Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chestnuts - You either love them or you hate them

By: Cecily Costa

Chestnuts—you either love them or hate them. For me, nothing is better than chestnut stuffing on Thanksgiving.

They are sweet, starchy and somewhat crunchy. My best childhood food memories are filled with aromas and flavors of chestnut stuffing. The night before Thanksgiving, most of my family (6 siblings) would sit down at the table and peel the just roasted chestnuts, eating half of them along with way. Our hands would be stained by the tannins and our fingernails torn. It was really hard work and made me appreciate the finished product even more. If you have never peeled chestnuts, it is laborious— like pitting Nicoise olives. (Thank goodness for raw, peeled, IQF!)

Different from water chestnuts, which are a grass-like plant, these chestnuts can be candied, boiled, steamed, grilled, deep-fried or roasted. They can be used in sweet or savory dishes ranging from cakes and pastries (the most famous are Castagnaccio and Mont Blanc), to stuffing vegetables, poultry or other fowl. Chestnuts are also used in beer making! You can buy them fresh, frozen, dried, ground or canned.

It used to be that chestnut trees dominated the eastern United States. Around 1904, chestnut blight was accidentally introduced by an Asian chestnut varietal and within 40 years over 4
billion (yes billion) trees were killed. For those of you who watch Antiques Roadshow, you know that chestnut wood (a member of the oak family) was commonly used in a variety of ways before the blight. Most of the chestnut wood today is actually left over from those very same decaying trees.

Chestnuts are somewhat different than most nuts because they contain very little fat and protein. They are a great source of carbohydrate (50%) and water (45%). In fact, of all the nuts, chestnuts are the only ones that contain Vitamin C—one ounce of boiled or steamed chestnuts delivers between 9.5 mg and 26.7 mg of the vitamin! They also contain zinc and other minerals like potassium, iron, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus and calcium.

At one time even, chestnuts were considered as a possible sugar source for the French, but Napoleon preferred to make sugar from beets instead.

The largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world is called Hundred Horse and is located in Sant'Alfio, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, in Sicily. It had a circumference of 190 feet when measured in 1780—way bigger than our Redwood trees! Since then, the above-ground tree has split into multiple large trunks, but below-ground, these trunks still share the same roots. It is generally believed to be 2,000-4,000 years old! The tree's name originated from a legend—the Queen of Aragon and her company of one hundred knights were caught in a severe thunderstorm during a trip to Mount Etna. The entire company is said to have found shelter under the tree.

We stock the two most popular chestnut items—IQF raw peeled frozen and honey. The IQF product is a great labor saver plus allows you to steam or braise a lot more flavor into them. Both are sold only by the case to protect the integrity of the packaging and product.

#234661 Ravifruit Chestnuts Raw Peeled IQF 5/1 kg (2.2 lb)
#292020 Mieli Thun Chestnut Honey Raw Italy 6/250 gr (8.9 oz)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Pepper - The Master Spice"

By Cecily Costa.

From my kitchen library—”PEPPER The Master Spice” (adapted from the classic and
essential The Spice Cook Book):

Once as rare as fine pearls, and traded as a substitute for money, pepper is thought to have been traded from India over 4,000 years ago. Ancient Greeks and Romans used both black and white pepper as far back as 3,000 years ago.

Much like cocoa beans (aka chocolate), pepper is grown within 20 degrees of the Equator. The names associated with pepper sound like a globe trotter’s itinerary of India and the Far East: Tellicherry, Alleppey and Pandjang, for example, have been pepper ports for hundreds, if not thousands of years. 

Piper nigrum (peppercorns, or berries, as we know it) is believed to be native to Malabar on the western coast of India. It is a tropical vine that produces green, black and white pepper.

  • Green peppercorns are unripe black peppercorns.
  • Black peppercorns are picked just before they are fully ripe, making them more pungent.
  • White peppercorns are allowed to ripen completely, making the shell easier to remove and the pepper inside more mellow.
  • Tellicherry black peppercorns (BiRite #512723), from Malabar on the coast of India, are considered the best. They are left on the vine longer so they develop a deep, rich flavor and are larger than average in size.
The word pepper originates from the Latin piper, which also gave us poivre, pfeffer, pepe, pimienta and peppar in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish, respectively. 

We stock a full line of spices including a large selection of peppercorns including Green, Black and White as well as Pink & Szechuan which berries from different plants, but look like peppercorns. (Pink peppercorns are actually part of the cashew family & red Szechuan peppercorns are part of the citrus family).

