Fajita (fah-HEE-ta) – The Spanish word for skirt steak. Most people associate the word fajita with strips of meat that go into the taco. Fajita is a highly flavorful cut of meat that comes from the outer covering of the breast near where the brisket comes from.
Learn about the history of Fajitas. Also includes a recipe.
falafel – A Middle Eastern snack that is also known as ta’amica. It is considered the national dish of Egypt, but is popular throughout the Middle East. They are sold on every corner; from restaurants to side walk stands. A traditional falafel sandwich consists of six ground, deep-fried chickpea balls stuffed into pita bread along with finely cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, and tahini sauce.
farmer’s cheese – Farmer’s cheese is a fresh cheese that is a form of pressed cottage cheese. Most of the liquid is pressed out leaving a very dry, crumbly cheese that is often flavored with fruit or nuts. It is an all-purpose cheese good for eating or using in cooking. It is sliceable and also can be crumbled. It can also be replaced, if necessary, with drained cottage cheese.
fast food – According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first documented use of “fast food” in reference to a restaurant came in 1951 in an article in a trade journal called “Fountain and Fast Food Service.” Fast food seems to have been originally applied to restaurants and catering businesses that served “steam table” delicacies, as well as to convenience foods a busy housewife could quickly whip up. The history of fast food started as neighborhood restaurants opened by idealistic young people in the 1950s – Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s, Dominoes Pizza, etc.
fava beans – Also referred to as broad or horse beans. Fava beans are tan, flat beans, which resemble lima beans. However the favas have a very strong flavor (quite bitter at times). Their skins are very tough and must be removed by blanching before you cook them. Fava beans are popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes. They are usually sold dried and can, sometimes, be purchased in cans in stores, which specialize in a Middle Eastern clientele. They are sold fresh in specialty produce stores, but it takes a lot of work to get to the fresh beans.
feijoa (fay-JO-a) – A native to subtropical South America and commercially grown in New Zealand and Northern California. Feijoas are available during spring and early summer. They are also called pineapple guavas, describing the taste of the creamy, white, juicy, granular flesh. The taste is a combination of pineapple and guava or strawberry with a hint of spearmint. Ripe fruit should have a full rich aroma and should “give” or feel tender to the touch, like a ripe plum or pear. Feijoas can be ripened at room temperature by enclosing in a paper bag with an apple. Once they are ripened, the fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week.
feta cheese (FET-tah) – A classic Greek cheese usually made from goat’s or sheep’s milk. It is now also made from cow’s milk. Salted and cured in a brine solution (which can be either water or whey) for a week to several months (this is why it is sometimes called a pickled cheese and has a sharp, salty taste. Feta dries out rapidly when removed from the brine. Feta cheese is white, usually formed into square cakes, and can range from soft to semi-hard, with a tangy, salty flavor that can range from mild to sharp. It has been and still remains a significant part of Greek diet and its name is often connected with the Greek history and tradition.
History: Feta cheese is one of the oldest cheeses in the world. Without refrigeration cheese made as many as 6000 years ago, spoiled easily. One of the only ways to preserve cheese was to preserve cheese with salt. Greek mythology has it that the Cyclops Polyphemus raised plump sheep, using their rich milk to make a delicious cheese which Ulysses discovered during his interminable travels.
Fettuccine Alfredo – Fettuccine tossed with butter, heavy cream, and grated cheese.
History: In 1908, Alfredo di Lelio, a small restaurateur and chef, living above his small Rome restaurant with his pregnant wife, created Fettuccine Alfredo to tempt the palate of his pregnant wife who had lost her appetite and was becoming weaker. Alfredo decided that he would invent a dish that his wife could not resist. His wife loved it and legend says she cleaned her plate and a short time later, Alfredo II was born to the music of customers downstairs in the restaurant, all crying for his new irresistible dish.
His restaurant, II Vero Alfredo, and the dish bearing his name became world famous in 1927 when Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, American movie stars on their honeymoon, ate at his restaurant and were impressed with the dish. They presented him with a gold fork and spoon in honor of his creation. From then on, he was famous for preparing it in the dining room of his restaurant before his guests, mixing it with a gold-plated spoon and fork.
fig – Figs were probably one of the first fruits to be dried and stored by man. Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into it. The seeds are drupes (or the real fruit). Figs are the only fruit to fully ripen and semi-dry on the tree. They are generally available twice each year, in June and again in late August or September. Both crops are harvested from the same tree.
