Thursday, December 30, 2004

RESTAURANT REVIEWS

This is a new section I would like to devote to restaurants. I will write reviews of places where I have dined. I certainly would like you to write to me and offer your opinions on all types of restaurants in your area. You will get full credit under the name of your choice and the date of your submission will be posted above the review. I will just make typo corrections and highlight certain items.

You may post your reviews in comments or e-mail me at marinadedave@yahoo.com


AMURA JAPANESE RESTAURANT

8/25/2005

Yesterday, three of us from work went to the Amura Japanese Restaurant in Lake Mary, Florida, a suburb north of Orlando. The name "Amura" comes from a deviation of their original name. It was, at one time, called "Samurai" but someone had already registered that name. Instead of completely renaming themselves, they dropped the first and last letters. Amura is Japanese for "Asian Village."

Upon entering, we noticed it was nicely appointed. Not way too elegant, but, not at all shabby. Overall, it's a very nice interior and quite large inside. When the hostess seated us, we immediately noticed how loud the lunchtime crowd was. The open ceiling with exposed air conditioning ducts had a lot to do with that. It didn't bother us since we were three guys and there was nothing romantic about it. A cute and petite waitress came up and took our drink orders. In the meantime, we perused the regular menu and the requisite sushi sheet that we're all familiar with, if you like sushi. This one, though, had a very large selection to choose from, with little descriptions accompanying each item.

When the waitress, Tita, came back, we ordered three Seaweed Salads with Spicy Tuna from the regular menu appetizer list. We also ordered the Shrimp Tempura with Vegetables. The Seaweed Salads with Spicy Tuna were really good, with a decent amount of the raw fish. With it were slightly pickled sliced cucumber and julienned daikon radish. Very enjoyable. The Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura came with various battered and deep fried vegetables and two large shrimp. Kind of tough when there are three of you, but, we cut them up and there was no problem. The salads were $7.99 each and I don't remember what the tempura was, but, hey, I wasn't paying. Saturday is my birthday and they wanted to treat me.

From the sushi menu, we ordered nothing but rolls. Lots of them. They brought the feast out on one of those Titanic sized boats that took up much of the table for four. We ordered the "Brainstorm" ($10.99) which consisted of soft shell crab, shrimp, smoked salmon, cream cheese and scallions. Very good. We got the "Crunch Munch" ($6.99) with tempura crunch, crab, avocado and mayonnaise. Another good one. We had to see what their take on the "Dynamite Roll" ($7.99) was going to be. This was just tuna, yellowtail and wasabi. So far, no complaints. The "Hiroshima Roll" ($11.99) was a strange name to me. I don't think naming something after death and destruction was that appropriate, but, it was good. It had tuna, yellowtail, snapper and mayo stuffed in it. The "Kamikaze" ($9.99) was merely a spicy tuna roll, albeit, tasty. The "Super Crunch Roll" ($9.99) was loaded with tempura crumbs and I don't remember what else. The "Unforgettable Roll" ($10.99) was spicy tuna, eel and tempura crunch. They like using that crunch stuff a lot, but, it does add a flavor that, overall, enhances a little bit. Now, last, but, not least, we penciled in the "Volcano Roll" ($10.99) which consisted of scallops, real crab, which is sometimes hard to find these days, salmon and cream cheese, but for 11 bucks, it had better be the real thing.

Overall, all of the rolls were delicious. The fish was firm and very fresh. Obviously, you could put all of the rolls on a scale, listing from first to last. There wasn't one particular roll I would not order again. There wasn't anything any of us could complain about. Me? Personally, I thought the prices were kind of high, although, this particular location is in a high end section of town. There are expensive homes nearby, some of the costliest around the metro Orlando area. Heathrow and Alaqua come to mind. Plus, there are some pretty sophisticated office buildings all around, housing some business suit type clients.

There are over 70 rolls to choose from, including vegetarian. We got 8 rolls. There are so many, we could go back and never order the same ones for some time to come. One I'll order next time is the "Mexican Roll" ($6.99) which has tempura shrimp, avocado and jalapeno peppers in it. All of the rolls were large, so we ended up bringing a good part of our order back to the office. I never get sick of sushi, so, needless to say, I didn't cook anything for dinner. There is also a fine selection of Nigiri sushi to choose from, not nearly as extensive as the rolls, though.