Fun Fact: WHY DOES PEPPER MAKE YOU SNEEZE? Sneezing is a reflex that is triggered when nerve endings inside the mucous membrane of the nose are stimulated. White, black and green pepper contains an alkaloid called piperine. Piperine irritates the nerve endings in the mucous membranes causing you to sneeze (to rid your body of the product).

*Contact your BiRite Sales Rep for a complete list of pepper that we stock.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Know Your Anchovies

By Cecily Costa.

Anchovies  (pronunciation: ANN-choh-veez OR ann-CHOH-veez)   Best quality come salted.  Rinse the salt off before using.  Unopened canned anchovies can be stored for up to a year in a dry, cool place.  Once opened, they will keep for up to two days if you wrap them well and refrigerate them.   Substitutes:  anchovy paste (½ teaspoon anchovy paste for each fillet) .  Information sourced from www.foodsubs.com.

Is there really a difference between anchovies from Asia, Chile or the Mediterranean?  Yes. 
It might be the species, the quality of the oil and salt, or even in the processing.   Our best quality anchovies come from Scalia in SicilyBenedetto Scalia in Sciacca, Italy founded Scalia on the Mediterranean coast in 1973.  Anchovies and sardines are the main products of Scalia. The local fishing fleet provides the fish.  The top priority of the company is their Guarantee of Quality.  Their modern-day method of  production closely parallels that of ancient tradition.  All phases of workmanship, with exclusion of the drying and wrapping process, are precisely executed by the local women of Sciacca using specific handcrafting techniques.  All fish are immediately prepared upon arrival in order to retain their freshness and precious qualities.

*Contact your BiRite Sales Rep for a complete list of anchovies that we stock.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Happy 4th of July from BiRite

By Cecily Costa.

Want to really bump up your July 4th picnic or barbecue?   
Here are some terrific ideas on how to make your menu even more fun and unique using these exceptional American artisanal ingredients:

(Not-So-Boring) Pasta Salad 
Trade up from everyday generic elbow pasta to a super fun shape like Accordions from Baia Pasta. This spool shape is playful enough for kids and delicious enough to impress any adult. Baia specializes in artisanal brass-extruded pasta using the best Italian traditional techniques and US organic flour. You can see the difference in color and texture. Think of Baia as the best made Italian pasta (i.e. Rustichella) but made locally, right here in Jack London Square! Great ‘al dente’ texture. Perfect for a summer salad. We stock 6 fun shapes like the Accordions #383510, all in 5 lb bulk boxes. Check out all their great recipes and press, including what the Italians are saying about Baia Pasta at www.baiapasta.com!

Super Duper Bean Salad 
Do you have a three-bean salad on the menu that needs a little updating? Our local farmer, Chip Morris of Elegant Beans & Beyond grows the most colorful, creamy & delicious dried heirloom beans on the market, right here in Lodi. Try Pebbles #275650 (different colors all from the same plant), Flor de Mayo #275630 (also great for chili!) or Jacobs Cattle Gold #275620 for some eye catching color. We stock 13 different varieties in all, conveniently packed in 5 lb bags. We also stock organic dried Black Eyed Peas #271612 & Garbanzo Beans #571001 from Koda Farms in the Central Valley. Both lines are super well priced because we buy direct!

Dressed To Impress Salads 
How about making your dressings with either California Olive Ranch or Corto Olive Oil and Sonoma Vinegar Works? What a great way to marry all your ingredients and flavors into one big local celebration of flavors.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Avian Influenza Impacts Liquid Eggs

The ongoing Avian Influenza outbreak in the United States continues to have huge ramifications for our foodservice industry and our supply channels. The situation continues to develop but already has resulted in millions of birds being killed and many of the existing flocks continue to be at risk for disease and possible slaughter.

Liquid egg manufacturers in the United States have been greatly impacted, with some losing all or the majority of our flocks. We have been notified by our supplier that BiRite will be on an allocation program beginning next week and more than likely running through the year and quite possibly the majority of 2016.

Effective immediately, BiRite will need to take the following steps to continue servicing our customers and to minimize overall disruption to the supply chain.
  • BiRite will no longer accept new business or new customers for liquid eggs.
  • Current customers will be limited to at most their twelve week average of purchases. If our allocation decreases from the historical average, we will allocate our customers proportionally.
We will continue to keep all informed as the situation develops. For specific questions, please contact your BiRite Sales Representative.


Aaron Barulich,
General Manager
BiRite Foodservice Distributors

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Produce Transition

By Tim Robertson.

This is an update on product availability, quality and pricing that may affect some commodity items. As stated below there are issues with cauliflower and broccoli due to transition from Yuma back to Salinas.

