Monday, April 30, 2007

Bamboo in the Home

The Gourmet Fusion store is now stocking many different bamboo products for the home and kitchen. Beautiful and graceful, bamboo has been an important part of Far Eastern cultures for centuries. Many people today are realizing the link between simplicity and artful entertaining and are incorporating the natural sophistication of bamboo into their homes. is also becoming increasingly popular as a substitute for wood, as the importance of using sustainable materials is realized. Whether it is beautifully formed bowls, such as the ones shown here, or simple cutting boards, many interior designers are choosing bamboo to add the finishing touches to and kitchen designs.

Not only is the bamboo plant beautiful, it also grows abundantly and is amazingly adaptable. For centuries it has been used by people in Asia, Africa, Australia and North and South America to create shelter, tools and other necessities of daily life. With over 1,500 species of bamboo grown throughout the world today, almost anything can be made from it.

Interesting Facts about Bamboo
  • It possesses a tensile strength stronger than steel
  • Bamboo homes were the only ones left standing in a 1992 earthquake in Limon, Costa Rica
  • One of the fastest growing plants on earth
  • Matures to harvest in one year, whereas trees take decades to produce the same amount of material
  • Hardness comparable to maple
  • Grows like grass from the base up and is sustainable and renewable
Using bamboo instead of wood conserves tropical forests, stimulates healthy agriculture, and nurtures sustainable life. It is strong and beautiful all in one, and by choosing bamboo products you will be adding eco-friendly elegance and beauty to your home.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Nice Cup of Tea

is an integral part of everyday life in England, where I grew up, and even though I am hooked on Starbucks coffee, whenever I am stressed or have a problem, I automatically put on the kettle and make tea!

Appreciated centuries ago for its reviving qualities, a cup of sweet, strong tea is still regarded by many Londoners as a cure-all for minor ailments and fatigue, and by simply putting on the kettle, they feel they are making progress in solving whatever is troubling them.

Londoners were formally introduced to tea in 1664, when the East India Company began to import tea from China. Coffee houses soon began to sell tea to drink at home, and by 1707 it was well established as a fashionable, if expensive, drink and while gentlemen enjoyed it in coffee houses, gentlewomen made clear green or black tea in the Chinese style, without milk or sugar for their guests in the evening. Tea only became widely available to the poor in 1784, when the government removed the high excise duty on tea leaves. Mid-morning were routine by the end of the nineteenth century and at many firms, a "tea lady" was employed to wheel a trolley around the office with an urn of tea, milk, sugar and biscuits. Today, tea drinking has once again become popular, with the availability of rare and interesting varieties from companies such as Twinings and Fortnum & Mason. So how do you make the perfect cup of tea?

The Perfect Cup of Tea
  1. Boiling the Water. The water should be brought just to the boil for brewing black tea and be just off the boil, for preparing more delicate green or white teas. The ideal pot for brewing tea contains a small perforated holder (infuser) for the tea leaves. The holder can be removed or sealed with a plunger once the tea has been brewed sufficiently.
  2. Brewing the Tea Leaves. The teapot is warmed with hot water just before the leaves are added. Traditionally, British tea drinkers allow 1 teaspoon of loose-leaf tea per person, plus 1 extra teaspoon for the pot, but most tea experts recommend experimenting to taste. Large-leaf teas can be brewed for 4-5 minutes; small leaf teas need only 2-3 minutes.
  3. Serving The Tea. Britons drink their tea black or white (with milk), or with a slice of lemon. There is much debate about the correct way to serve the milk, but most believe that it should be poured into the cup before the tea is slowly added. (more information on tea can be found in the Williams-Sonoma book, London).
So why not dust off the teapot and buy some tea (or tea bags) and the next time you are feeling blue, do what the English do - put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea. The English bone china Royale Amber Teapot-for-one pictured at the top of the page can be found at the Gourmet Fusion Store, where this month there is also a free Starbucks Gift Card promotion. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Can Cinnamon Lower Blood Sugar?

Can help to lower blood sugar levels? As early as 2700 BC, Chinese herbalists used cinnamon to help treat stomach and kidney disorders, and later Greek and Indian healers valued it as a remedy for many complaints.

Recent research carried out in Pakistan showed that diabetics who took cinnamon pills for 40 days saw their levels fall by at least 13% and their triglyceride levels by at least 23%. Similarly, research in Germany showed that when adults with type 2 diabetes took the equivalent of 1 g of cinnamon powder three times a day for four months, cinnamon reduced their blood sugar by about 10%, and it is believed that compounds in cinnamon may activate enzymes that stimulate insulin receptors. So this is good news for those who love the taste of cinnamon.

