My sister and brother-in-law recently sent Karl and I a Christmas package full of wonderful things like clothes, seaweed to make sushi and eat Korean BBQ, and most importantly the Barron’s Food Lover’s Companion. The book is a reference guide to over 6,700 foods, cooking techniques, drinks etc. Anyone who loves food and watches the Food Channel day and night should buy this book! My favorite game when I am bored is to open the book to a random page and read an entry. Here are some of my favorite random items that I have come to learn about due to this fantastic gift.
Filé Powder: “…seasoning made from the ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree. Its since become an integral part of CREOLE COOKING and is used to thicken and flavor GUMBOS and other Creole dishes. Filé has a woodsy flavor reminiscent of root beer” (257).
(I have also learned that Creole cooking and Cajun cooking while both from Louisiana are very different. Creole cooking is thought to be more refined and use oil and butter while Cajun cooking is much spicier and relies on the use of Pig lard.)
B’steeya: “A Moroccan dish of Phyllo dough surrounding a mélange of shredded chicken, ground almonds, and spices. The “pie” is baked until a crisp golden brown, then sprinkled with powder sugar and cinnamon. Also spelled bastela, bastila, bisteeya, and pastilla” (92).
Lavender Gem: “This citrus fruit is a white grapefruit-tangelo cross with a pale pink skin and flesh and a sweet flavor. It’s usually available in specialty produce stores and can be used in any manner appropriate for grapefruit. Lavender gems are also called wekiwas” (381).
Syllabub: “This thick, frothy drink or dessert originated in old England. It’s traditionally made by beating milk with wine or ale, sugar, spices and sometimes beaten egg whites. A richer version made with cream can be used as a topping for cakes, cookies, fruit etc. It’s thought the name originated in Elizabethan times and is a combination of the words Sille ( A French Wine that was used in the mixture) and bub (Old-English slang for bubbling drink)” (681).
Varak;Varaq: “Edible, gossamar-thin sheets of pure silver and gold that for centuries have been popular decorations in India for special occasion desserts, confections, nuts, and rice dishes. Varak sheets, which are flavorless and odorless, can be found in Indian markets and cake decorating supply shops…Varak sheets are so fragile that they can dissolve easily with human touch and can be torn by the barest breath of air” (721)
If I am ever in charge of a bringing food to a fancy party I am going to bring something that I can put Varak on to make it look pretty. Also how amazingly magical is the description of its fragility…its like a fairytale. Have you ever seen the 1990’s film version of the “The Little Princess”?
If you have, don’t you agree you were semi-transported to those scenes when she is telling the Ramayana? Pure gold…no pun intended.