There was a fig tree in the Garden of Eden, and in fact, the fig is the most talked about fruit in the Bible. Whether a fig was the forbidden fruit is debatable, but it is definite that a fig tree provided the first clothing; “…the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”
History: The ancient city of Attica was famous for its figs and they soon became a necessity for its citizens, rich or poor. Solon, the ruler of Attica (639-559 BC), actually made it illegal to export figs out of Greece, reserving them solely for his citizens. The Persian King Xerxes, after his defeat by the Greeks at Salamis in 480 BC, had figs from Attica served him at every meal to remind him that he did not possess the land where this fruit grew. The Spanish missionary fathers who first planted them at the San Diego Mission in 1759 brought figs to California. Fig trees were then planted at each succeeding mission, going North through California.
filbert – See hazelnuts.
file (fee-lay) – Also called gumbo file powder. File powder, which is made from the ground dried leaves of the sassafras tree. File is a thickening agent that must be stirred in a dish after it is removed the heat to prevent a stringy or ropey texture from developing. It is used as a seasoning and primarily thickening agent in gumbo, and has a wonderfully pungent and aromatic flavor. File should never be added to a pot of gumbo while it’s cooking, but rather added to individual servings (if cooked or reheated, it will turn stringy).
History: It was introduced into Creole cooking by the Choctaw Indians of Louisiana. The Indians thought the sassafras tree had special healing powers. They combined the roots and leaves with water to make a healing tonic.
Filet Mignon – The term “filet mignon” is a French derivative, the literal meaning is small (mignon) bone-less meat (filet). Cut from the small end of the beef tenderloin.
Depending upon what part of the United States you are in, the tenderloin muscle of the cow or short loin, becomes Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Tournedos, Medallions, or Filet de Boeuf. Filet Mignon is also know as Tenderloin Steak (in fact most often I see it as Tenderloin Steak).
Filet Mignon or Tenderloin Steak is a cut of meat that is considered the king of steaks because of its tender, melt in the mouth texture. It comes from the small end of the tenderloin (called the short loin), which is found on the back rib cage of the animal. Because this area of the animal is not weight-bearing, the connective tissue is not toughened by exercise resulting in extremely tender meat. Filet mignon slices found in the market are generally one to two inches thick and two to three inches in diameter, but true mignons are no more than one inch in diameter and are taken from the tail end.
Fish Taco –
History: For the history of Fish Tacos, check out Linda Stradley’s History of Sandwiches.
flageolet beans -Considered the caviar of beans, flageolets are tiny, tender French bush type beans that are very popular in French cooking. They range from creamy white to light green. Flageolets are removed from the pod when tender and just maturing. This bean of French origin is grown in the fertile soil of California. Its versatile flavor compliments lamb, as well as fish and chicken. If you can’t find them, substitute navy beans instead.
flan (flaen or flahn) – (1) Flan is a generic term that refers to any type of baked open pastry dish (savory or sweet) cooked within a pastry shell that meets certain criteria. The term comes from the French word “flaon” as well as the Latin “fladon” which means “flat cake or open metal tin” that dates back to the 6th century, when Latin poet Fortunas (530 – 609 A.D.) mentioned it in his writing.
(2) Flan is an open tart filled with fruit, a cream, or a savory mixture. The term is also used to describe a sweet custard dish. A dessert that closest resembles caramel custard. It is made in a “pie shape” of which slices are cut and served. In Spain, the flan is considered the national dessert.
florentine, a la – A French term indicating that spinach is present in the dish.
History: Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), queen of France (1547-1559), was born in Florence, Italy. When Catherine de’Medici married Henri II and became queen of France, she insisted her cooks serve spinach at every meal. Her Florentine chefs influenced French chefs, most notably in the use of spinach. She dubbed “florentine” on any dish containing spinach. T o this day, dishes made with spinach are known as “Florentine.”
flounder – There are many varieties of flounder around the world. In the U.S. this category includes the Atlantic fluke, gray sole, Pacific petrale sole, rex sole, and sand dab. All of these are flatfish with both eyes on one side. They can be purchased either whole or as fillets. They are all mild tasting and should be cooked with attention to their delicate structure.
flour – The finely ground and sifted meal of any of various edible grains. Giant steel or stone rollers are used to break and grind the grain. By using different classes of wheat in the milling process, a variety of flours are produced and can be used to add texture and interest to various breads.
History: The history of flour spans recorded time. Man has been making bread from ground wheat for thousands of years, first in the form of a wheat and water gruel that was dried out to make a flat cake (tortillas are an example of this ancient flat bread that has survived to the modern era). The ancient Greeks developed techniques to refine their wheat enough to distinguish between white and brown (whole wheat) flours. For many hundreds of years, people who could afford to eat bread from white flour were considered superior to those who ate coarser, brown bread. Learn about the different types of Flour.
focaccia (foh-KAH-chee-ah) – An Italian dimpled flat bread similar to pizza dough. It is traditionally oiled and baked in a wood oven. Focaccia toppings are generally quite simple. Perhaps the most common one is sliced fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced prosciutto, and shredded arugala. Other common toppings include straight prosciutto, just tomatoes, or tomatoes and thinly sliced mozzarella. Olive oil is served at the table so the diner can drizzle some to taste.