Amura has three locations in the Orlando area. This one is located in the Colonial Town Park at 950 Market Promenade Avenue, in Lake Mary. The phone number is 407-936-6001. I didn't ask if they take reservations. Next time, I want to ask the cute little Thai waitress if she wants to marry me.


SPATZ OF WINTER PARK

9/22/2005

Spatz is one of those neighborhood type bars with pool tables, electronic darts and golf. They have an eclectic blend of blue-collar workers, professionals and college coeds as their regular customer base. The bartenders are beautiful. Already, from gathering this information alone, you can pretty much conjure up a good idea of what's on the menu. They offer the usual bar type grub, from Jalapeno Poppers and Cajun Curly Fries to Burgers and Wings. There is a small but nice selection of stacked high deli type sandwiches. Spatz's House Rack ($6.95) is loaded with roast beef, ham, turkey and cheese, for example. And all sandwiches come with chips, a pickle and several other options, like what type of bread you want. The Philly Cheese Steak with grilled peppers & onions ($6.50) is a really good sub and quite filling. If you like Mushroom & Swiss Burgers ($6.50) don't pass this one up. We're talking about a half-pound of top grade ground beef here. The only complaint with it is that it depends on who's doing the cooking if you want it a certain way, like rare. Not that there's any talk of state law regulating how it's cooked, mind you, because there isn't. It's just that some people don't know how to grill a burger just right. And that leads me to Bill...

Bill is the lunchtime chef, and I do not use that term "chef" lightly here. Bill comes with high-end credentials, having spent many years in some of the finest restaurants around the country. Why on earth would someone want to leave the security and confines of world class dining? Well, take the word "confines" for instance. After so many years indoctrinated into a corporate realm, one could quite conceivably understand the burnout. Spatz happens to be the lucky outfit he’s settled in on. Not that he's in any immediate hurry to go anywhere else right now. Job offers still flow, but he's pretty content right where he is, and it shows in the quality of his work.

Until he started cooking at Spatz, the food was nothing out of the ordinary, for the most part. Don't get me wrong, the menu items are very good, but, bar food is bar food is bar food. You can only eat so many burgers and wings until you're left with tuna salad and onion rings. Not that there's anything wrong with their versions, either. But, where Bill excels, and it's a true asset to the restaurant he works for, is in his professional style of cooking. Everything he makes is delicious. Soon after he started there, he brought me a sample of gumbo he had concocted. I'm not a real gumbo aficionado, but this stuff was great. The okra wasn't slimy at all. I could clearly detect buttery notes instead. The shrimp were not overdone. I savored what few bites he allotted me. That got me started, and since then, I've tried his Clam Chowder, Vegetable Beef and other soups he's made whenever I go in. I've yet to find something I don't like. Homemade soups are not his only specialty. One day, I went in and the special of the day was Beef Stroganov. Just the right blend of sour cream and other ingredients over a bed of noodles. He had Grilled Trigger Fish one day. I had never heard of it before. It was spiced just right and was, indeed, a very nice piece of fish. Last week, he offered an 8-ounce NY Strip Steak for $7.95. All of his specials come with two sides. This one had French Fries with Gravy as one of the sides. For those of you who have never had that, you don't know what a treat you're missing. The other day, I tried Beef Burgundy. Yum. You don't know what to expect when you go in there, but I guarantee it will be excellent, and it will be very affordable. Prices vary due to the variety of offerings. Don't be fooled by the ambience. Believe me, the quality of the food belies your surroundings. You can peruse the regular menu, but don't go in there without asking your server what the specials of the day are. Or call Bill over. Ask him if he can whip up a new special for you one day. He brings a vast amount of knowledge blended with years of experience into the kitchen and he's certainly brought the level of the bar up quite a few notches.

Remember Bill when you are thinking about catering your next function.

Spatz of Winter Park is open Monday through Saturday, 11am-2am, Sunday, 12-12. It is located at 1025 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, Florida. The phone number is 407-647-3354.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Can Religion and Evolution Coexist?

