Wine, Women & (What Glorious) Song

Baritone Morgan Smith as Don Giovanni - Sweet Basil Gourmetware Blog

Baritone Morgan Smith as Don Giovanni in the Arizona Opera Performance

“Long live women, long live good wine! Sustenance and glory of human kind!” So sings Don Giovanni in the opera that bears his name and was first performed in 1787 in Prague. With music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, Don Giovanni has enchanted music lovers ever since. According to Wikipedia, it is 10th on the list of the “most-performed operas worldwide.” Don will be visiting the Valley in February at the Arizona Opera and we’re counting the days.     
 Illustration for the Hidden Valley Institute of the Arts Performance of Don Giovanni L’AFFAIRE CULINAIRE

The sustenance Don Giovanni sings of includes a tasty list of culinary delights: chocolate, coffee, hams, pheasants, ices, and sweets. So it is not surprising that we at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School are fans of an opera that celebrates the Don’s culinary favorites.

Wine flows freely throughout the opera’s two acts. One of the opera’s most famous arias is called The Champagne Aria because after the wily seducer, Don Giovanni – while holding a champagne glass – instructs his servant Leporello to “have a grand party prepared so that [the young girls’] heads will be hot with the wine,” he laughs and breaks the glass.

Nipples of Venus (Capezzoli di Venere) from the film Amadeus

Nipples of Venus (Capezzoli di Venere)


Marzemino-Grapes from Northern Italy


The story of Don Giovanni began in 1630 in a drama called The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest by Tirso de Molina, a Spanish poet and monk. The Don was known then by the Spanish version of his name, Don Juan. By the time Mozart began his opera Don’s story was well known. He was a libertine whose life was devoted to women and wine and whose story was told in countless dramas, novels, puppet plays and in song by composers like Mozart whose version has lasted through the years. (The full title of the Mozart-Da Ponte opera was Don Giovanni – the Rake Punished. A rake [from the Middle English “rakehell” – “hellraiser”] is a libertine and gourmand with no morals who lusts after women, wine and pleasures of the table.

Opera was the most popular entertainment of the upper class in Mozart’s day and Italian opera was considered the best so the Austrian Mozart joined with the Venetian Lorenzo Da Ponte who wrote the libretto in Italian.

Don Giovanni derived its culinary stripes from its composer and lyricist as well as its environment. Mozart and Da Ponte passionately loved wine and the pleasures of the table. The growth of the merchant middle class in Europe was accompanied by an increase in the availability of delicacies formerly enjoyed only by the royal classes. These included coffee from the Orient and chocolate from Spain’s American colonies. Vienna, where Don Giovanni opened after the performances in Prague, was already well known for its desserts. The Miloš Forman film Amadeus from the Peter Shaffer play has deliriously delicious scenes of tables laden with Viennese delicacies like Nipples of Venus and Crema Mascarpone Speziale.

Ian Fleming & Wolfgang Mozart engaged in product placement

Ian Fleming & Wolfgang Mozart engaged in product placement!


Just as author Ian Fleming gave 007 a preference for Wolfschmidt vodka for his martinis in Moonraker, Mozart & Da Ponte seem to have engaged in an 18th century shout-out and a bit of product placement when their Don raves about one particular wine. Towards the end of the opera Don hosts his final dinner party and at one point exclaims, “Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzimino!” (“Pour the wine! Excelent Marzimino!”)

(We’ve had no luck finding Marzimo in the Valley. A good substituite would be a
fruity Chianti such as a Pietro Chianti – $11 at Total Wine.)

Mozartkugeln Candy were invented in Mozart's hometown - Salzburg, Austria.

Heindl Mozartkugeln


Confectioner Paul Fürst created a candy that has come to be known as Mozartkugeln (Mozart Balls) in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg in 1890. A number of brands are sold now. Heindl Mozartkugeln – made with  marzipan, nougat and dark chocolate – are available at World Market. (Some Mozartkugeln also contain pistachio cream.)   




Cookie, Cookie, Lend Me Your Tome

Gingerbread Man at Holiday Cookies Class at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) came up with the idea of having gingerbread cookies baked in the shape of people and decorated to honor noble visitors to her court. So the Gingerbread Man has been around a long time and quickly became a popular guy at Christmas time. So have Christmas cookies in general. Google “Christmas Cookie” and you’ll find page after page of information and recipes gathered from enough tomes to fill all the shelves in a small library.     

