A Feast for All the Senses

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As I mentioned in a previous post “The Business of a Business You Love” ((https://passportdinnersblog.com/2016/10/14/the-business-of-a-business-you-love/), the great re-boot of my company, my vision, my passion has been quite a process.

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My original Exotic Moroccan Feast box, pictured to the left and below, was fine.

 

 

 

 

It had all the organic dry ingredients and menu & preparation instructions you needed to have a nice theme dinner party, plus decorating ideas and music choices to complete the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I desired to provide a more authentic experience, a feast for all the senses. So after being introduced to Renda from The Argan Project, Renda was able to provide me with a contact in Morocco, Farid,  through whom I could add items to my Exotic Moroccan Feast, giving the venturous cook a more authentic experience. Still great menu ideas. Still all organic food items. All our food items are hand picked and carefully measured to give you the perfect amount needed for each dish.

Even more Historical & Cultural information plus more Moroccan music choices. But enhanced with additional products such as a premium loose leaf Moroccan mint tea, sweetened with organic cane sugar, culinary Argan oil, organic raw honeys, organic Ras el Hanout Moroccan spice blend, a hand painted mini tagine, plus a hand of Fatima key chain.

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Whether you’re the venturous home cook yourself,img_3744or you wish to give a unique gift to those special foodie friends of yours, shop now at passportdinners.com. Our exotic ingredients will help you create a unique international dinner party for all the senses. And become a Passport Dinners Loyalty Rewards member.

 

 

 

 

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Taste the World, One Box at a Time

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Meanwhile, down on the farm . . .

100_3204A few weeks ago this suburban girl got to go visit a local farm, and what a treat!  We’re pretty lucky here in southern CA to be able to travel a short distance to farms, orchards, and vineyards . . .  and to be able to hit our local farmers markets or farm stands for fresh produce all year long.  For those of you who actually live on a farm . . . envious!

100_3203Stehly Farms Organics (http://stehlyfarmsorganics.com/), a 400 acre organic farm nestled in the hills of Valley Center, northeast of San Diego, is a local supplier of organic citrus, avocados, berries, and vegetables.  Though the farm has been in the family for over 50 years, the beginnings of the organic operation began in 2002 with the two Stehly brothers.

The first stop on the farm was the chicken wagon, 100_3206the one that gets moved around to keep the food interesting for the chickens (food which includes vegetable scraps from the Stehly Farms organic fields).  These chickens don’t mind munching on broccoli or beets, and their chicken wagon is closed up at night to keep them safe from prowling coyotes and other predators.  Yep, pretty happy chickens!

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These chickens’ eggs, which the Stehly’s sell at their farm stands, come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, with deep orange yolks, truly pastured eggs.  We’re not talking the anemic supermarket eggs here!

600_238344432We climbed aboard a long wagon pulled by one of the farm’s tractors to tour the many acres of avocados and oranges.  The Stehlys sell their avocados and citrus not only at their farm stands, but also at several of the local natural food markets and to locally-inspired restaurants.  They’ve installed water reclamation systems and pumps throughout the farm to re-use irrigation water from their many wells, they use solar panels to provide their own electricity, and they create their own fuel (biodiesel) for their delivery trucks, farm vehicles, and personal vehicles by re-using fry oil from the restaurants they deliver to.  They are definitely walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to sustainability and being green.

From the sheep and their lambs . . .

100_3214100_3217100_3215to the goats . . .

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to the new chicks getting ready to grow big enough to enter the chicken wagon . . .

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to the reluctant sow hiding out in her “dog house” (it was HOT that day),  100_3220these animals are living the life of humane living:  well cared for, organic food (no GMOs here!), shelter from the elements and from predators, and a natural environment to live, grow, and play in.

Our next stop was the blueberry fields.  The hard part was to fill our trays with blueberries and not eat them all, one blueberry in the tray, two in the mouth . . . it became very quiet!

100_3244100_3229We also had the chance to pick navel oranges, stuffing our bags as full as we could!  And we toured their packing facilities where each box of avocados and oranges is labeled by their up-to-date equipment so it can be traced back to the exact part of the farm it was gathered from.  It was awesome to see the automation that worked so well with organic farming.

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As if bags of oranges and baskets of blueberries wasn’t enough, we had our choice of other great organic vegetables to take home:  leeks, chard, carrots, all sorts of herbs. . .   What a haul!  Summer is winding down and for many parts of the country these fresh summertime treats will go away.