History: Focassic takes its name from the Latin word “focus,” which means “hearth,” and was originally cooked on a hot stone or under a mound of ashes directly on the hearth itself. In Tuscany, they are called “schiacciatta” which means, “flattened.” It is believed that they were first used as a kind of edible plates and that the original pizzas were made from.
foie gras (FWAH-grah) – The literal translation from the French for foie gras is “fat liver.” It usually refers to goose liver, which is considered to be the best, but it can be liver from a duck or a goose. Foie gras is a dish made from the livers of fattened geese and ducks that have been force fed on a special diet in a confined living space, until they are grossly fat and their liver have become enlarged and fatty. The liver is soaked overnight in liquid (water, milk, or port wine). Then the liquid is drained and marinated in Armagnac, Port or Madeira mixed with seasonings. The next step is to cook, usually by baking the livers. The exact preparation can vary by vender or cook. Traditionally it has been served chilled with thin, buttered toast slices and accompanied by sauternes, but now chefs are using foie gras in all kinds of interesting ways in their recipes.
NOTE: Several nations have banned the production of foie gras and many restaurants have removed foie gras from their menus in recent years.
History: Foie gras is an ancient delicacy known since the Egyptian time. The Romans knew about fattening methods 2,000 years ago, as they were very fond of goose-liver paste. The Latin term for foie gras was iecur ficatum meaning “fig-fattened.” and from the second half of it derives the French word for liver, foie. Until the end of the 18th century, however, foie gras could mean any kind of fattened liver (from pigs, hens or capons), not just goose liver.
King Louis XVI (1754–1793) of France favored foie gras, and during his reign, Chef Jean Joseph Close (1757-1828), while working in Strasbourg, incorporated goose liver with veal and bacon and cooked it in a crust (en croute), which he called Pate a la Contades. Foie gras became known as Foie Gras de Strasbourg with the city of Strasbourg being known as the “Capital of Foie Gras” for more than a century. Learn more about Faux Gras.
fond – A classic French culinary term meaning the browned caramelized and concentrated bits or residue that remains in the pan after cooking meat. The fond is what you are after when you “deglaze” a pan for flavoring sauces and making gravies.
fondue (fahn-DOO) – The word fondue comes from the French word “fondre,” which means, “to melt.” It is a pot full of melted cheese in which crusts of bread are dipped.
History: It is said that the original fondue was developed in Switzerland during the 16th century when the German Swiss, who were Protestants, were battling with the Catholics from central Switzerland. After a full day’s battle, the two factions declared a truce to meet for a communal dinner of a certain milk soup (made with cheese) into which pieces of bread were dipped. As the story goes, a bucket was placed on the borderline between the two regions of Switzerland. One group supplied the milk and cheese and the other supplied the bread. Thus the tradition of dipping bread into a communal dish was established.
The actual truth probably was that the Swiss people baked bread and made cheese during the summer and fall months, and stockpiled their supply to last through the winter. Before the next summer arrived, the cheese and bread had become hard and difficult to chew. Because of this, someone decided to try melting the cheese and dunking the stale bread into the melted cheese mixture. Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) wrote about a fondue party he gave in Boston in 1795 and reported that it became quite the rage in the U.S.
Fontina cheese (fahn-TEE-nah) – One of the most delicious Italian cheeses. Made of cow’s milk and the fat content is from 45% to 50%. Flavor is delicate, somewhat fruity. Frequently melted and excellent with pasta dishes, especially stuffing. When fully cured, it is hard, and used for grating.
History: The process involved in the production of Fontina cheese dates back hundreds and hundreds of years, and it was first officially documented in 1480, when its characteristic form was recorded in a fresco in the castle at Issogne along with other typical products of the valley.
Fortune Cookie – A tasty Chinese-American wafer cookie with a piece of paper inside with a “fortune” written on it. Fortune means “a prediction of destiny or fate.” These cookies are usually used in Chinese-American restaurants after the meal is completed, and the cookie must be broken open to get the fortune. Fortune Cookies are not known in the Chinese food culture, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the fortune cookies actually arrived in China. They were advertised as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.”
History: For the history of Fortune Cookies, check out Linda Stradley’s History of Cookies.
frangipane – Also know as frangipani. A creamy pastry filling flavored with almonds that is usually baked in a sweet pastry crust with fruit or puff pastry pithiviers.
History: The history of frangipane is traced to a 16th-century Italian nobleman named Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who introduced almond perfume-scented gloves that were all the rage. Pastry chefs tried to capture this popular scent in desserts; hence the birth of frangipane. Later, when the perfume was added to an almond cream dessert, the resulting delicacy was also dubbed frangipane. Today it is most often used to refer to an almond-flavored pastry cream.