The origins of the cookie were in ancient Winter Solstice celebrations in the Middle East. Lots of spices and the drying and pressing process acted as preservatives very much like hardtack was used in the Old West. Since the only spice used in hardtack was salt – when it was available – I assume the camel caravans carried a better tasting product.
The word we use – “cookie” – derives from the Dutch koekje which means a “small cake” (England and other seafaring nations used “biscuit” from the French “biscuit” which meant “twice cooked.”)
It seems that the German folks made cookies a Christmas staple when they started using them to decorate their tannenbaums – fir-trees – with cookies cut in various shapes before baking as ornaments.
(There is a short fact-packed history at Stephanie Stiavetti’s A Culinary Life web site and an encyclopedic site at Christmas Carnivals).

Gingerbread House Decorating Class at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School WHEN A HOUSE GETS TAKEN HOME

As we saw in the early history of Winter Solstice and the Christmas traditions one of the benefits of the spices used to make the biscuits that were pressed and dried was the preservative factor. Ginger was the chief spice ingredient used. Medieval bakers began creating unique designs with the dough and in the 13th century the tradition spread from the Middle East into Europe. Gingerbread became such a staple that by the 17th century members of Baker’s Guild were the only people who could make gingerbread – except at Christmas and Easter when individuals were permitted to make their own. In the early 1800s German bakers started making gingerbread houses. Some historians say that the popularity of the Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel story inspired the bakers to begin making edible houses. German immigrants brought the tradition to America.
Each year Sweet Basil conducts a Gingerbread House decorating party. Attendees of all ages arrive to find assembled Gingerbread Houses and decorator candies and colored icings ready to turn a gingerbread house into a Gingerbread Home – and then take it home. (When I’ve been on previous purchasing trips for these classes I felt as if I were Willie Wonka at a Candyland version of Home Depot.)

Holiday Cookies class at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School HOLIDAY COOKIES CLASSES

It is fair to ask why we are thinking about Christmas cookies when the holiday is almost four months away and summer heat hasn’t even thought of leaving town. (Even the Gingerbread Man couldn’t run away from Summer!) Our reason is the occasion of the release on September 1st of the Sweet Basil Fall 2015 Class Schedule which lists the Holiday Cookies classes. This year they begin on December 1st. Each year the sell-out date for these classes happens earlier and earlier. Our kitchen has already been inundated with the incredible smells of chocolate, ginger and butterscotch generated while recipe testing some new additions to the repertoire. Our Holiday Cookies classes are designed to be fun and efficient. All you need to bring are containers for the14-16 dozen cookies you’ll take home. We bake 14 different varieties of cookies during each class. You’ll find everything else waiting for you: a loaner apron, recipes, ingredients and an experienced Cookie Master to walk you through the recipes and be on call for assistance throughout the class. Since there are two people on each Cookie Team, many folks sign up with a friend.

Mexican Wedding Cookie at Holiday Cookies Class at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School WHATCHAMACALLITS

(This is not about the Hershey’s candy bar.) One of the cookies on the Holiday Cookies Class menu is a long time favorite. At Sweet Basil we call it a “Mexican Wedding Cookie” which is appropriate in the southwest. I was first introduced to it as a teenager in Nebraska by new neighbors who were from Minnesota and of Swedish heritage. The wonderful tradition of the Christmas Cookie exchange yielded little round white cookies that melted in my mouth and were called Swedish Tea Cookies. Underbart! (“Wonderful!”) After I left Nebraska I ended up calling them Whatchamacallits because no one I met ever knew what a Swedish Tea Cookie was. Confusing the issue was the Archway seasonal cookies called Wedding Cakes. (They do not melt in my mouth! If you make these gems make Julia Child happy and use butter.) Well it turns out that these little powdered-sugar-covered-shortbread gems have more names than a lists of aliases from an FBI 10 Most Wanted List: Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Teacakes, Swedish Tea Cakes, Italian Butter Nuts, Southern Pecan Butterballs, Snowdrops, Viennese Sugar Balls, Sand Tarts, and Snowballs.  
Coyote Cookie Cutter available at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School HOLIDAY COOKIE HARDWARE

Most fascinating for me, since I tend to get mesmerized by the sheer number of cookie cutters we carry at Sweet Basil during the holidays, is the traditions of Holiday cookie hardware. Cookie Cutters were popularized by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1800s with their making of cookie creatures called Yule Dollies and Yule Dows. These were figures shaped like people made using tin cutters. (My favorite cookie cutter is the coyote – don’t tell the road runner.)
Some Holiday Cookie traditions are disappearing. The reasons are probably a mix of scattered family traditions, a lack of time, and the expense or lack of storage space for the proper tools. But a walk around Sweet Basil will reveal some old Christmas traditions that every once in a while someone wants to revive in their home.
Note: Martie stocks a limited number of the holiday cookie hardware described below during the season. If you’d like to make sure she has one on hand for you please call Sweet Basil to place a special order.

