Category Archives: Wisewomen

Different Styles of African Food and Restaurants

African cuisine is rich in its diversity and bountiful in it’s harvest. Traditional foods are prepared in enticing ways, using traditional ingredients sumptuously blended with modern ones. The exciting thing about African food is as suggested in the title, “different styles”, which debunks the myth that Africa, on a historical and cultural level, can be seen as a single entity. You can find influences of Portuguese, French, British as well as traditional differences in the North, South, East and West African regions, which makes for a multi ethnic culinary experience.

The pig, now a stable in East Africa, was introduced there by the Portuguese. The French brought ginger and chilies to Africa’s West coast. The Arabs contributed, saffron, cinnamon and cloves to Ethiopia. Due to the Dutch influence in South Africa, many of the receipts used by the Dutch survive today in South African foods, like Kaiings, which is a combination of wild cabbage fried in the fat from a sheep’s tail. Yummy!

While flavors, tastes and and traditions differ, there are some common staples traditionally used in African foods such as corn, millet, rice, barley, cassava, coconuts, yams, citrus and pineapples, but they are skillfully blended with the spices and products, both indigenous and imported.

So it is that you would rarely see an “pure African ” restaurant, but much like with Asian food, where there are different types of Asian food , there are different kinds of African food and restaurants. It is common to see, anywhere in the world and even in African countries, Ethiopian, West African, South African , African Caribbean, Ethiopian, North African and Nigerian restaurants and foods, to name a few. Each of them offering a different taste of the many cultures of Africa. Some of foods offered at these restaurants even claim to have blended flavors of India, Africa and Asia. Many of the menus are predominately vegetarian, along with fish, okra, peanut soup and fried plantains – a mainly West African cuisine.

West Africa, is made up of Gambia, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, C, Benin, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea. This food is dominated by starch, lots of fat and small portions of meat. North African, which includes Morocco have tangy, perfumed flavored delights like pickled lemons, barley couscous.

When the urge to eat at an African restaurant strikes you, don’t believe that if you have tasted one, you have tasted all. To indulge all the unique and exotic tastes of African food, be prepared for a culinary tour of Africa that may take months, even years to complete.


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Difference between Sea Salt and Table Salt

Salt has been used for thousands of years as a valuable product because of its ability to preserve and to season food.  Salt is also an essential mineral for aiding the human body to operate. Are sea salt and table salt the same? The answer to that question is no, sea salt and table salt are different to each other.  Sea salt and table salt mainly consists of sodium chloride but are extracted in different ways and their nutritional values are not the same. 

* Introduction to salt *

* Why does the human body need salt? *

The human body needs salt in order to function properly. Human bodies are made of approximately 75% of water but this water is not in
its true form without salt. Water in bodies has salt dissolved in it which helps a number of functions to operate within the body. Salt has an important role to play within human bodies as it is present in the cells and tissues. Salt helps muscles to contract, assists the transport of nutrients, aides the digestive system and helps in the conduct of nerve impulses.

Salt provides two elements – sodium and chloride, both of which are essential for mankind. Sodium and chloride are both elements that the
body cannot make for itself and must be supplied by food.

*An explanation between table salt and sea salt * 

* Table Salt *

The common table salt is obtained from salt deposits which are mined, heat and chemically treated. Due to the way table salt is processed,
all of the naturally occurring minerals are stripped other than sodium chloride. This makes it an unnatural substance as compared to sea salt, and contributes to blood pressure, heart and kidney diseases. Table salt consists of 99% of sodium chloride with anti-caking agents or additives added to make it free flowing and dry, making it easier to use.

* Sea Salt *

Sea salt is the unrefined salt that is obtained by purely evaporating the water from the sea. Once the sea water has been collected and
the water has been evaporated by the sun, all that remains is the salt, a natural product from the ocean. Sea salt is 98% sodium chloride and the remaining 2% is made up of naturally occurring minerals, depending on where the salt was originally harvested. Sea salt has a higher mineral content and contains important minerals like iron, sulphur and magnesium. Sea salts have more flavour than table salt due to the higher mineral content.

* The conclusion – the differences between sea salt and table salt *

Sea salt and table salt are nutritionally separate products simply by their processing methods. Table salt is a refined product as it has been processed more.  Table salt contains chemically treated sodium chloride. Sea salt is an unrefined and natural product as it has not been
processed industrially.  Although both table and sea salts consist of mainly sodium chloride, just by processing them by in different methods changes their consistency and their nutritional value, making them both very different products.