My grandfather was a preacher. When I was young, he told us all to pray in "thees and thous" as if it were a structured English that might be more understood by God. It clearly was an old way of speaking, but, God had been around a lot longer than me, so who was I to question it? But I did. I asked him why? Jesus never even spoke English. My grandfather didn't quite have an answer for me that made an awful lot of sense. I mean, Jesus never heard of the King James Version of the Bible. It was written long after His time. Once again, also many years ago I questioned him. He said that bodies should be buried, not cremated, for the resurrection of the body at the time of the Second Coming. Just before this, I lost my Boy Scout troop leader, who was a TWA pilot. The plane crashed and his body was never recovered. He could have been pulverized, like someone in an atomic or major explosion. I aked him about these people, who have no body. He didn't quite have an answer for me on that one, either. My point is not to question his religious fervor or rationale or beliefs, but to show how far religions have evolved since those days in the early 60's. Many religions of the Christian faith no longer adhere to such thinking. New versions of the Bible have been written. People of all faiths are cremated every day. As far as other religions, I am not that learned and make no conjectures of my own. Certainly my grandfather had to have changed with the times, but he was old even then, being born in 1904 and instilled with doctrines from an earlier era.

This recent event encompassing such a massive area of destruction in Sri Lanka, Phuket and surrounding countries was and is terrible and catastrophic. These things have occurred since the existence of earth. How could such things happen? I don't think a merciful God would snap His fingers and...Poof! Death and destruction everywhere! I have a hard time, for one thing, believing that God is a man, with the same organs and urges as the ones He placed on earth, but that is another issue. I think the earth is continuously evolving, thus evolutionary. This earthquake was a natural disaster, which brought on the impending tidal waves, and caused the deaths of so many innocents. The forces that caused this did not happen overnight. It took how many thousands or millions of years for all the dominoes of nature to fall in just this precise formation in order for this to happen? One thing of particular interest to me is how do animals know when to find shelter? How many animals were killed during this event? Did something tell them to seek higher ground, a message we humans did not receive? Why would God alert the animals and not us? Could this be an instinct preserved from ancient times that we've lost as we evolved into a more intelligent species? Everyone, at some point, has sensed something they wouldn't normally feel. Could this be remnants from a time long gone that we've mostly lost down through the years?

Could nature and God coexist? Why not? We do with nature. If there is a God in the universe, don't you think this god would want humans to learn to fend for themselves? To evolve into constructive, intelligent beings that know how to protect themselves and others, and to grow with life's experiences? I'm certain that more people around the world are murdered every year than the ones who were lost on that fateful December day. Would God want any of these events to take place? I don't think so. And you can pray for the rest of your life for none of this to ever happen again, but it will. Unnatural versus natural deaths. Such is the recurring theme.

Think of the first computer. It was the size of a house. How small are they today? It has evolved into what it is today and will evolve into what it will become tomorrow, with God's help, or did we as humans do it all alone? This is what I ask unto you: Shall we live in a distant past, intrinsically tied to the laws of God written by men from a bygone era? Or are we to live here on earth, bound by the forces of nature not of our doing, along with an ever evolving God and universe and grow along with the ride?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Message From The Captain

My brother sent an e-mail from Iraq the other day. Then he called Christmas morning. It sure was neat talking to him. He seems to be safe, which is hard to believe. He caught a very bad cold. The insurgents lob missiles into the base at night while they are asleep. They land wherever. If they hit you, then it was just your day. That is their greatest fear. The soldiers then go on a seek and destroy mission. Some of the locals will try to tell them where they are coming from. Once in a while, snipers get close to the base and try to shoot personnel, so that is also a danger. In the meantime, they must get up during the deluge of missiles and dress in full gear for protection. This disrupts their sleep patterns and probably is what the insurgents are trying to do if they can't do anything else. The food is good, he says, the billets (beds) are hard and not very comfortable. Otherwise things are OK so far. He works at least 12 hours a day.