Krumkake Cookie Maker available at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School KRUMKAKE – meaning bent or curved cake -, is a Norwegian waffle cookie made of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and cream. The Krumkake Iron cooks the batter into thin round cakes which are then rolled into small cones around a wooden or plastic cone form. Krumkake can be eaten plain or filled with whipped cream or other fillings. Most of the time people who purchase a Krumkake Iron hail from the Midwest were many Norweigian immigants settled. (Pronounced 3 different ways on various “how to pronounce” web sites and youtube videos:
1. Krum “Kake” as in “Cake”
2. Krum Kah-kah
3. Krum Kah-Gah
Krumkake / Pizzelle Roller available at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School Note: Krumkakes & Pizzelle Makers. You don’t need both unless you are particular about the design the irons make. Many recipes for Krumkakes and Pizzelles call for rolling the cookie while hot to make a cone. For that you’ll need a Krumkake Roller.
Pizelle Maker available at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School PIZZELLES – Pizzelles are similar to Krumkakes in that the result is a thin pancake. Depending on the recipe used it can he a firm or soft pancake. Its Italian heritage explains the anise or anisette flavoring most pizzelle makers use in the batter. (Pronounced: Starts out like “pizza” – Peet-Zell-Eh)
Aebleskiver Pan available at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School AEBLESKIVER  A Danish treat, the Aebleskiver (means “apple slices”) are described as a cross between a pancake and a popover because they have the shape of a ball. Apples are not used in most recipes anymore and the Aebleskiver is usually sprinkled with powdered sugar and dipped into jams. (Pronounced: E-bel-sky-ver)
Cookie Press available at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School COOKIE PRESSa Cookie Press makes short work of pumping out cookie dough in lots of different shapes. 20 design discs and 4 icing nozzles are included . Just fill the cylinder with cookie dough and pump.
Holiday Cookies at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School STILL TRYING TO RUN AWAY…

The Gingerbread Man we know and nosh on is a recent arrival on the holiday cookie scene. His story of jumping out of the farmer’s wife’s oven and running away first appeared in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1875. Before that it seems to have been a verbal story popular in New England. In Europe the tales told for centuries had been about runaway pancakes, dumplings and balls of dough. Young “listeners” love the cadence of the story and “readers” have a ball with it!

Gingerbread Boy Cookie at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School ALMOST THE END OF THE STORY

“Presently the gingerbread boy said, “Oh dear! I’m quarter gone!”


The most frequently asked question at our Cooking School for the last 22 years has been “What is this tea?” And now the same question is being asked in the Market Cafe. It is Tropicana Tea and it has been making friends for us for a long time. We serve Tropicana iced tea (or “ice tea” if you are from the South:-) at every class and it is a beverage choice on our Market Cafe menu. The surprising thing for us – as we think it will be for you – was finding out that Tropicana is blended in a country that is passionate about tea but we’re not taking about China, Japan or England.

In the country that invented the Kaffeeklatsch (known here in the States as a Coffee Klatsch) you’ll find that when you are up north around Hamburg and Bremen in Germany most folks will prefer a Teeklatsch. Germany has a thriving import/export tea business.

Pitcher of Tropicana Iced Tea at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School

Pitcher of Tropicana Iced Tea


Journalist & Culinary Writer John Egerton

John Egerton – Poet Laureate of Southern Cuisine

Tropicana Tea at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School

Tropicana Tea

Our Tropicana Tea is blended in Germany. It is a blend of black tea, cornflower petals, calendula petals (aka “pot marigold”) and rose petals with mango and passion fruit flavors. In the photo of the tea here you can see the blue of the cornflower petals – native to Europe, one of the national symbols of Germany, and President John Kennedy’s favorite flower. The yellow-gold threads are the calendula flowers, used to add color to butter and cheese and a favorite ingredient in Germany for soups and stews whence the name “pot” marigold. The red threads are culinary grade rose petals, a kitchen staple in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey for centuries. (The International Herb Association [IHA] designated rose petals the official herb of the year for 2012.) Mango and passion fruit round out Tropicana’s flavor profile.

The tea used for Tropicana is black tea. Black tea  white tea, green tea and oolong are all from the same evergreen shrub, camellia sinensis. The difference lies in the processing.

