Question: Recently you ran a recipe that calls for fresh ginger juice. What's the best method for doing this--pressing fresh ginger?
Answer: The Times' Test Kitchen home economist Donna Deane makes ginger juice by peeling the fresh ginger root and finely mincing it in a food processor. She then wraps the ginger in a small square of cheesecloth and twists it tightly to extract the juice.
In "New Cantonese Cooking" (Viking, 1988: $19.95) author Eileen Yin-Fei Lo says "Although this (ginger juice) is available in small bottles, you can make a better quality yourself simply by grating fresh ginger root into a bowl, then pressing it through a garlic press. Do not store it; make as needed."
Q: I would like some information about poppy seeds. Where do they come from? Why are they used so much in Czechoslovakian pastries?
A: Poppy seeds come from the opium poppy, a plant native to the Middle East. According to "Herbs, Spices and Flavorings" (Overlook Press, 1970) by Tom Stobart, "There are many varieties of opium poppy and two quite different types of poppy seed (also called maw seed). The type commonly met with in Europe is like blue-gray shot, but the seed usually seen in India is much smaller and a creamy yellow. From the point of view of flavor, there is little difference.
"In Europe and the Middle East, the main use of poppy seed is in confectionery. The flavor when baked is pleasantly nutty. The seeds are sprinkled on cakes and bread or included in various sweet stuffings. In India, poppy seed is known as khus-khus (not be be confused with the North African dish couscous or the Indian name for vetiver, which is khas-khas). Poppy seed is used in curries where its function is partly for flavoring and partly to improve the texture and thicken the gravy."
Poppy seeds are indeed used extensively in Austrian, Czechoslovakian and Hungarian cooking and baking. This is undoubtedly due to the close proximity of these countries to the Middle East, providing access to the seeds since ancient times.
Q: I have an old recipe for orange health muffins that are delicious. The recipe calls for one-half cup of graham flour, which gave a nice texture to the muffins. Unfortunately, I can't find this flour any longer. Any suggestions or can you suggest a substitute?
A: Graham flour is available at health food stores such as Erewhon Natural Foods and Quinn's Health Food Stores. According to a spokesperson at Arrowhead Mills, coarse ground hard red wheat flour may be substituted for graham flour.