On his way to Iraq, there is a funnel on the plane where you pee. It is open for all to see. Not really a cheap thrill, since they all know where they are headed. The women arrive dehydrated. They don't drink any water so they don't have to go. In order to do so, they must expose a lot more of themselves than the men. There are a lot more men than women aboard. And it is a pretty long flight.

I worry about his safety every day, but it is reassuring when I get an e-mail and get to talk to him. His wife is a little less apprehensive now, too. God be with them all.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Just In Case...

My brother, the Air Force captain, is halfway around the world now, in a place no one wants to be. I just got off the phone with his beloved. Now that he is gone, she is filled with anticipation and the void only a spouse knows. I know how I feel, but she would feel his warmth in the morning, enjoy the breakfast banter and all that goes on in making a marriage so special. This morning she was alone. She is a military wife and is aware of the pitfalls of being one. But, when the time comes, it's tough, no matter how strong you are.

The weeks preceeding his departure, he left little hints, not on purpose, of course, but, I guess just a natural instinct to protect her. He told her little things, like, how to work the sophisticated stereo she never got around to learning, just in case...

Make sure you do this, just in case...

Don't forget that, just in case...

He's gone away before, as is the nature of the business, but, never thrust into a hostile environment. I think not being able to contact your loved one has got to be one of the worst things in the world. For all concerned.

I told her that I would keep in touch with her. Try to fill some of that void. Fortunately, she has family and friends where she lives to help her along the way. I told her to call me when she is down. I will lift your spirits, I said. Together, as a family, we will all be strong. We will all pray for his safe return.

Little does she know how weak I may feel inside. I will never tell her, just in case...

Friday, December 17, 2004

La Caca Pasa Cafe


La Caca Pasa Cafe
Originally uploaded by Marinade Dave.
Back in the mid-eighties, here in Florida, there were 2 movements gaining momentum. One was about outlawing vulgar bumper stickers, such as the ever redneck popular "Sh*t Happens." The other one was about making English the official language of the state. I thought about printing my own bumper stickers if both of these were enacted into law. Simply, it said "La Caca Pasa Cafe," which, loosely translated, means "The Sh*t Happens Cafe." Then, if I were to be pulled over by a Spanish reading cop, he would not be able to ticket me since English would be the official language. Imagine what nasty stuff I could put on my car as long as it was foreign. The obsurdity of it all.

Alas, only the bumper sticker law was passed. I could have made a killing in the bumper sticker business.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Book Cover Design


Book Cover Design
Originally uploaded by Marinade Dave.
This is a book cover I designed for a book my father wrote. He has been sober a very long time. He has had small quantities printed and it is being used in a rehab facility now. He is in the process of having it printed for a larger audience.

At first I was reluctant to do the work since I myself drink occasionally, but then I realized that if he took it elsewhere, that doesn't mean the other designer doesn't drink either. Plus, it's for my father. Who would do a better job than his own son, a graphic designer?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Thanksgiving Dinner 2004


ThanksgivingDinner2004.jpg
Originally uploaded by Marinade Dave.
Every year I make up a Thanksgiving menu like this. Every year I invite people I know over to eat. They all feel sorry for me and invite me over to their house, no matter how well I know them. Of course it's just a joke, but I probably have more places to eat than most people on Thanksgiving Day.

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Pudgy the Bear

My brother is on a flight home to his wife and pets. There is great anticipation and anxiety amongst us knowing that his next flight will take him into a very hostile environment. Clearly, no one wants him to go, including himself, but he is in the military and he knows this is a path one must take sometimes in this field of work. It was a great 10 days having him around, knowing how much it meant to my folks (especially my mother!) to have all three sons and one daughter together. That, and the fact that he is stationed far enough away from us that we don't get to see him as often as we would all like to anyway. And the folks are getting older...