At Sweet Basil, Tropicana Tea is available whenever you join us for a class or select it from the Market Cafe menu. It is also for sale in the store by the ounce. (Whenever using Tropicana Tea, shake or stir it gently as the black tea leaves settle to the bottom.)

Although iced tea has been around since we learned how to keep water in its frozen state, it was the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 – Judy Garland would sing a song in a 1944 movie asking folks to meet her there – that popularized it. An English merchant named Richard Blechynden was in charge of the tea plantation owner-supported Tea Pavilion at the Fair. He ran into a problem during the long, hot St. Louis summer when fairgoers avoided his complimentary cups of hot tea like us Valley of the Sun residents avoid a steering wheel in July. Mr. Blechynden’s solution – serving the tea in ice-filled glasses – won the day. Fairgoers took the idea of iced tea back home with them and the rest is cool beverage history.

We’ll give the last word about iced tea to journalist and Southern food historian John Egerton who wrote: “Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths.”


There are many ways to make iced tea. At Sweet Basil we use a dedicated coffee brewer as we make Tropicana Iced Tea in large quantities for cooking classes and the Market Cafe. See below for our “coffee brewer” recipe. (You never want to use the same brewer for coffee and tea! ) Sweet Basil carries some nifty iced tea makers that can make the process very easy. You can Google “how to make iced tea” for lots of ideas, but we suggest you keep a few “rules” in mind and make any personal adjustments to future batches:

  1. Since ice dilutes the strength of the tea once in the glass, make the tea stronger for iced tea than you would for a cup of tea.
  2. 5 minutes is pretty much the limit for steeping. Much longer and the tea will become bitter.
  3. Let the tea cool before you put it in the fridge. This help keep the tea clear.
  4. Begin with a ratio of 1 oz. loose tea or teabags to ½ gallon of water.
  5. Depending on your water source and your personal taste, bottled or filtered water might be necessary. The same idea applies to the ice cubes.
  6. In a tea pot (check for hard-water scale & descale if you see the white, crusty scaling) or stainless steel pan boil water.
  7. Pour water over tea leaves/bags in a glass or china container or pitcher.
  8. Steep 5 minutes. Remove tea bags (don’t squeeze the bags) or strain the loose tea leaves through cheesecloth or strainer into a glass pitcher.
  9. Cover and let tea reach room temperature. Refrigerate.

We use 6 level tablespoons of Tropicana Tea and 64 ounces of water in our “dedicated” coffee brewer. (Remember to gently stir or shake the loose tea leaves as the black tea tends to settle to the bottom.) 1) Place the tea in a paper filter and brew 2) Allow the tea to cool 3) Cover and store in a cool place. 

The Old Man and the Doors

What is your idea of a great birthday celebration? If dining at a favorite restaurant is the answer, welcome to the club. By the way, this club has no membership card, no dues and no meetings. (If you’d rather that the restaurant staff didn’t surround your table and sing “Happy Birthday” and/or clap, that’s OK, too.) But saluting a fellow Restaurant Aficionado (RA) on his or her birthday is perfectly within club guidelines. So allow me to raise a toast on Tuesday, July 21st to one of the all time great RA’s and a few of the restaurant doors he passed through.


The Old Man and the Doors Blog Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School

Harry’s Bar – Venice

The Old Man and the Doors Blog Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School

Casa Botin – Madrid

The Old Man and the Doors Blog Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School

El Floridita – Havana

As a young man before and just after World War I Ernest Hemingway’s favorite meal was pan-fried trout served with a can of pork and beans, a can of spaghetti and a can of peaches for dessert eaten by a campfire after a long day’s hike. As for a restaurant, he was very partial to the Huckleberry Pie at Jesperson’s Restaurant in Petoskey, Michigan. As a young writer in Paris his idea of culinary heaven was Belon Oysters served in the cafes along the Boulevard du Montparnasse and the Boulevard Saint-Germain. He never lost his love for simple fare – like Peanut Butter and Bermuda Onion sandwiches or a green salad with fish caught from his boat, Pilar, and prepared in her galley. But pretty early on in his career he started collecting favorite restaurants – and in many cases adding to their fame by writing about them in his best-selling books.

The Book “Spinner”

In his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes mentions Botin’s in Madrid, calling it “one of the best restaurants in the world.” (It is also the oldest – having been around since 1725.) Jake has Botin’s world famous roast suckling pig and “three bottles of rioja alta.”

In Across the River and Into the Trees, his character Colonel Cantwell shares the author’s love of Harry’s Bar in Venice and says,” “You find everything on earth at Harry’s.” (Harry’s is known for creating the Bellini – Prosecco sparkling wine and fresh peach puree – and Carpaccio – thinly sliced raw sirloin beef with lemon, olive oil and white truffle shavings.)