So before summer is over, head to your local farmers market or farm stand and support local produce and your local economy.  And try to take a farm tour.  It’ll make your day!

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Passport Dinners brings you Do-It-Yourself adventure dinner party kits for you to taste the world, one country at a time.  Check us out at www.Passportdinners.com.

Sassy Saffron

As the most expensive spice in the world, you may wonder if saffron is worth it, and you might wonder what it tastes like. Given its price tag, up to $2700 per pound, you may assume it’s sweet ambrosia. In fact, saffron is somewhat bitter, but its flavor is also complex.  Some say honey-like.  Some say bitter.  I say earthy, a little like fresh hay, and a little goes a long ways.

The word saffron derives from the Arab word zafaran, meaning yellow, and it was mentioned as far back as 1500 b.c. in many classical writings, as well as in the Bible.  It has been used by the Assyrians in 7th century BC, by the Persians in 10th century BC, by the Chinese in offerings to Buddha in 3rd century AD, by the Moors in France in 8th century AD, and in the Americas in the 1700’s.  It has been prized as an aphrodisiac.  It has been used for medicinal purposes.  It has been used to add color to cloth.  But I prefer to use it in cooking.

Saffron threads can release aroma, flavor and color for 24 hours or more, depending on their quality.  Many people try to cultivate saffron and may use pesticides and chemicals to try to protect this expensive spice from pests. Chemicals can ruin the value of saffron. Organic saffron is stronger in taste and sometimes even cheaper than chemically sprayed saffron.  It is definitely to your advantage to purchase only organic saffron.  Our DIY dinner kits at Passport Dinners contain only organic saffron of the highest quality.

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus.  The saffron crocus blooms with its delicate violet flower each Autumn in various countries such as Iran, Greece, and Spain.

Crocus sativus in Conservatoire National des P...Each saffron crocus grows from 8 to 12 inches tall and, in a good year, bears several flowers, each with three bright crimson stigmas, the female part of the saffron crocus.  The stigmas are the only part of the saffron crocus that when dried (cured) properly become commercial saffron.  The male part of the saffron flower, the stamens, are half the size of the stigmas, are deep yellow, and have NO culinary value.  Beware of saffron that has added weight from these yellow stamens.  Look for the vivid crimson saffron only.

And that price tag?  It is estimated that it takes some 14,000 stigmas to produce only one ounce of saffron threads.  When the saffron crocus blooms, usually for a 3 week time period, the  harvesting and processing begins.  Open flowers are picked and then carefully dissected to extract the stigmas.  They are dried over heat and then packaged for sale.  This labor-intensive process generates the cost of these crimson threads.  

The saffron crocus provides the deep yellow color and pungent flavor that is critical for the success of some of the world’s most traditional dishes:  bouillabaisse from France, lamb curries from India, paella from Spain (as in Passport Dinners DIY Valencian paella kit), risotto milanese from Italy, or preserved lemon chicken from Morocco (as in Passport Dinners DIY Fez Preserved Lemon Chicken kit).

If you haven’t tried it before, pick up a container of organic-only saffron threads, and travel the world through food with the most expensive spice in the world.  Or try one of our DIY dinner kits that already have that crimson spice included.

Try a taste of the world, a culinary journey, with our DIY dinner adventure kits at passportdinners.com

Sweet or Savory? Cinnamon

Organic Saigon Cinnamon

Spicy.  Sweet.  Woody.  Certainly fragrant.  What is the scent of cinnamon?  When you open a package or bottle of cinnamon you are transported.  Maybe to Grandma’s house.  Maybe to an exotic land.  Maybe in something sweet.  Maybe in something savory.

One of our favorite ingredients to use at Passport Dinners is fragrant cinnamon. Our Moroccan cinnamon & honey dinner kits include organic Saigon Cinnamon (genus Cinnamomum), which is more closely related to Cassia (C. Aromaticum), native to Burma, than to Cinnamon (C. Verum), native to Sri Lanka.  Saigon Cinnamon also is considerably higher in essential oils than either Cassia or Cinnamon, and commands a higher price.

You don’t even have to open one of our seasoning packets with cinnamon to catch a whiff.  Those essential oils waft out as soon as you open the lid to the dinner kit box.