Cinnamon is used extensively in Moroccan dishes, and one of my favorites is the below which is both tasty and healthy. It combines chicken, tomatoes and honey in a dish that is low in fat and rich in protein, antioxidants, potassium and easily assimilated sugars. It is also very easy to make, just needing a stir from time to time.

Chicken with Tomatoes in Honey - Serves 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Handful blanched almonds
4 boneless, skinless chicken pieces, about 10 oz
1 large onion, grated or finely chopped
5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
Good pinch black pepper
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  1. Heat a pan, add the oil and almonds and saute until golden. Alternatively put the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in a preheated oven, 350 degF, for about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add the chicken to the pan, cover, and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the chicken is golden, reduce heat to medium and let cook, still covered, in its own juices for another 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  3. Stir in the onions and cook for a few more minutes, then add the tomatoes, saffron, pepper and salt. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a separate dish and continue simmering the tomatoes until the liquid has almost evaporated. Season with cinnamon and drizzle all over with the honey.
  5. Return the chicken to the pan, simmer for a few minutes to warm through, then garnish with the almonds and serve with couscous.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Shredded Szechuan Beef with Carrots and Chilli

This easy recipe takes a classic Peking dish and mixes it with the tangy, lemon-pepper flavor of the peppercorns, resulting in a wonderful blend of deliciously subtle flavors. This calls for less fat than the original recipe from Peking, as none of the ingredients are deep fried. The dish goes well with boiled rice or noodles, and a chilled dry white wine, or cold beer such as Japanese Sapporo or Italian Peroni (well, this is a site!).

3/4 pound round or fillet steak, cut into thin strips, 2 1/2 inches long
2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves crushed

2-3 red and green fresh chilies, deseeded and sliced

1 small piece of ginger, cut into slices

1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, pan roasted and crushed

3/4 pound carrots, cut into thin strips, 2 1/2 inches long
2 teaspoons dry sherry
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 chopped scallions to garnish

1. Put the beef strips in a bowl and mix in the cornstarch.

2. Heat the oil in a wok until piping hot. Add the beef and fry for 1 minute on each side. Remove from the pan, set aside and keep warm.

3. Add the garlic and chilies to the pan and stir-fry for a few seconds.

4. Toss in the carrots and ginger, sherry and soy sauce, and stir fry for another minute.

5. Add the beef and the Szechuan peppercorns to the carrot mixture and cook for another minute, adding more soy sauce if needed.

6. Serve garnished with the scallions with rice or noodles.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Choosing a Paella Pan

Mediterranean cooking is becoming more and more popular in the United States, and the number of pans and cooking utensils to choose from has increased dramatically over the years. pans are one of those items that come in many shapes and sizes, and which one you choose depends on what type of stove or oven you are going to be using, how many people you intend to cook for and what price you want to pay.

Paella pans come in sizes ranging from as small as 7 inches to as large as 36 inches diameter. Sometimes paella is made on a stove top or grill and sometimes in the oven. The largest size pan that fits in a domestic oven is about 17 or 18 inches (check the size of your oven before buying), and if you only want to use one burner on your stove top, then 12 - 14 inches is probably as big as you want to go, and is usually big enough for most people. 22 inches is the largest size that you could fit on a domestic stove top by placing the pan over more than one burner.

How often you are going to use the pan, how long you want it to last, and how much you want to pay should be considered when choosing a pan.

Polished Carbon Steel
This is the traditional pan used in . Polished steel is extremely durable, economical, and conducts heat better than any other metal. Care for these pans is similar to cast iron cookware, in that they must be seasoned. They can be used on gas stoves, in any type of oven, over campfires and grills. They are not recommended for use on electric or ceramic stove tops. They are usually the most economical to buy and produce great results. The polished carbon steel pan shown above is available at the Gourmet Fusion store.

Stainless Steel
These pans have absolutely zero maintenance, they cook fast and are easy to clean and do not need seasoning. Obviously, this does not come without a price, and you can expect to pay approximately three times the price of a carbon steel pan for one of these state of the art pans.

Enameled Steel
These pans are ideal as an entry level pan, as they heat up fast and clean up easily, and do not require seasoning. They are, however, a little more fragile and would not be used in a restaurant or by a professional chef, but can work successfully in the home kitchen and are less expensive than the Stainless Steel.