And in the posthumously published Islands in the Stream, Thomas Hudson, who lives in Cuba, is happy to find that “the Floridita was now open” and proceeds to order a double frozen daiquiri.” El Floridita also had a fine dining room and a reputation for a great Cuban menu with salads, fruit, black beans and rice and fresh seafood.

Hemingway, it turned out, was better at restaurant promotion than sign spinners, sandwich board walkers, blimps and plane-towed banners. Maybe in hindsight we could call him the first “book spinner.” Tourists continue to flock to Casa Botin, Harry’s Bar, El Floridita and countless other restaurants and follow the writer’s footsteps through some pretty famous doors.

So Happy Birthday, Papa. And may you, dear reader, enjoy passing through many favorite restaurant doors when you celebrate your birthdays!


Lucky writer Craig Boreth passed through many of the same doors as Hemingway while researching his excellent Hemingway Cookbook. You’ll find recipes from Casa Botin and Harry’s Bar. Another treasure is Philip Greene’s To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion,  where you’ll find a recipe for the genuine Papa Doble Frozen Daiquiri from El Floridita in Havana.

Unfortunately, Craig Boreth didn’t make it into El Floridita’s kitchen. (I’m guessing he spent too much time researching in the bar?) But I know that Hemingway entertained many visitors in El Floridita’s dining room. The specialty was – no surprise – the fresh seafood. I did find an interesting dish on El Floridita’s current menu: Papas Rellenas. Named in honor of their famous customer? Well…there’s enough phony Hemingway stories floating around so I won’t start another one. It is not Papa’s…it is Papas. (No apostrophe.)  Which means “potato” in Spanish. The dish is “Mashed potato balls stuffed with Picadillo beef which is served with garlic plantain chips.”

There’s a great Valley of the Sun connection to this story. The biggest Hemingway Birthday Party is held each year in Key West, Florida. One of the yearly Hemingway Days events is a Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe’s. Last year  Last year Valley restaurateur Wally Collins – owner of Wally’s Pubs in Scottsdale and Phoenix – won the 2014 contest.



“Stink, Stank, Stonk” Allium Sativum

The Count von Count does not like garlicSome folks, like Count von Count, don’t like garlic. Some of us, like Iron Chef USA Chairman (for 2 episodes in 2001) William Shatner, love it. (The former Captain of the Starship Enterprise once said “Stop and smell the garlic! That’s all you have to do.”)

Garlic lovers have historically been the targets of abuse. Koreans, Chinese and Turks have been referred to – derogatorily – as “garlic-eaters” and Chairman William Shatner - Iron ChefUSAMr. Potter, the Scrooge banker of the Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, accuses George Bailey of being a  “nursemaid to a bunch of garlic-eaters” because George had befriended an Italian family. “You’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch” – sung by Thurl (Tony the Tiger) Ravenscroft – was another Christmas reminder that garlic eaters “Stink, Stank, Stonk.”

On the pro-garlic side are countless testimonials of all the health benefits that this relative of onions, leeks, and shallots affords like preventing colds and lowering blood pressure.

Garlic has been around for a very long time. When Moses led the Israelites across the dessert he ran into a situation that plagues Scout Leaders and parents still. There came a time when folks got tired of the all-manna diet: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick.” (Numbers 11:5-6)

Allium sativum has many culinary benefits. At the beginning of our garlic alphabet is Aioli. This is basically a garlic mayo from the Provence region of France where garlic is a good luck charm and when eaten on New Years Eve ensures good luck throughout the year. (Yes! To double your chances of a good year ahead drop a dollop of aioli on your Hoppin’ John the next day!) Another famous Provençal dish is 40 Garlic Cloves Chicken.

Our favorite use of garlic is with its soul mate sweet basil in a pesto from Genoa in Northern Italy. And where would we be without Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Garlic French Fries, Garlic Bread, Scampi (shrimp in garlic butter), Aglio Et Olio (spaghetti with garlic and olive oil) or Garlic Ice Cream?

Garlic Ice Cream hails from Gilroy, California, the “Garlic Capital of the World” and home of the upcoming yearly Garlic Festival. You will also find it served at The Stinking Rose (another old name for our beloved bulb!), an all-garlic restaurant in San Francisco. A bit closer to home is the Dragoon Garlic Festival in southeastern Arizona.