My brother and I have always been very close. When he was young, he wouldn't go to bed at night unless I told him a "Pudgy the Bear" story. Pudgy was a figment of my imagination and every night I would have to conjure up a new adventure, making it up as I went along. Every story would always begin with "Once upon a time, Pudgy the Bear was walking in the woods..." and end on a mostly moral note, just surviving bees and things and communing with the other animals of the forest. He always remembered those stories and I had no idea then how much they would mean to him throughout his life. Not so much the stories, I guess, but the fact that I was always there for him, always full of tales to stoke his imagination and zest for life and adventure. He is going on his own very real adventure soon. Pudgy always managed to get himself out of scrapes, so I hope he can think of himself as a grown up Pudgy now and come back to tell me great adventure stories of his own.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

A Truth

The more hate you have inside, the more hate you have to give.
The more love you have inside, the more love you have to give.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Well

You never can tell the depth of a well by the size of the handle on the pump.

Philosophy

Western thinking often tends to dichotomize phenomena into either/or categories, whereas, a both/and perspective might prove more beneficial in analyses.

My Brother

My brother is a captain in the U.S. Air Force. In December he will be deployed to Iraq. Where he will be going, we do not know. Please pray for him and all of the other soldiers in harm's way and for their safe return.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Marinating Tips

(Note: This article is updated periodically. The date shown remains the same due to linking issues.)

Whenever I make a marinade, I take many things into consideration. Quality and freshness come first – the quality and freshness of the product I am about to marinate and the ingredients I use to create my marinade. The recipe ingredients and the type and size of meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables also affect the amount of time you marinate your product. Marinades are meant to enhance, or bring out the natural flavors of your food, not to change the taste dramatically. Remember that marinades are not really tenderizers. They are designed to moisturize and soften. If you're hit in the arm and get bruised, you feel tender there. So it is when you hammer a piece of meat, it breaks the blood vessels and tenderizes it. Marinades are not the same. For the sake of simple explanation, I will use the term "tenderize" to describe the action of the ingredients. I will attempt to explain what a marinade does, and offer my thoughts on proper marinating procedures to enhance your meals and make them healthier and more delicious.

A marinade is meant to perform certain functions. It should be a delicate balance of acid, oil, spices and/or other flavorings. Peppers and onions may be used to add an element of flavor you may like. For example, I like fresh jalapenos. Not to add fire as much as just for the taste of the pepper itself. Not too much, not too little. Worcestershire and soy sauces flavor nicely. A lot of marinades include ginger. When using ginger, always use fresh and use sparingly. Powdered ginger imparts a much different flavor. A lady once told me she liked to marinate London broil in nothing but 7-UP or Sprite. She told me how delicious it was, and not without merit, I'm sure, but I never tried it. I kind of thought it would make the meat too sweet, but, hey, you should always be creative! When deciding how long to marinate, consider the texture of the meat or fish. Generally, fish needs less time. Food with a denser texture, such as chicken, pork, lamb or beef, can marinate longer. Remember to take the thickness of the cut into consideration.

ACIDS
The introduction of acid into meats and vegetables breaks down the tissue which allows more moisture to absorb, giving you a juicier end product. Wines, wine vinegars and vinegars offer this, as do citrus juices. These ingredients will also impact the flavor in the end. Depending on the type of flavor you want, you must choose what acid you want to use. You may, of course, experiment with mixing and matching so you get the taste you're looking for. Dairy products, such as yogurt, are used in many Indian recipes. Bourbon and other hard liquors should be used conservatively, not for the high alcohol content (although if you cook your meat rare – hiccup,) but for the overpowering taste you would get and the burning of the outside of the food from the flaming it might create. Best to mix those with wines, vinegars or citrus juices to get your acid.

When cooking meats over a direct flame, heterocyclic amines (HCA)’s are created. These potentially cancer-causing agents may be reduced by as much at 99% when foods are marinated in an acidic marinade, according to the American Cancer Research Institute.

