color is caused by the anthocyanin pigments in the outer bran. This makes them very high in antioxidants.
    • Wild rice is not true rice. It is an aquatic grass.
  • Wheat berries
    • The whole kernels of hard red spring wheat before it is ground into flour.
    • Because they are whole and firm, they take a while to cook. It is often recommended that you soak them overnight to shorten the cooking time.
    • Cook them in simmering liquid for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or cook them in a slow cooker.
    • It is chewy & nutty.
    • Add to soup, chili, salads, side dishes.

That is quite a bit of information but just scratches the surface on whole grains. I hope you are intrigued and challenged to try some of these whole grains. I know my favorites are bulgur and farro. What about you? Do you have a favorite?

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

40,000 Varieties of Rice

A while ago I wrote a short Cooking Tip about rice. In that Tip, I discussed the different varieties in terms of grain size. In this Tip, I would like to expand on what I wrote previously. According to, there are over 40,000 varieties of rice. I don’t know about you but I cannot imagine that. We will only cover a very small number of these types.

To recap on grain size, rice comes in short-, medium- and long-grain. Short grain means each kernel is only slightly longer than it is wide. Examples include sushi rice as well as packages just termed “short grain”. Medium-grain rice is about two times as long as it is wide. Examples include Arborio and Valencia. Long grain rice is three to four times longer than it is wide. Jasmine and Basmati are in this category.

Another point to understand is that rice contains two kinds of starches – amylose and amylopectin. Different varieties contain different ratios of these starches and that leads to a different result when cooked.

A higher proportion of amylopectin (as found in short and medium grain rice) means that the rice softens more completely and thickens sauces better. The grains have a greater tendency to cling together and make rice sticky when cooked. This makes them great for risotto, rice pudding or sticky rice.

If amylopectin is low and amylose high (as in long grain rice), each cooked rice grain is dry and fluffy and remains separate. This is a perfect type of rice to use in pilafs, fried rice or as a side dish.

Here is a list of just a few rice varieties that are available.

You might just read Long Grain rice on the package at your supermarket. It is probably what most people have in their pantries and can be bought in both white and brown.

Basmati rice is the “go to” rice in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. More than 70% of the world’s supply of this rice comes from India. It is very fragrant with a somewhat nutty flavor. Being a long-grain rice, it works great in pilafs or as a side dish for curries. It is available in both white and brown.

Jasmine rice is what you find served with Thai meals. It has a floral aroma with a slightly sweet flavor. Even though it is a long grain rice, it does become slightly sticky when cooked. You can find it in both white and brown varieties.

Arborio rice is best known as “risotto” rice although this is not the only rice that is used to make risotto. It is the most available in our supermarkets, though. Because it is high in amylopectin starch, when cooked correctly, it is chewy and creamy – making it ideal for risotto and rice puddings.

Carnaroli rice is another Italian rice that is perfect for risotto and rice puddings. It has a firmer texture and holds its shape better than Arborio.

Valencia/Bomba rice is a Spanish short grain rice with kernels that are almost spherical. It is the rice most commonly used in paella. As it is highly absorbent, it requires more water to cook than other varieties. Due to its high amylose starch content, it does not stick together.

Brown rice is a whole grain rice. It comes in short, medium and long grain varieties. It is processed by only removing the outer, inedible husk. As opposed to white rice, the germ and bran is left intact. This results in a denser texture with a nutty flavor and preferred by nutritionists because of its higher fiber and vitamin content.

Red rice is also known as Wehani if American-grown. Imported versions are called Himalayan, Bhutanese or Camargue rice and it takes its name from the red color. It is considered another whole grain rice and thus is touted for its higher nutritional content.

Black rice is sometimes labeled as Forbidden rice, Japonica or Emperor’s rice. It is very high in a certain antioxidant (the same one as found in eggplant and blueberries) and this is the reason for the black color. It turns a purple or lavender color when cooked. It is not only very flavorful but very high in nutritional value.

Glutinous rice (sticky rice, sweet rice) is very sticky when cooked due to the low amylose content. When ground, it is known as mochiko or sweet rice flour. Despite the name “glutinous”, this rice does not contain any gluten. Glutinous actually means “glue like”.

Sushi rice is a short grain Japanese rice. It is sticky in texture but not quite as much as glutinous/sticky rice. The rice is rinsed to remove the outer coating, boiled and then mixed with a vinegar mixture. In fact, the word sushi translates to “vingarized rice”.

Wild rice is not a rice. Rather, it is a seed of a grass that is native to North America. It takes much longer to cook and has a very chewy texture. It is another good source of nutrients.

You might see something called Parboiled or Converted rice. It has been treated with steam pressure before milling, which produces a tan grain that is firm & stays separate when cooked.

Instant rice has been partially or completely cooked and so, only takes only a few minutes to prepare. What you gain in convenience, though, you lose in taste and texture.

So many rice varieties to try. If all you eat is white rice, I encourage you to try some of the other types. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Are you into Buddha Bowls?

 A tasty Bulgogi Beef Bowl I recently made . A tasty Bulgogi Beef Bowl I recently made .

Have you noticed the popularity of so-called “Buddha Bowls” lately? Just what are they and why are they all the rage? This Cooking Tip will attempt to answer these questions.

Although “Buddha Bowl” is the most common term I see, they have also been called Grain Bowls, Hippie Bowls, Macro Bowls and other terms. They are basically very artfully arranged single-serving bowls of food. They are usually, but not exclusively, vegetarian.

There is no definite explanation for the term but according the authors of Buddha’s Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind, it may have come from the way that Buddha ate. “Buddha woke up before dawn every morning and carried his bowl through the roads or paths wherever he was staying. Local people would place food in the bowl as a donation, and at the end he would eat whatever he had been given.”