How To Handle Garlic
Restaurant chefs use a quick-but-fingers-still-smelly method: use the flat of your chef’s knife – with the blade facing away from you – and rather gently smash – not pulverize – a clove and then separate the skin and the garlic. Now that I’m not in such a hurry I like to use a silicone tube which leaves the clove intact and rubs off the clove’s skin. Also handy is a garlic press where you insert the clove and use an attached plug to force the garlic pulp through a strainer, leaving the skin behind. I use a press when I am making a salad dressing but the silicone tube for everything else. The press leaves a lot of flavor layers behind with the skin.

A Very Useful Garlic Recipe
Roasting garlic dramatically tames its “garlickyness.” Thus you have a world of flavor available even if you don’t consider yourself a fan. It is wonderful in soups, dips, dressings and spreads. We use a terra cotta Garlic Roaster to keep the bulb moist while roasting. We’ve put a recipe for Roasted Garlic from Sweet Basil Cooks – A Second Helping on our website.

Just as garlic does, our American treasure Will Rogers makes everything – even blogs – better so we close with a quote of his from a visit to Gilroy, the above-mentioned Garlic Capital of the World where 90 percent of America’s garlic is grown and processed. Will said it was “the only town in America where you can marinate a steak by hanging it on the clothesline.”

A fantastic. detailed history of garlic can be found in The Mystique of Garlic by Alexandra Hicks at Google Books:.

“Mise en place” vs “Messy Place” – Release Your Inner Felix

"Mise en place" vs "Messy Place" - Release Your Inner FelixIf I could give just one piece of advice to a beginning cook or any one who wants to improve their performance in the kitchen, I would do so with three words: mise en place. (meez ahn plahs) It is French for “setting in place.” My fellow newbies at the New York Restaurant School many years ago would jokingly pronounce it in a French accent as “No messy place!”

Think of it as releasing your “inner Felix,” even if you normally fit the Oscar profile. Can’t you just hear Felix saying “Oscar! There’s a place for everything – and everything in its place.”

Mise en place is taught in professional culinary schools like the CIA. Chef Linda Martin teaches it in Sweet Basil’s 12-week Essence of Cooking course for home cooks. Mise en place is credited to Georges Auguste Escoffier, a young chef who learned the value of military precision and preparedness in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. He went on to implement what he’d learned in the great hotel kitchens of Paris and London.

The concept is simple. Set everything – food and equipment – you will need for the dish in place before you begin preparing it. Put all measured ingredients such as spices and liquids in measuring cups, small dishes or containers. (Collect such things as used spice jars, small honey jars, etc. Sweet Basil has 1.75 oz Silicone Pinch Bowls and Kavalierglass Simax bowls in different sizes – see photo of mise en place set-up – that are perfect.) Then prepare, measure and reserve all remaining ingredients.

If you implement mise en place in your cooking life you’ll also add another critical habit to your repertoire: you will have read the recipe from start to finish! Amazed? Yes – many of us don’t read the recipe all the way through when we are learning to cook. That’s when most mistakes are made.

Another habit associated with mise en place will reward your efforts: Begin clean, work clean and end clean. Begin with a clean work area and clean hands; keep a damp wipe-cloth handy and clean up as you work and have a container for scraps and garbage nearby.

Mise en place set-up at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking SchoolAn Example of Mise en Place
Chicken Salad
2 servings
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
3 T diced celery
3 T diced onion
2 T mayonnaise
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Mix the chicken, celery, onion, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl

A complete mise en place would include measuring cups/spoons, a medium mixing bowl and a spatula for mixing the salad ingredients. In the photo of a mise en place set up above see: 1) Kavalierglass Bowls. We carry them in various sizes. 2) The multi-colored bowls are 1.75 oz. Silicone Pinch Bowls. (Called “Pinch Bowls” because you can pinch them and pour out the contents.)

If you are thinking “wouldn’t the “cooked chicken” need its own mise en place? That’s correct if you were preparing the chicken from the grocer’s meat case. But in this example we bought a roasted chicken. But good thinking. Oscar wouldn’t have thought of that. In fact keep Oscar out of the kitchen when you are cooking.

Chef Keith Schroeder, a Cooking Light Columnist and author of Mad Delicious: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing! has a wonderful mise en place video.

Mise en place has gone from the kitchen to the world of self-improvement! Or as Chef Escoffier might have said, “l’amélioration de soi.”




Festival photo. – About June 1st.