The use of wine in cooking is one of the oldest gastronomic inventions. On record are countless numbers of ancient Greek and Roman recipes utilizing various types of wines. Chinese and Japanese marinades might use wines made from rice. In any case, today's recipes can use all diferent types. Reds, whites, or any combination may be used to formulate your own unique flavor. A common mistake in cooking is to buy expensive wines. When cooked, wines change, regardless of the quality, so don't waste your money. And don't buy cooking wines. They can be overly salty for one thing, and may contain the dregs of what's left from the process of making drinking wines. During marinating and due to the acid content, wine sort of "pre-cooks" the product without penetrating too deeply, so the end result is a more tender and much tastier product because it allows for the concentration of flavors of your other ingredients as well. We tend to think of meat and fish, but, vegetables can also be cooked in wine or acid based marinades. An all time favorite of mine and a really big hit is asparagus. I cut the ends off, pour marinade in a plastic bag and stand the asparagus upright (sealed.) It laps up the sauce like fresh rain, pulling the flavors inside. Then I grill it, basting along the way with some of the remaining marinade from the bag. Yum. For those who don't like asparagus, you might be amazed by the results. All types of wines may be used, depending on the flavor you are trying to produce.

Dairy products such as buttermilk and yogurt may also be used to marinate. These seem to be the only type of acid that penetrates all the way through meats without damaging the texture if left in too long. This is because they are only mildly acidic. Milk is an ingredient I sometimes use to "freshen" up fish that might be ready for the garbage disposal if left too close to the expiration date before cooking. It takes the harshness and fishy flavor out. You know when fish is too far gone. Throw that stuff out. Milk also works with strong tasting fish. After soaking the fish for a couple of hours, leave some of the milk for your cat, if you have one, before throwing out the rest. Dairy products are also useful when dealing with wild game. Soaking in milk, buttermilk or yogurt really does a great job with making tough cuts of meat a lot easier to chew and reducing the strong flavor. It's not quite clear how dairy products work, but an accepted explanation is that the calcium activates enzymes in meat that break down proteins, sort of like the way aging tenderizes meat.

SALT
I don't like to use much salt. Salt is an ingredient that, for the most part, can be added to your food after preparation. It doesn't help to add it before, so why not add it later if you like salt that much? When added before, salt has a tendency to dry foods out, particularly meats and fish, certainly if marinated too long. You know when you eat too much salt it can make you thirsty. It can make meat thirsty, too, but once dry, that's it. You can't rejuvenate it. You can salt your food just before cooking if you like. Salt can also be used in rubs and other methods of preparation, such as brining, which I will explain later. Salt content should not be any higher than about .0312 (1/32) of your total marinade. I recommend less. Take into consideration your other ingredients. They may contain salt, too. Salt can actually aid in moisturizing meats because it allows the water content to seep in, acting like a sponge. About 30% of water content evaporates normally while cooking. This way you lose only about 15%. Most of your supermarket brand marinades that call for 15-30 minutes of soaking time are loaded with salt. That's why you don't use them for any length of time. When using soy sauce in a marinade, I always use low sodium.

OILS
Canola oil, or canola/olive oil blends are good in marinades as are safflower, corn, peanut and soy. These are generally less expensive than pure olive oils. Some oils are added in small amounts to add a flavoring affect, such as sesame, walnut and chile. If you use an olive oil, make sure you use the right type. A good extra virgin olive oil is highly monounsaturated and therefore resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation (bad word). The health benefits should outweigh anything else when considering what type of oil to use. You want to use an oil with a high burning temperature so it won't smoke so much on you. Don't let anyone tell you that all oils are bad for you. If you use an oil base paint, what would you clean the brush with? Water? The same holds true with your body. It needs certain good oils to help cleanse the body of bad oils.

Oils can be very essential in the breakdown of foods when marinating. Fatty meats, for instance, are a good example of why this is true. As your acids from wine, vinegar and/or citrus change the composition of the meat, breaking down connective tissue, it opens the fatty tissue up and allows some to flow out. This animal fat will be replaced with vegetable oil, probably not much more than 5%, but still, it is less animal fat you are ingesting. And this is where part of the moisturizing affect comes in. Oil helps do the job of keeping your meats and vegetables from drying out. This allows your food to retain its natural moisture.

Too much oil is not a good thing either. I recommend no more than 20-25% oil in your recipe, which means the remaining amount would be water based, from wine, citrus juice, soy or a combination of ingredients. Too much can coat your product and not allow for optimum penetration of the other ingredients. Remember that the heat from cooking will eliminate a lot of your oil content if you are afraid of that. Plus, you aren't really using that much to begin with. 4 to 6 ounces of marinade (of which only 20-25% is oil) will yield only a fraction of oil in the end because only a small amount is absorbed and the rest will be cooked off. I recommend placing your food in a zippered plastic bag, squeezing out most of the air and sealing. You use a lot less marinade that way and you have less air around it to help retain freshness.