The Urban Dictionary has a different idea. They define it as “a bowl which is packed so full that it has a rounded “belly” appearance on the top much like the belly of a buddha.”

No matter the origin of the name, they are generally considered healthy and they are composed of fresh and whole ingredients. There are certain elements that usually go into each bowl although the variations are only limited by your taste and imagination. Most bowls contain the following components: Whole Grains, Veggies, Protein, Dressing and Toppings.

Grains – Keep it interesting by choosing different grains, preferably whole grains. Try brown, black or red rice, farro, quinoa, bulgur, barely or millet. These can be made ahead and kept if the refrigerator for a few days.

Veggies – There are a plethora of veggies out there that you can add either raw or lightly cooked. Not only do the veggies add nutrients, they also lend beautiful color to the bowl. Choose from greens, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or zucchini. Roasting the veggies adds another dimension that can be very nice. How you prepare them is up to you – they can be chopped, shredded or sliced.

Protein – Since many Buddha bowls are vegan or at least vegetarian, the protein is often tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, beans, lentils and so forth. However, feel free to add a lean animal protein such as chicken or fish. Some bowls even feature pork or beef.

Dressing – A wonderful mixture of liquid flavor is typically drizzled over the bowl to make it complete. These may be homemade or store-bought and can include a vinaigrette, hummus, guacamole or even salsa.

Toppings – Sprinkle seeds or nuts on top. Scatter tender, fresh herbs such as parsley or cilantro.

Your bowl should be not only visually attractive but full of flavor. Use different colors such as yellow, green, red, white and pink. Include a variety of textures so you have both soft and crunchy elements. Don’t cut everything in the same shape but have variety – cubes, sticks, grated, julienned, etc. Finally, balance the different flavor components of sweet, salty, acid, bitter & umami.

Although Buddha bowls have seen a definite uptick in popularity recently, the components are really nothing new. Just good, clean, healthy and flavorful food. What’s not to like about that?

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Take your bread for a whirl in your food processor

When a recipe calls for bread crumbs, do you grab for a canister from your pantry? While that may be OK in a pinch, homemade bread crumbs are so very easy and a much better choice. This is especially true if, like me, you have a partial loaf of bread on your counter that is starting to dry out.

All you have to do is to tear your bread into chunks, toss into your food processor & whirl it into crumbs. Some like to cut off the crust but others like the color & texture from including the crusts. Package the crumbs into zip-lock bags and store in your freezer. That way, you will always have bread crumbs for when you need them.

It is nice to toast part of the crumbs to make dry bread crumbs while processing the rest as fresh crumbs. To make toasted bread crumbs, preheat oven to 250ºF. Cut your bread into large chunks. Put on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for about 10 minutes or until the bread is completely dried out. In a very humid environment, some suggest turning off the oven after baking for 10-15 minutes and letting the baking sheet sit in the oven overnight. Be sure to label your bags as to whether the crumbs are toasted or not.

What if your recipe calls for one slice of bread, processed into crumbs and all you have available are your great, homemade frozen crumbs? It is hard to come up with an equivalency because of the variables of type of bread, size of the slice, how finely processed, etc. However, one source I trust has produced this chart.

1 slice bread, 1.5 oz Frozen Crumbs Frozen, toasted crumbs

Finely processed 2/3 cup 1/3 cup

Coarsely processed 1 cup 2/3 cup

What about those Panko breadcrumbs? Panko is lighter, crispier, and airier than regular breadcrumbs. Because of this, it is especially nice for breading fried foods although that is not the only use. Since these are made from a type of Japanese white bread that is cooked in a special way, most experts say it is next to impossible to re-create in your home kitchen. You will find recipes, though, that attempt to do just this. Let me know if you try them and what you think!

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Improve your bread baking

Are you an avid bread baker? Are you always looking for ways to improve your bread baking? Are you willing to do some simple math? If so, this Cooking Tip is for you. For the rest of you, hang in there and next week’s Tip may be just what you are looking for.

If you bake much bread, you know that temperature matters. Recipes will often give you a general guideline for the temperature of the water. The recipe may list an actual number or may just say something like “lukewarm”. Expert bread makers know that there is an ideal temperature for the bread dough and how to get to that temperature.

The temperature of your ingredients (flour, water) as well as your room temperature will affect the final dough temperature. Another factor is what is known as the “friction factor”. That is how much the temperature of your dough increases during mixing and kneading. This can actually be measured but for the purposes of this tip, we will approximate it. (If you want the technique for measuring it, email me.)

For most wheat-based yeast dough, you want to aim for a final dough temperature of 75-78°. Multiply this temperature by 3. From that number, subtract your room temperature, your flour temperature & the friction factor. If you use a stand mixer to mix/knead your dough, estimate the friction factor of 22-24°. If mixing by hand, use 6-8°. When you subtract those three figures, you end up with your desired water temperature.

Let’s look at an example. Say you want a final dough temperate of 78°. For this example, we will presume your room temperature is 71°, your flour temperature is 72° and your friction factor is 22.

Here’s your formula:

78 X 3 = 234
234 – 71 – 72 – 22 = 69°.
This is what you want your water temperature to be.

A couple of caveats. First, there is a different formula if you are using a preferment, such as sourdough. If you are interested in that, email me. Also, it is best for this to use instant yeast, which will still activate in cool water. However, stir your yeast into the flour and do not add it directly to water under 70°. That is another great thing about instant yeast – there is no need to proof it. Just mix it in with your flour and you are good to go.

What difference in your final bread does this make? Well, with a consistent dough temperature, you will get consistent bread results despite varying room temperatures from day to day or season to season. Also, your bread will end up with the best rise, a great crumb structure and wonderful taste.

Try it and see what you think. Just be sure to share some of that yummy homemade bread with me!