Anticipation used to be reserved for things like the last day of school and Christmas. Now it’s things like NFL season, a new John Sanford novel & the arrival of sweet sweet corn from Olathe, (Oh-Lay-Thuh), Colorado. Sweet Basil’s Martie Sullivan is a Colorado girl so this is about the latter.Normally the arrival of sweet corn from Olathe, Colorado would be about a month away right now. But Lynett Yolian with the Olathe Sweet Sweet Corn Festival said that all the rain on Colorado’s Western Slope this spring might push the harvest back just a bit. (The Festival is on August 1st and features live music, arts & crafts, a Beer Garden and ALL THE SWEET CORN YOU CAN EAT. Check out their website or Facebook page.)“Corn” to most of the world is a generic term for a cereal grain. Whatever grain is the region’s cereal staple is called corn. Most of the world calls what we call corn, maize. Maize is the Spanish version of an Indian word, mahiz. Maize originated in southern Mexico. (In the late 70’s there was a popular Mazola Margarine ad featuring a beautiful Apache, Tenaya Torres, standing in a field of corn. She said “You call it corn. We call this maize.”)

Actually, the rest of the story is a bit confusing, too. What we call corn was originally called “Indian Corn” by European settlers because it was an Indian staple. We soon dropped “Indian” and it became known simply as “corn” in most English speaking countries. The multicolored corn we now call Indian Corn is really “flint” corn, so named because it is so hard. It is mostly used for popcorn, hominy and, of course, decoration.

Olathe means “beautiful” in the Shawnee language. So how did a town in Ute Indian country get a Shawnee name? The railroad’s agent in Colorado who suggested the name had just moved to the Colorado town from Olathe, Kansas.

Olathe Sweet Corn (OSC) can come from anywhere a corn growing farmer plants the hybrid seed that was developed in Olathe, Colorado. The seed was named after the town where it was developed. Olathe Sweet Corn that is grown in and around Olathe was named and trademarked Olathe Sweet™ Sweet Corn by Olathe’s Tuxedo Corn Company in 1987.

Some facts about Olathe Sweet Sweet Corn:
>>Olathe is located a valley with warm days and cool nights. Corn loves that.
>>OSSC must be harvested by hand. The sweet corn is too delicate to withstand the mechanical harvesting machine.
>>OSSC is picked and rushed to an icy water bath within an hour to retard the conversion of sugar into starch. Then it is refrigerated.

Some facts for Valley of the Sun OSSC fans:
>>Olathe’s average temperature for the day of the Festival – August 1st – is a high of 85 and a low of 58. There are flights from Phoenix to Montrose (11 miles away) through Denver and direct to Grand Junction which is 54 miles away. A great place to get away to in August!
>>However you are used to preparing corn, keep a very important fact in mind: sweet corn kernels, definitely OSSC kernels, are much more tender than the more common “field” corn. So follow these steps:
>>>>Keep the husk on the corn and refrigerated until ready to cook.
>>>>If you are used to all the recipes that talk about 5 or more minutes in boiling water, STOP. Remember those tender kernels. Advice for cooking OSSC ranges between 30 and 90 seconds. There are those who don’t even cook it. But I’d suggest you first try it at 60 seconds and gauge the results.
What to put on your OSSC? We don’t like to mask the flavor of OSSC. So just a little sweet butter and some sea salt and away we go. But enjoy it your way, of course.
Where and when to look for Olathe Sweet Sweet Corn in the Valley of the Sun: The Kroger Company, which operates Fry’s in the Valley, has an agreement with the Tuxedo Corn Company in Olathe to purchase almost all of each year’s crop. Kroger distributes it around the country.
As soon as we know when the OCCS will arrive we’ll post it on Facebook and under What’s Happening on our website. So stay tuned.

Sweet Basil has some corn tools that will make preparing and serving corn faster, safer and – if you are eating indoors – less messy.

Corny fun: Enjoy an ambigram – or “upside down” art – in this ad for Niblets Corn from the back cover of Life Magazine in 1953.

The Raw and the Cooked – What is “Doneness” ?

TheRawAndTheCookedThe Biergarten bar in Wayward Pines, Idaho has a problem. (Other than THOSE problems.) When Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) visits the bar, he orders a burger – “bloody no onions” from the bartender, Beverly. From the time she heads to the kitchen until she returns with the burger, 33 seconds have passed. (Talk about “bloody!”) And therein resides the Biergarten’s problem.
According to the FDA’s Food Code – section 3-603.11 – the Biergarten’s menu should contain the disclosure that “Consuming raw or undercooked MEATS … may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” Of course Ethan never looks at the Biergarten’s menu. But shouldn’t Beverly have verbally disclosed the potential danger to Ethan? (Even though probably the least of Ethan’s problems in Wayward Pines is a foodborne illness.)