ENZYMES
Papain is a protein-cleaving (proteolytic) enzyme derived from papaya and certain other plants that digest protein. Papaya breaks down the protein in meats. It clearly acts as a tenderizer, although I prefer softener in this case. Prune juice acts the same way and we all know what kind of a softener that is. I once went to a restaurant and ordered a porterhouse steak. It came out and had the consistency of mush. I sent it back. Turns out, it had been soaking in prune juice. I kid you not. It was not edible. Marinated too long. That's what happens with this kind of stuff. Fine to use, but be careful if you don't want to end up with meat pudding. Most of your powdered meat tenderizers contain enzymes that will do this if used too long.

HERBS, SPICES and OTHER FLAVORINGS
This is where you really get to be creative! A marinade I once concocted had a particular spice in it. I was told “this won’t work with beef” but it did. Quite nicely, actually, so don’t be afraid to conjure up your own elixir. Throw out all the rules and mix up what you want. Always sample your stuff. The great chefs of the world are always imagining new combinations and they constantly sample their work to see how they can improve it. Experiment with other ingredients as well. I wouldn't put a bay leaf in marinades simply because the flavor isn't released until the leaf is cooking. You may add a bay leaf to the remaining marinade if you wish to make (cook) a sauce from it. Cilantro and basil lose their flavor rather quickly. Use them, if you wish, after marinating. Oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme work well in various combinations or by themselves. You determine the flavors by mixing your herbs and spices.

Why are tropical regions more dependent on spices in their cuisines? Many spices have what is believed to be an antibacterial effect. It seems that the higher the temperature, where more food-borne pathogens are introduced, the more spices are used. This would explain why the foods are hotter and spicier. Such ingredients as hot peppers, garlic, onion, anise, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, cumin, lemongrass and turmeric are daily dietary stipends. Lemon, lime and black pepper are not strong inhibitors, but used in conjunction, they all can pack a big antibacterial punch. The active chemical ingredients of many spices kill or slow bacterial growth. Onion, garlic, oregano and allspice kill or inhibit almost all food-borne bacteria that have been tested. Most spices inhibit more than half of all bacterial samples. I hate to be morbid, but, there must be a reason why spices have been used to embalm people for thousands of years. Keep that in mind. You're not marinating, you're embalming.

Remember, I like to use jalapeno peppers. I’ve used habaneros in other marinades. Finely minced onions work. Some marinades call for ketchup or molasses. Don’t stop anywhere. Try mustard! I know a woman who makes a delicious spaghetti sauce made from pickle juice. I'm serious. Many people use bottled Italian dressing to marinate. I have no problem with that, but you can dress them up as well. I think they contain way too much oil or if oil free, way too much high fructose corn syrup, but I'm more of a purist. I like to make my own, depending on my creativity that day and the type of food I'm preparing.

SOY SAUCE
Soy sauce belongs in both the salt and acid categories. Proteins and starches in soy sauce are broken down into amino acids, sugars and alcohols. Most Chinese soy sauces are made from soybeans, but Japanese varieties combine the soy bean with wheat to provide a more pleasant and balanced flavor. By adding soy sauce to your marinade, the amino acid content can help enhance the flavor of your product and aid in the tenderization process. I strongly recommend a naturally brewed soy sauce, such as Kikkoman, and optimally, the low sodium version. Soy sauce is always a welcome addition to marinades.

WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE
Worcestershire is a spicy sauce composed mainly of water, vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, anchovies, spices and flavorings. It can be very good for marinating meats, but should be used sparingly, because it has a very strong flavor. A good one to use is Lea & Perrins.

RUBS
Rubs generally come in two forms, dry and wet.