The transition is upon us as the Yuma Season finishes up. Currently the most affected commodity is Cauliflower. The Yuma growing region for all intense purposes is finished. Extremely limited supplies from the Salinas Valley and Santa Maria growing regions are not helping as these commodities are 2 to 3 weeks ahead of schedule. Cauliflower supplies look to remain extremely limited for 2 to 3 more weeks. The market is already in the $30.00 range.

With that being said the Cauliflower Mid Mostly Market has hit the price trigger in our contracts with our suppliers. Prices will go up $2.00 per case on all pack sizes nest week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Is There Such a Thing as Ethical Foie Gras?

By Cecily Costa.

Yes. There is a farmer in Spain that does not force feed his geese. His name is Eduardo Sousa. This story was told at a TED talk by chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill back in 2008 and again by This American Life on public radio in 2011. It is an awesome story...Eduardo Sousa’s family has been operating the farm and adjacent restaurant since 1812. For years, the family had produced only enough natural foie gras for family and friends. When Eduardo took over the farm several years ago, he decided it was time for the rest of the world to enjoy it too. Their farm is along the fall migration of geese, in the Extremadura area of Spain, famous for the Iberico pig. Many of the geese would come down and graze on his organic figs, acorns and herbs. They even “communicated” to more geese flying above to come down and stay. Never caged, always free-range, the geese naturally gorged themselves to get ready for the long flight. The flight they never took because they stayed.

In the fall of 2006, he turned the foie gras world upside down by being awarded the Coup de Coeur award at the SIAL (Salon International d’Alimention) in Paris—think of it as a SOFI award from the Fancy Food Show. He won for his organic Iberian goose foie gras. The first time a non-French company won for foie gras. In disbelief, the French thought he cheated and sent spies to check on him. Soon after, he met and partnered up with Diego Labourdette, who has a PhD in Ecology & extensive experience with migratory patterns of European birds from the far north to the wetlands of Andalucia and Extremadura in Spain (where, coincidently, Eduardo’s farm is). Now, Sousa & Labourdette foie gras is available thru pre-order direct (not in US) and seasonally in the family restaurant. You can find out more about Sousa & Labourdette at www.sousa-labourdette.com. There are videos and links to other press regarding ethical foie gras. Going back to Dan Barber, he actually tried to mimic growing ethical foie gras at his farm in NY, but couldn’t.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What Really is “Converted” Rice Anyway?

By Cecily Costa.

Growing up in a large family you would have thought I had rice all time because it is so cheap. Truth is, my mother couldn’t cook rice and would always burn it. The closest I got to having rice was Rice-A-Roni once a month...or at my best friend’s house where her Armenian mother would make this amazing rice pilaf. Turns out her secret was parboiled rice. It was consistent and perfect every time.
I never really understood what parboiled (or converted) rice was until recently. I thought you might be interested in the lesson too. Truth be told that I actually prefer the taste of and texture of white rice, but I was very surprised that parboiled rice is actually higher in nutrients than regular rice. The diagram below is from Wikipedia and does a great job showing the process.

In the 1930s, the German-British scientist and chemist Erich Huzenlaub (1888–1964) invented a form of parboiling designed to retain more of the nutrients in rice, now known as the Huzenlaub Process. The process consisted first in vacuum drying the whole grain, then steaming, and finally vacuum drying and husking. Besides increasing rice's nutritional value, it also made it resistant to weevils and reduced cooking time. In 1932, Forrest Mars, Sr. (i.e. M&M Mars), moved to the United Kingdom with the goal of growing the Mars food company internationally. While in the United Kingdom, Mars learned of Erich Huzenlaub's work with rice. Huzenlaub's London based company was called "Rice Conversion, Ltd." The two eventually formed "Mars and Huzenlaub" in Houston, Texas, which gave Forrest Mars partial ownership of the "Huzenlaub Process" rice conversion patent. In 1942, through Mars's guidance and sponsorship, Huzenlaub created "Rice Conversion, Inc." with a Houston food broker, Gordon L. Harwell, forming Converted Rice, Inc., which sold its entire output to the U.S. and British Armed Forces. The advantage of this product was that it could be air-dropped to troops in the field without risk of weevil infestation, and it could be cooked more quickly than other rice products. Additionally, the converted rice product would retain more nutritional value. In 1944, with additional financing from the Defense Plant Corporation and an investment by Forrest Mars, it built a second large plant. In 1959, Forrest Mars purchased Erich Huzenlaub's interest in the company and merged it into his Food Manufacturers, Inc (i.e Uncle Ben’s).