The question of “doneness” is one we deal with frequently at our Cooking School. It can be a daunting one for new cooks. (Butterball’s Turkey-Talk Line gets 100,000 calls during November and December each year.) Cooking steaks to everyone’s requested temperature can make a BBQ a stressful event for the cook. (Chef Linda Martin, who teaches Sweet Basil’s 12-week Essence of Cooking Class teaches the “touch” method based on “the feel of the meat for steaks and recommends an instant read thermometer.)

Many of us won’t even attempt to cook fish at home fearing safety issues if it is under-cooked and disappointingly dry if it is overcooked. Meat and fish are only the beginning. Vegetables get just as many questions: the answer runs the gamut from raw to al dente (firm “to the tooth” when bitten) to mushy. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I recently ordered a vegetable enchilada at a popular Mexican restaurant and the carrots were like Ethan Burke’s burger – cooked for about 33 seconds. Fine for a salad or crudités platter but not an enchilada.

The title for this post actually comes from a book by an anthropologist. Claude Lévi-Strauss’ 1964 The Raw and the Cooked about the mythologies of Amerindian tribes in Brazil. In a New York Times article Larry Rohter summarized one of the book’s chief themes: “In a metaphoric sense, a cook is a kind of mediator between those realms (of nature and human culture), transforming an object originally from the natural world into an item fit for human consumption.”

Except for believers in the raw food movement, that would exclude Ethan Burke’s 33 second “bloody no onions burger” and the raw carrots in my enchilada. I’m sure even Bugs Bunny, who never met a crudités platter he didn’t like, would balk at a raw carrot in his cake.

The Pot of Basil at the Sweet Basil Market Cafe

When the Market Cafe opened on March 13th, a print that has been on the wall at Sweet Basil for almost 20 years suddenly became more visible. The Market Cafe was formerly the linen and barware room and with all the shelves covering the walls Isabella was relegated to a corner. It won’t surprise you to find out that the name of the painting is ”Isabella and the Pot of Basil.” (We do love basil!)

A print of "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" by William Holman Hunt is hanging on a wall of the Sweet Basil Market CafeWilliam Holman Hunt painted “The Pot of Basil” in 1868. Hunt was part of a group known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who “wanted a return to the abundant detail, intense colors and complex compositions of 15th century Italian art.”

Hunt based the painting on a poem by John Keats who had taken it from Boccaccio’s Decameron.

The gruesome story is about a young lady named Isabella whose family wants her to marry a wealthy man – but she is in love with a servant, Lorenzo. Isabella’s brothers murder Lorenzo and tell their sister that he has gone on a long journey. But Lorenzo appears to Isabella in a dream and tells her what happened. The grieving Isabella finds Lorenzo’s body and places his head – yes – in a pot of basil and tends it lovingly.

CODA: There are two versions of “Isabella and the Pot of Basil.” The original is at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Hunt made a smaller copy with minor changes which had been at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington until last year when it sold for $4.25 million. The print in the Market Cafe if of the smaller version.

BasilPlants3-2015-SMALLWe should mention that the pots in our basil garden contain nothing but soil and sweet basil and Guard Gnomes.

Happy (Matryoshka) Mother’s Day

I was so fascinated when my Grandmother gave me a set of Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls. Matryoshka means Mother. Who could not be fascinated by opening up the “mother” doll and finding her children, one after another, etc. etc.  A history of these ingenious wood treasures says that there is a record of up to 30 little dolls-within dolls! Like a Chicken Kiev, there is a delightful surprise inside. Of course, in a Matryoshka there are many delightful surprises.

Matryoshka Russian Nesting Dolls
So then I got to thinking how much like my nesting dolls a Sweet Basil custom gift basket is. Custom Gift Baskets have long been a specialty at Sweet Basil. We always have a great selection of Ready-2-Go gift baskets on hand but on an occasion like Mother’s Day we recommend a custom gift basket where you have the fun of personalizing it by selecting items with the recipient in mind.

MatryoshkaBasketSo you begin with a basket. We have a variety of styles & sizes. Then you have many aisles to wander up and down selecting gourmet foods, spices, teas, coffees, china, linen, gadgets, cookbooks, cutlery….on the lookout for things you know your Mom would like to “nest” inside the basket.
Lisa Howe Ceramic Heart Dish at Sweet Basil

(One of our most popular items to include is a glistening handmade ceramic Heart Dish by Lisa Howe.)

And in keeping with the Matryoshka spirit of the day, as you present your basket you could say “Za Vas! (To You!) Mom!”