When you purchase cinnamon make it a high quality cinnamon such as Saigon Cinnamon, keep it in a cool place, and use it quickly.  You don’t want to lose any of that spicy, sweet, and woody fragrance.  Better yet, buy the cinnamon sticks and grind them yourself in a spice grinder.  Trust me, you’ll never go back to that bottled stuff at the grocery store.

Try a taste of the world, a culinary journey, with our DIY dinner adventure kits at passportdinners.com.

First Run at Paella

Tarifa, Spain - 2008                   SPAIN . . .

Flamenco: Fire and Grace album cover

 

 

Flamenco music and dance; bullfights; lots of sunshine.

Spain’s history is reflected in Moorish palaces, crumbling castles, Roman ruins, Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals and sleek architecture.

Fragrant and savory Spanish paella is the ultimate Spanish comfort food.  Paella is brought to the table and served directly from the pan.  The only other accompaniments needed are lemon wedges and a loaf of crusty bread — and a good bottle of red wine from Spain! 

 

"mise en place" for paella

“mise en place” for paella

The prep takes some time, but “mise en place”, everything in its place, is the key to smoothly preparing a paella.

My first run at paella for the Spanish Paella dinner kit turned out great!  Then I received the imported from Spain organic paella rice to try again. Even better!  The organic paella rice has such a nice texture and absorbs all those wonderful flavors, well, wonderfully!

Don’t forget dessert! Flan, ymmm!  ????????????????

 

 

 
Try a taste of the world, a culinary journey, with our DIY dinner adventure kits at passportdinners.com.

Fresh Apricot & Honey Ice Cream

A fellow blogger had posted about a craving for ice cream, so he made his own with raspberry puree.  Yum!  Of course that created a craving for ice cream for me!  I’ve made the ordinary:  the strawberry, the red, white & blue (raspberries and blueberries in vanilla ice cream), the banana walnut with 99 bananas liqueur.  But I had just received a carton of apricots from my organic stone fruit connection and decided to give that a try.  And, for the first time, I used honey instead of white or raw sugar.  What a mellow, creamy combination!

Fresh Apricot & Honey Ice Cream

  • 6 to 8 eggs
  • 3/4 cup raw honey
  • 2 T vanilla
  • 2 pints half & half
  • 2 pints heavy cream
  • 4 cups fresh pureed apricots

I make a custard from the heated half & half with the honey,  tempering by adding some of the heated mixture to the well-beaten eggs.  Mix well, then add back to the remainder of the half & half with honey mixture, adding vanilla, and mix well.  Pour into ice cream mixer, add pureed apricots and heavy cream, and freeze according to freezer instructions.

The honey took a little longer to freeze than the sugars I usually use.  But, wow, what an interesting taste!  The honey accentuates the flavor and scent of the apricots, and adds to the creamy mouth-feel.  What different types of fruit have you tried in your homemade ice creams?

Try a taste of the world, a culinary                              journey, with our DIY dinner kits at passportdinners.com.

So What’s Wrong with GMO’s? Don’t We Want to Feed the World?

The Senate recently passed the newest version of the US Farm Bill which, no big surprise, did not include the labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Once again, big industry was able to use its political and money clout to keep Americans from being informed, despite the fact that over 90% of Americans want to know if there are GMOs in their food.  On top of this, the second largest country in the world, India, will now become the 50th nation in the world to require labels on genetically engineered foods, joining the EU, Japan, China and other nations.

organic consumers association message

During a discussion in my book club last week the philanthropy of Bill Gates was discussed.  I made the off-hand comment that I was disappointed in Bill Gates support of the GMO industry.  This brought up a heated response from another book club member who strongly supports GMOs and believes that GMOs are the answer to feeding the world’s poor.  I was shocked by that response because I fervently avoid GMOs and sign petitions right and left in support of the labeling of GMOs.

So am I wrong?  Are GMO’s indeed safe?  Have I overreacted? In 1992 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that genetically engineered foods were no different than conventional foods.

“More than HALF the foods at U.S. grocery stores are likely to contain genetically engineered ingredients.” – http://www.justlabelit.org

 GMOs are not created by your grandpa farmers out in the fields allowing plants to cross pollinate and hybridize new varieties or breeding animals or grafting trees. It is scientists in labs creating what many now call franken-foods.

What combinations have been tried?  It is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Scientists have worked on some interesting combinations:

  • Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
  • Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
  • Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.
  • Artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.
  • Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
  • Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.