French Dip Sandwich – It is a beef sandwich on a long white French roll that is dipped into pan juices. American menus often describe the pan juice as “au jus.” Au jus is a French expression, which means “with broth” or “with juice.”
History: For the history of the French Dip Sandwich, check out Linda Stradley’s History of Sandwiches.
French fry/fries – In English, “to french,” means to cut into lengthwise pieces. French Fries are short for “frenched and fried potatoes.” The English call them ‘chips’, a word which has a similar meaning (a chipped piece of wood). They are known as pommes de terre in French and fritures or frietkoets in Belgium. Belgians enjoyed their fries served in a paper cone with fries and a beer. The list of different names is as varied as the countries that enjoy them.
History: The origin of the French fry has been the target of much animosity between the French and the Belgians. Some people think the French fry (pommes frites) originated in Belgian and then spread to France. Belgian historians claim to have proof that fries were invented in the region of the Meuse in 1680. The French claim they originated in Paris on the Pont Neuf in the mid 19th century. The French fry is part of most international cuisines, but different countries have different names for them.
President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), third President of the United States, is credited with introducing America to French fries in the late 1700s. He described them as “Potatoes, fried in the French Manner.” He brought over the method of cooking potatoes from France and served them to his guests. It is thought that America’s present day craving for French fries may be traced back to the soldiers stationed in Northern France and Belgium during World War I. The soldiers dubbed the hot and crispy fried snack “French Fries,” after the French-speaking people who sold them. Today, one out of every three potatoes grown in the United is sliced into French fries. One-quarter of all meals served in American restaurants come with French fries, as they are the most profitable food item in the restaurant industry.
French toast – See “Pain Perdu.”
fromage blanc (froh-MAHZH BLAHN) – Also called fromage frais. In French it literally translates as “white cheese” and that’s what it is. It is a simple cheese made with milk and a culture. The technique is identical to making yogurt. The texture of fromage blanc depends on how long, or if, you drain the cheese after the culture incubates in the milk. Some people know it as a runny cheese that has a texture similar to that of yogurt. In France is sold next to yogurt in French grocery stores, and like yogurt, it is often flavored with fruit.
fromage bleu – Also called bleu cheese. It is the French name for a group of type-type (blue-veined) cheeses made in the Roquefort area in southeastern France. Roquefort-type cheese made in the U.S. is call “blue cheese.”
fromage frais – This term means fresh cheese. It is not a certain kind of cheese, but a name given to a number of very young fresh cheeses. There are quite a number of French fromage frais. Few of these cheeses reach the United States, as they are too fragile and perishable. The two that are imported by the U.S. are Gervais, which is a double cream shipped in two ounce packages and Petit Suisse, also a double cream which must be frozen before it is shipped because of its very fragile nature. Otherwise you have to go to France to sample these somewhat sourer than our American sour cream cheeses. Many of them are served with more cream and sugar as a dessert. Fresh Neufchatel is the French version of our cream cheese. The difference here is the addition of gum arabic, a preservative, in the American version. In general, fresh cheeses from France are made to be eaten rather quickly and are just made with soured cream.
Fruitcakes – They are holiday and wedding cakes, which have a very heavy fruit content. They require special handling and baking to obtain successful results.
History: Check out Linda Stradley’s History of Cakes.
frumenty – A 14th century porridge (grain pudding) made with grains of wheat, boiled up into a broth added to which were crushed almonds, milk and egg yolks. It was sometimes eaten with honey on Christmas morning but usually as sauce served with mutton or venison. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting dish in preparation for the Christmas festivities.
History: By 1595, frumenty was evolving into plum porridge or plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavor thanks to the addition of ale and spirits. The traditional English Christmas Pudding is derived from frumenty and plum pudding.
fudge – An American invention, it was created in the mid 1800s in the Eastern women’s colleges of Vassar, and Wellesly. The first printed record of fudge came in 1896 with Opera Fudge (Bordeaux). Fudge became popular at Eastern women’s colleges. The name may have come from when students “fudged” by making the confection when they were supposed to be in bed.
fume blanc (foo-may-blahN) – It is the word used in the United States for Sauvignon Blanc. Robert Mondavi as a marketing ploy invented it.
Funeral Pie – Also called Raisin Pie and Rosina Pie (German for raisin).
History: For the history of Funeral Pie, check out Linda Stradley’s History of Pies.
Fusion Cooking – Fusion cooking is a style that incorporates ingredients and/or methods from at least two different ethnic/regional cooking styles. Originally combining western and Oriental culinary art but now includes all ethnic cuisines. Fusion cooking could be considered modern American cooking. Taste is as important as look. For a long time America was the melting pot of cultures. In the past 10 years, it’s become the melting pot of cuisines as well. It’s about breaking down cultural barriers, trying new things. Fusion is found in a lot of different places. From the finest restaurants, to the local fast food “Wraps.”