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Crab Delight

The finished meal that this recipe produces will tantalize your taste buds and leave your tummy very happy. Our family seafood soup recipe originated in Norway several generations ago and started with only seafood, milk, potatoes, onions, butter, salt and pepper.

The ingredients can be varied to suit your taste. My wife thinks carrots add color, she will also add celery when I am not watching. I think adding carrots and celery border on treason. Inserting new ingredients really take away from the original recipe. The original texture and taste will become altered and leave the diner short changed.

Enjoying a traditional meal should be a marriage between taste and memory. You should be able to have your meal along with the long ago memories of the family all sitting at the table together. Dining should be much more than just putting food into the stomach. Enjoy your soup and your memories.

Crab soup

3 cups diced potatoes,
1/4 cup diced onions,
1/4 cup bacon pieces
2 cups chicken broth,
2 cups evaporated milk,
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces of crab pieces

Fry four slices of chopped up bacon, drain off grease.

Saute onions, parsley and carrots in butter and bacon pieces.

Boil the diced potatoes in chicken stock until done, add the sauteed items, and crab meat, boil for two minutes.

Turn off heat and add milk, reheat to desired temperature, “do not boil”. For thicker soup add potato flakes.

Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley or the parsley flakes from the seasoning aisle of your store, add salt and pepper to taste, serves four.

If you live in an area where you do not have access to fresh seafood you will have to settle for the seafood that your local supermarket has to offer. Salmon could be used instead of crab. Fresh salmon is always the best but canned salmon will pass as the last resort.


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Commercial Taste like Home Food

Fast food is what it says it is, fast food and it need not be burgers and Big Mac’s and other items often eaten at fast food restaurants. Fast food, in the purest sense of the description, is food that can be prepared quickly. It takes minutes in  preparation and can be eaten a couple of minutes later. The fastest food is food that can be eaten quickly and the most popular is burgers. In frozen food sections of supermarkets are burgers made out of vegetables. The taste is similar to that of beef burgers.

 *A salad bought at McDonald’s is fast food but so is a salad bought at the supermarket that has already been washed, chopped and ready to be eaten. All that is necessary to select a dressing and a few other additions such as cheese bits, nuts, olives, and whatever else.

*Veggie burgers bought from the frozen food section at the store and microwave is fast food. All is needed is a bun, a slice of cheese, a slice of tomato, a pickle,  and a little mayonnaise.

+Salmon burgers purchased in the frozen food sections and broiled for a few minutes and placed on bun is fast food. Add lettuce, tomato or whatever else makes it a healthy fast food for lunch or for a kid’s after school snack.

*Sausage and Biscuits  that take only minutes in the microwave to thaw, is certainly fast food. These are good at breakfast time when children have only five or ten minutes to eat. They can eat these on the way to the bus stop, if they are running late.  

*Cooked shrimp that is purchased frozen and comes with sauce, is a healthy fast food. It need only room temperature water to thaw in a few minutes. There is no need for further cooking. This is especially inviting at impromptu parties.

*Pizza is fast food when purchased in the frozen food department and is baked in a hot 400 degree oven for about fifteen minutes. It is even faster when it is left over from the previous night’s pizza party. It need only be warmed by a minute in the microwave.

*Cold cuts from the deli department is fast food. Varieties of cold meats of every description are purchased at stores making food preparation easier. A party can be laid out on the buffet in less than fifteen minutes if one is pressed for time. Most of the work will be in washing and cutting up the vegetables and opening the jars of olives, pickles and bringing out the tooth picks and dicing the bar of cheese.

Actually, the microwave has made fast food out of most food. Frozen meats can  be safely defrosted and chicken tenders and pork chops and burgers can be under the broiler in minutes and ready to eat. And what can be faster than buying a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, a container of fresh vegetables already cooked and a pot of potato salad. Fast food is  good and healthy food where preparation will take only minutes.  And don’t forget the multitude of canned foods that may need only to be heated.


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Cooking and Baking at Higher Elevations

Mountain and high elevation areas provide challenges for cooks. Cakes, stews, breads and even candies prepared in areas with elevations greater than 3000 feet may fail unless modifications are made to the recipes. Elevations of 5000 or 7000 feet provide additional challenges.  Here is a guide to baking and cooking at high elevations.