Current field trials include:

  • Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
  • Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
  • Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
  • Tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii)
  • Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
  • Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)

is this cherry a (GMO) Genetically modified or...

Sounds like a science fiction movie idea, doesn’t it?  Creating plants that won’t be killed by toxins so they can spray pesticides and herbicides to manage the fields may sound like a great idea – but what do these plants do inside our bodies? We don’t really know. For certain insects it breaks open their stomachs and kills them.  Hmmm, sounds like one of the Alien movies.  The testing our government currently requires is done by the same companies creating these foods. What grade would you give yourself if billions of dollars in profits were riding on it?

Do you want to eat a plant that won’t die if poison is put on it?  Do you want to eat a soybean product that might have an allergen?  Soybeans have been spliced with the brazil nut gene; what if you are allergic to brazil nuts and the product can’t be labeled? And a genetically engineered salmon is pending FDA approval.   

That’s the scary part: The companies using GMO’s don’t have to tell you.  But over 40 other countries require foods with GMOs to be labeled. The US is one of only a few developed nations that doesn’t require labeling of GMOs.  GMO crops that contain their own pesticides often kill more than their targeted insects, producing a chain reaction of unintended consequences:  “super-weeds”, “super-pests”, “super-viruses”.

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM

In the US, first Vermont, then Connecticut, fell to the threats by Monsanto to be sued if those states proceeded with labeling of GMOs, even though over 90% of each state’s citizens supported the labeling.  California is in the fight of its life for its citizens’ right to know with their Label GMO’s (labelgmos.org) campaign which puts the question up for vote in the November elections.  You can be assured Monsanto will be dropping a bucket-load of $$$ to thwart this campaign.

Besides the health, environmental and biodiversity risks that GMOs might pose, and supposing that biotech defenders are right and GMOs are safe to eat and safe to grow, there is a stronger argument to oppose them.  That argument includes the biotech industry’s use of intellectual property rights, laws and international trade regulations to patent GMOs and to transform the nature of farming from an activity required to sustain life to a profit-driven high-tech industry.  Just ask some of the American farmers who have been sued by Monsanto for GMO seeds blowing into their fields, putting many small farmers out of business.

Biotech corporations have faced resistance to the introduction of GMOs in Europe from many sources.  Several developing countries, such as Angola, India, and Zambia, have said no to GMO crops. They have also resisted GMO foods as food aid. USAID, the US international agency, has exerted enormous pressure through the United Nations World Food Program, effectively telling countries that they have no choice: accept GMO food, or get no food aid at all.

A honeybee on an apiary, spreading feromones t...

In March of this year Poland’s beekeepers won a ban on Monsanto’s GMOs.  Monsanto’s Mon810 corn, genetically engineered to produce a mutant version of the insecticide Bt, was banned in Poland following protests by beekeepers who showed the corn was killing honeybees.  Poland is the first country to formally acknowledge the link between Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn and the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that’s been devastating bees around the world, including here in the US.  Mon810 was approved for food use in 1996 in the US.  Many analysts believe that Monsanto has known the danger their GMOs posed to bees all along. You know what?  No bees, no food.

If you are the type of consumer like me who strives to purchase organic foods as much as possible, GMO contamination could make it impossible for you to obtain organic foods.  GMO crops unique threat of genetic pollution could spread to the soil and other plant and animal life triggering irreversible genetic contamination.

Planting GMO crops is not a question of choice: once they are planted somewhere, crops elsewhere become contaminated by them. This could be especially disastrous for organic farmers.  The claim that GMO crops require fewer herbicides and pesticides has been proven wrong. GMOs require fewer chemicals than conventional crops in the short term but gradually they need significantly more.  GMOs threaten plant biodiversity. Biotech goods undergo no independent safety testing.

Biotech corporations and the US government present GMO crops as the solution to world hunger.  Bill Gates has bought into this story.  Sustainable agriculture is an approach to agriculture that is environmentally, economically, culturally and socially sustainable. It emphasizes crop diversity and rotation, conserves natural resources, and favors small and medium-sized farming rather than agribusinesses and large corporations.

How about bt toxins that become part of your food and don’t degrade?  Or antibiotic resistance?  Or paying a license fee for something Mother Nature gives us for free?  Saynotogmos.org and justlabelit.org have many articles on the health, economic, biodiversity, and the-freedom-to-eat-what-you-choose risks.  Nope, still don’t want GMOs.

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