Restaurant Grade Stainless Steel
These pans have all the same features as the polished carbon steel pans, but are made from steel which is about twice as thick to make them indestructible. These pans will stand up to extreme repeated use under high heat without distortion and are ideal for restaurants and professional chefs. They cost about twice as much as the polished carbon steel, and would probably not be needed in most home kitchens.

Copper pans are also available and make a very attractive choice, especially if you will have the pan on display in your kitchen. Copper pans often have a tin lining because it has better food release properties. They are extremely heavy and also expensive.

This type of pan would not be used by the traditional Spanish cook, but they certainly help if cleaning up is one of your concerns. Usually constructed from a high quality steel with a non-stick coating applied to the cooking surface. Prices for this type of cookware vary greatly depending on the brand.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Between the Sheets

If you're having people round for drinks or dinner and are looking something a bit more exciting than a Bud to welcome them with, try this super cool cocktail. It's sure to get the party going with a swing.

The Between the Sheets was first created in the 1930s by Harry MacElhone, the famous bartender who set up Harry's New York Bar in . This cocktail is a -based drink, based on the Side Car, and has a sweetness which comes from the Cointreau with a nice kick to it from the lime juice. This sweet and sour effect creates a delicate balance, making this cocktail perfect for stimulating your appetite before dinner. It's super easy to make and looks great as well!

2/3 oz good quality brandy
2/3 oz Cointreau
2/3 oz white rum
Splash of freshly squeezed lime juice

Martini/Cocktail glass

1. Fill the shaker with ice cubes.
2. Pour in all the ingredients and shake well.
3. Strain into the martini glass.
4. Garnish with lemon or lime.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Hot Cross Buns, an English Tradition

One of the in England is eating Hot Cross Buns at . At this time of year you can smell them baking when you walk past the bakeries in the cities, small towns and villages. It is traditional to eat them split, toasted and buttered on (originally for breakfast, but now people in offices tend to run out to the store and buy some for an 11 o'clock snack). The buns are a dough like mixture to which candied peel, cinnamon and nutmeg are added and this is shaped into a ball which has a pastry cross on the top (in commemoration of Christ's Crucifixion). Originally, the dough balls were marked with a cross prior to baking to ward off evil spirits that might prevent them from rising, and on Good Friday this practice is still observed. Below is the for these yummy treats.

Recipe for Hot Cross Buns - makes 6 buns

1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups bread flour, or as needed
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1//4 teaspoon ground mace
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
1/3 cup (2oz) each, dried currants,
golden raisins (sultanas) and mixed
candied citrus peel
1 large egg, beaten

For the Pastry Cross
1/3 cup(2oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon superfine sugar

For the Glaze
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1. In a small saucepan, warm the milk to 105 degrees F (40degC). Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Sift the 2 cups bread flour into a large bowl. Stir in the superfine sugar, salt, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture forms crumbs the size of fine bread crumbs. Mix in the yeast and then the currants, raisins, and candied peel. make a well in the center and stir in the egg and enough of the reserved milk to form a soft dough. It should no be too sticky; if it clings to your fingers, add more flour.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead thoroughly until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place until the dough has risen by a third, 3-5 hours. The timing depends on the temperature of the kitchen.

4. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for 1 minute, then divide into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a neat ball and place on the prepared baking sheet, flattening each ball slightly. Cover lightly with plastic rap and set aside until the dough is very puffy, about 45 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 degreesF (200degC). To make the pastry crosses, sift the all-purpose flour into a small bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture forms fine crumbs. Mix in the superfine sugar. Stir in 1 tablespoon cold water to make a firm dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a rectangle about 8 inches by 2 inches and 1/8-inch thick. Cut the pastry into 12 strips, each about 4 inches long and 1/4-inch wide. For each bun, brush 2 strips with a little water and arrange, brushed side down, in a cross on the top of the bun. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the milk and
granulated sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high and boil vigorously until the glaze becomes syrupy, about 30 seconds.

7. When the buns are done, transfer to a wire rack and immediately brush with the hot glaze. Serve the buns warm or at room temperature. They can also be split open and toasted.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Gourmet Fusion Store

After several buying trips to the LA Mart and Fancy Food Show I found some really cool product lines to sell, and my Gourmet Fusion store is now open! The store is an eclectic mix of international products for and , and has some great ideas.

Some of my favorite products are by Shiraleah who have taken traditional products and added their own design flair to them, which can be seen in products like this contemporary black ceramic set. We also feature Shiraleah tea sets, vases and bowls and are adding more products daily.