Foods Cooked in Water:

Air pressure decreases as elevation rises. Therefore water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations. At sea level water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  At 5000 feet elevation it boils at about 203 degrees and 198 degrees at 7000 feet elevation.  Food such as stews, pastas and beans cooked in water will be affected.  As a general guide, the cooking time for foods cooked in water should increase by an hour for each 1000 foot elevation increase over 4000 feet.  A recipe that calls for a three hour cooking time at sea level would require a four hour cooking time at 5000 feet elevation.  Hard cooked eggs will require an additional 5 minutes of cooking time at 5000 feet elevation.

A pressure cooker is useful to cook stews and beans at higher elevations.  Oven roasted meats however, do not require an increase in cooking time.

Baked Goods: 

Food prepared with leavening agents such as baking soda or baking powder tend to raise too fast at higher elevations.  Baked goods may collapse or have a coarse, dry texture.  Many cake recipes tend to be affected by higher elevations.  If a packaged cake mix is used, follow the label directions for higher elevations.  

There are several recommendations to produce a good quality cake at higher elevations. The amount of baking powder or baking soda should be decreased by 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon for every 1 teaspoon of the leavening agent used in the recipe at 5000 feet elevation.  For example, if a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of baking soda, the amount should be reduced to 1 ½ to 1 ¾ teaspoons. The liquid used in the recipe should be increased by 2 to 3 tablespoons at 5000 feet elevation and 3 to 4 tablespoons at 7000 feet elevation.  It is also recommended to decrease the sugar in the recipe.  The amount of sugar should be reduced by 1 to 3 tablespoons per cup of sugar.  The oven temperature should be increased by about 20 to 25 degrees F for metal pans.  The oven temperature does not need to be increased for glass baking pans. The cooking time may need to be shortened.  Baking pans should be no more than half full.

Yeast breads rise faster at higher elevations.  The rising time for breads or other rolls should be reduced.  Or the amount of yeast used in the recipe should be decreased.  

Cookie recipes are usually not affected by elevation.  However cookies with a large amount of nuts or chocolate chips may be improved by decreasing the amount of baking soda or powder by one-half.


Candy recipes are cooked to a specific temperature.  Or a drop of candy is placed in cold water to determine the stage of cooking.  At a 5000 foot elevation, the final cooking temperature of the candy should be dropped by about 10 degrees F.  The cold water test will be reliable at all elevations.

Deep fat frying:

The cooking temperature of the hot oil should be decreased 2 to 3 degrees F for each 1000 foot increase in elevation. This helps prevent dry donuts or other deep fried foods.  

Higher elevations do not affect all recipes the same.  Trial and error is necessary for the best results.

Recommended reference:
High Altitude Cooking by the Cooperative Extension Service of New Mexico State University


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Christmas 2009 Gift Ideas for Tea Lovers

If you are a tea lover yourself, it will be even more fun picking out a great Christmas gift for the tea lover on your list.  The ideas are endless, and it is a joy to shop for tea and other related items.

My sister and I are great tea lovers, and whenever we could in the past, for any occasion such as a birthday or holiday, we loved to have teas.  We not only did these for just the two of us but for others, as well. 

Being so into tea, we would often browse through stores that had a great variety of tea items to choose from.  For awhile, we gave each   other beautiful china teapots, the more exotic, the better.  As you probably know, these can be pretty pricey, but you can also find less expensive ones that are lovely, too.

Of course, special teas themselves are a wonderful gift.  Think of making a gift basket with your tea lover’s favorite kinds of teas, add a smart teacup and saucer, a tea ball, and maybe some delectable cookies.  A basket like that will be cherished by your tea lover!  Take it from someone with firsthand experience.

If the person on your list enjoys having teas for others, there are several gift ideas that they would be thrilled to receive.  One that immediately comes to mind is a three-tier dessert server.  You can find them in all kinds of metals.  They are absolutely essential if you like to have teas for a lot of people.  You can stack sandwiches on the plates or bon-bons or anything you wish.  They are also very decorative, so you can even use it as a centerpiece for your table.  And speaking of centerpieces, we once used an old tea kettle as a vase for flowers and everyone agreed it looked terrific.

Another great idea is a beautiful linen tablecloth and napkin set.  Everyone loves new crisp linens and a chance to show them off.  Your tea lover will be happy to receive these thoughtful gifts and will most likely be having another tea soon (to which you hopefully will be invited).