A dry rub is a combination of ground or finely crumbled herbs and spices, such as paprika, pepper, chile and garlic, massaged firmly over and into the surface of raw food. Rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano and all sorts of flavorings may be combined and used, also. Many dry rubs utilize a sugar and salt base with other flavorings added. Once again, salt could readily draw out moisture if used for any length of time. Sugar could burn the outside when cooked. Rubs should not be considered as a marinade since the penetration is not the same and the strength of the combined flavors can be too overpowering if left on too long before cooking. Rub your food and cook. You end up with a nicely flavored crust that complements the flavor inside.

Wet rubs are very similar to dry, except for the addition of a liquid in the mixture. Soy and Worcestershire sauces and oils come to mind. A very good example of a wet rub is Jamaican Jerk in sauce or paste form. When massaged into your meat, it can give a very nice and noticeable flavor, which it is meant to do, but, once again, if left on too long before cooking, it could be way too overpowering.

In many cases, rubs are used when smoking foods. The combination of the two sources of flavoring can really produce a remarkable taste. When cooking fowl, make sure to rub inside the cavity as well as the outside and sometimes under the skin. Prime rib is a prime example of meat just dying for a good massage. In the end, the outer meat and fat crisps up just enough to offer a savory flavor to die for with every bite. The same holds true for lamb and pork. Rubs should not really be considered overall tenderizers, since the penetration is minimal at best.

BRINING
Brining was traditionally regarded as a means of preserving meats, but since the advent of refrigeration, it has lost a lot of its oomph. It is also a method of improving the flavor, texture, and moisture content of lean cuts of meat. This is achieved by soaking the meat in a moderately salty solution for a few hours to a few days. It can be mixed with a myriad of ingredients, such as beer, maple syrup, garlic, peppercorns, and/or many other things. The basic mix is water and salt, the salt level never exceeding 1/32 of your total blend, so a one quart mixture would have one ounce (2 tablespoons) of salt, preferably Kosher.

Brining incorporates the principles of diffusion and osmosis. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines diffusion as "the process whereby particles of liquids, gases, or solids intermingle as the result of their spontaneous movement caused by thermal agitation and in dissolved substances move from a region of higher to one of lower concentration." Merriam-Webster defines osmosis as "movement of a solvent through a semipermeable membrane (as of a living cell) into a solution of higher solute concentration that tends to equalize the concentrations of solute on the two sides of the membrane." The processes of diffusion and osmosis are involved in achieving a balance between the flavor brine solution and the meat. A higher concentration of salt inside meat cells causes protein strands to denature. The tightly wound proteins unwind and get tangled together. The proteins trap water molecules and hold onto them tightly during the cooking process.

If you choose to brine, only really lean cuts of meat, such as chicken, benefit from the process.

MARINADE RECIPES AND RECIPES USING MARINADES

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to add to the comments section or e-mail me at marinadedave@yahoo.com


TIPS

ALWAYS MARINATE IN THE REFRIGERATOR!...no matter what you might think, whether it's meats or vegetables.

NEVER MARINATE IN AN ALUMINUM CONTAINER! Have you ever seen a pitted aluminum pot or pan? Where do you think that aluminum went?

NEVER USE MARINADE OVER AGAIN unless you first bring it to a boil. Fresh foods have an expiration date. This is the expiration date of used marinade unless you cook it after use. You may put the cooked marinade in an ice cube tray and freeze, covered. Whenever you want to enhance the flavor of a gravy, sauce or soup, plop a cube or two in.

NEVER FORK MEAT. Forking creates little escape holes for the juices to run out.

AN EXCELLENT SOURCE FOR COOKING TIPS.

FOR CLEANING TIPS.

GENERAL RECIPES

French Beef au Gratin

8 ounces Fettuccine, cooked according to package directions
1/2 cup butter or margarine
4 cups sliced white onions
1 pound sirloin steak
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups beef broth
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet melt butter and saute thinly sliced white onions until browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the onions.

To the skillet add sirloin steak cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Brown well then return the onions to the pan.

In a small bowl combine flour, salt, and pepper. Add to the skillet and stir until blended. Gradually add beef broth and cook for 10 minutes.

Pour over the cooked fettuccine and top with mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned, about 5 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.

From: cookrecipes.com

This is a work in progress. More to come...