Having hosted a tea for several co-workers, I remember running around to various kitchen stores and restaurant equipment establishments to purchase serving implements such as various sized tongs, cake and pie servers, tiny spoons suitable for dipping out lemon curd and raspberry preserves, and more.  Visiting such places is always thrilling for a tea buff but more importantly a great place to pick up hard-to-find items that may not be available elsewhere.

If you are really stumped, though, you could always purchase a tea cosy! 

The possibilities for gifts for the tea lover are just about endless, so have fun shopping, knowing that almost anything you get them will be perfect.


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Cookware Choices Stainless Steel Vsnonstick – Stainless

Without question, Stainless Steel wins… hands down!

I have been married a total of 45 years. Back when I first married, there was no such thing as non-stick (Teflon) pans. My dad was a restaurant owner and chef and he used stainless steel restaurant quality pots and pans, and supplied them for home, too. Naturally, my first set of pots and pans was stainless steel. Finally along came the non-stick variety. Everybody was going to become the ‘perfect cook’.

Over the years I have had perhaps six different sets of non-stick cookware. I began with the less expensive to see if it actually worked as advertised. It did, but it didn’t last very long. I upgraded. That set lasted probably around 4 years before it didn’t perform well any longer. This scenario progressed until I finally bought an expensive set, guaranteed to last ‘forever’! Okay, at least for a very long time. However, after five or six years the non-stick was wearing off, the color looked dull, the lids became ill fitting, and there was a peculiar taste to the food.

In the meantime, I still had my good old original stainless steel pans. Along the way, I also inherited my mother-in-laws stainless steel pans. Both of these sets happened to be Revere Ware with copper bottoms. I still have them and am still using them. However, two years ago my husband invested in a brand new set of Revere Ware with glass lids and flat bottoms which were better suited for my new glass top stove. But, the point here is, I am still using my very first set of stainless steel pans and all of the non-stick has simply deteriorated within a short time.

Years ago people complained that the copper bottoms on the Revere Ware always needed shining. In reality, shiny or not has nothing to do with the performance of the pan. That is beside the point because it is so very easy to keep them shiny that it isn’t even an issue. When you use a pan to cook in you have to clean it anyway. But if it’s really too much trouble, Revere Ware has a pan with the copper in between layers of stainless steel.

In my opinion, stainless steel cookware is far better than non-stick. Everything tastes better cooked in stainless steel, and cleanup is really easy. I always set my pans aside with water to make sure nothing dries on or sticks before I get to wash them. If, by chance something does burn, add water to the pan and set on the stove bringing it to a boil. It will clean off easily. Use stainless steel… it’s a no-brainer!


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Cookbook Recommendations for Low Fat Cooking

Ever feel guilty when eating that late night snack, or eating a slice of cake after dinner? For those of us who just can’t say no there is an alternative to use while baking and cooking you favorite goodies. For years my mother told me to use plain applesauce instead of vegetable oil when baking cakes,brownies, and other delicious desserts that require a good amount of those more fatty oils. Being Italian has also taught me many lessons when cooking. I often use olive oil instead of butter or margarine, and it works just as well. Most of the time its just a matter of research to find out how to make your everyday meals into something a little healthier for our bodies. All book stores are flooded with low-fat and non-fat cook books, and all you have to do is get in your car a take a trip. Since our country has been in this pattern of dieting for as long as we have really existed as a nation there has always been some new way to make foods taste better but yet they are low-fat? Don’t be fooled,it basically breaks down to what is in your meal plan as to what needs to be cut to save you calories. A lot of meat recipes call for a starchy side like bread or potatoes, so in this case why not replace them with a healthier side such as steamed vegetables, or a salad with no cheese or croutons and dressed in a lite vinaigrette. We all have those temptations in our homes that plague us and taunt us every time we open the pantry, so why not just throw them away, or better yet never purchase them. The key to sticking to your diet and a healthy way of life is to treat yourself. If you treat yourself to something reasonable like one scoop of ice cream, or two cookies at least one a week you’ll find it much easier to stick to the regime you have set for yourself. So next time you pass one of the many book stores open across this great nation, go ahead and take the turn, do a little research, and soon you’ll discover an all new you!


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Boiling Water in Microwave

The first time I heard about someone heating up water in the microwave only to have it explode upon retrieval I thought that surely this was some urban myth. However upon subsequent research I discovered not only that it can happen, but it will happen unless a few precautions are taken.

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way:

1) Never put metal in the microwave.

2) Never put non-microwave safe dishes, cups or utensils in the microwave.

3) Never put something in the microwave that will be melted by boiling water (or it will melt)

That said, there is no reason not to boil water in the microwave as long as you take some very simple, basic precautions. Rather than list out a rote series of rules I will explain the danger of super heated water and to prevent it with a little common sense.

Water boils when it reaches 212 degrees at sea level, and slightly lower temperatures as you increase altitude. Without going into a chemistry lecture if you observe water that is boiling you will notice bubbles. The process of boiling water involves heating it to a point where the water converts from a liquid to a gas and steam is produced.

By heating water in a glass or otherwise very smooth container the natural irregularities in a metal pot, pan or kettle are absent. This makes it hard for bubbles to form and can actually raise the temperature of water above its boiling point. When something irregular is introduced like a metal spoon, sugar crystal or tea bag the superheated water can form bubbles and will do so rapidly and with sometimes harmful effects.

To mitigate this we can either control the temperature to keep it at or near boiling or introduce something irregular to aid in bubble formation.

Temperature control can be difficult since every microwave heats water differently. However by limiting cook time or working in small amounts we can eliminate danger and wasted energy both. A typical microwave can boil 12 ounces of water in about 3 minutes. Larger amounts can take longer but by heating for 1-2 minutes at a time the danger can be averted.

A much simpler method involves introducing something that bubbles can form on. This can be as simple as putting a toothpick or chopstick into the container, or if you’re making tea or coffee you can add the sugar when you first put the water in to heat. Knowing the reasons for why water superheats in the microwave can help anyone easily prevent a dangerous situation.

By not overheating water and by introducing irregular material you will find absolutely no danger in heating water in the microwave.


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Pasta Grains Rice

According to Wikipedia, the bagel (or sometimes beigel) first originated in Poland and has Jewish origins. It made its way to New York in the 1880s, where it became popular before spreading across the world. It is made by mixing the dough, chilling it overnight and then boiling it before it is finally baked in a ring shape, which gives the bagel its unusual texture. 

Traditionally, sesame, garlic, onion or poppy seed were added to the crust of the bagel to give flavour, although a greater variety of flavours, including cinnamon and raisin and blueberry, are now available. The cinnamon and raisin variety are my particular favourite; these particular bagels were purchased from Tesco in the UK.

First impressions

Opening the plastic bag in which the bagels come, I am pleasantly assailed by a cinnamon smell. The bagels look like a doughnut, both in size and shape, and are nicely plump. The outside of the bagel looks slightly waxy and feels quite hard to the touch. There is clearly a good sprinkling of cinnamon. However, cutting the bagel in half, the knife glides through the middle section easily. Each half has about six raisins.


I like mine lightly toasted on the sliced side only; the top and bottom of the bagel are already tough enough and don’t need any toasting. I then spread with Flora.

The taste

Despite the initial cinnamon smell, there is very little cinnamon in the taste. The bagel is slightly sweet, but only very slightly, sweetened a little further by the occasional raisin. The texture is slightly dry on the inside and chewy on the outside; ideally, the centre should be more doughy and chewy than this. On the whole though, the Flora spread takes away from the dryness.

Nutritional information

I am not going to list the ingredients, but there is some information worth pointing out. The main thing is that bagels are low in fat; there is less than 3% fat in each bagel. This doesn’t mean that they are low in calories though; there are 223 calories in each and that is before you’ve added the butter or margarine.

Bagels, fairly obviously, contain gluten, wheat and yeast, so are not appropriate for anyone who is allergic to these ingredients. In addition, the bagels may contain traces of sesame seeds.

The price

A bag of five bagels costs £1.05, which is a fairly standard price. New York bagels also make a cinnamon and raisin variety for exactly the same amount and price. I have also bought a bag of four bagels from Sainsbury’s for £0.95.


These are really not bad and I have thoroughly enjoyed having one for breakfast every day for the past few days. I would definitely like to see more cinnamon and raisins added – I don’t mind the lack of sweetness, but without extra cinnamon and raisins, there seems to be little difference between this and the plain variety. I’m definitely going to have to learn how to make them myself.

Apart from the need for more cinnamon and raisins, I can thoroughly recommend these bagels. They compare well to other brands and they make a pleasant change from toast or cereal in the morning and keep me fuelled up nicely until lunchtime. Go easy on the margarine or butter though! 


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