The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 9, 2013

Cheryle Finley: Capers add surprise burst of flavor to food

By Cheryle Finley
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Capers. No, I'm not referring to shenanigans pulled by the Riddler to get Batman's attention -- I'm talking about those little olive-like, vitamin- and mineral-laden green buds produced by the capparis spinosa.

I've seen capers listed in a recipe and either didn't fix the dish or omitted the capers. What was I thinking? These little gems add piquancy to seafood, pasta, sauces, eggs, poultry and meat.

I had to look up "piquancy" on Wikipedia. While "pungency" refers to spiciness and hotness, "piquancy" is just a lower degree of those characteristics. Think of a pungent chili pepper compared to the piquancy of mustard. Mustard is still a strong flavor, but it has a lower degree of pungency than a pepper.

Capers are dried, then salted and pickled. They are common in Mediterranean and Italian cooking and are often used to season and garnish.

The unopened green flower bulbs are about the size of a corn kernel when they are ready to be picked. Small capers are the most desirable, making them most expensive. Part of the expense comes from the intense labor required to hand pick the capers. You will be surprised what uses you will find for capers. I think using them in pasta is an idea worth trying, as they always improve flavor. Put them in a creamy sauce for topping salmon is a perfect addition. When serving, be sure to rinse them, then pat dry with a paper towel. Those with salt intake restrictions will probably want to steer clear of capers. Look for capers at your grocery store and toss them in your next meal as a surprise. Everyone will want to know what you did to complement the flavor of the dish.

Here's a short list from of kitchen gadgets that you don't need to buy, starting with a garlic peeler. Garlic press -- yes. Garlic peeler -- no. An egg slicer is on the list for good reason -- how many times do you really need an egg sliced? Maybe once in a while for garnish, but a knife works just as well. It also says to throw out your electric can opener if you have one, because it's probably second to your kitchen sponge in harboring bacteria. Get a hand-held opener you can toss into the dishwasher. They say a pasta measurer is a waste of money, too. After all, what's so bad about leftovers? Using items you already have such as a plate, paper towel or coffee cup will do away with that unnecessary spoon rest. What's better than an avocado slicer? A knife and spoon are easier to clean.

I'm sure we all have a kitchen gadget that we think is irreplaceable, thought others might find it frivolous. For me, that would be my mandolin. Thankfully, it wasn't mentioned on the list. I couldn't bear to part with mine.

A quick thank you to the folks at Stone's Throw Theatre in Carthage for providing a wonderful New Year's Eve for the Finleys and Saferites. Starting at 9 p.m., we enjoyed a plethora of food, cheesecake and baklava while taking part in the murder mystery. Everyone was perfect for their part, and when the evening ended with a sparkling juice toast at midnight, we weren't ready for it to be over. They always do such a nice job there, and I urge you to attend one of their plays.

"Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals" cookbook provides today's first two recipe offerings, the first of which calls for capers. Don't fret about buying the steak seasoning for the dressing. The taco pockets are a new twist on a hamburger. They're a good way to use up leftover tortillas, and you can grill the burgers if you prefer.

Rachel's book was completely lacking in desserts, so I turned to the "Kraft Best-Ever Holiday Recipe Collections." Miracle Whip in a carrot cake? You betcha! It adds moistness and flavor. This recipe will become your favorite if you are a carrot cake lover. Make the frosting from the recipe or use canned cream cheese frosting to save time. Have a wonderful week and happy eating!


Jackson salad

8 ounces spring-mix salad greens

2 tablespoons capers

1/4 onion, sliced thin


1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon McCormick Montreal steak seasoning

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

2 shakes Worchestershire sauce

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Mix dressing ingredients with a fork. Pour evenly over salad and toss lightly. Yields 4 servings.

Taco pockets

1 pound ground beef

1/2 medium Spanish onion, grated

2 teaspoons water

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons chili powder

A shake or two cayenne pepper or hot sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt to taste

Four 12-inch flour tortillas

1/2 pound Monterey Jack, pepper jack or cheddar cheese, grated

1 heart romaine lettuce, shredded

1 large tomato, chopped

Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Combine beef, onion, water and all seasonings except salt. Form into four patties. Heat nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook burgers 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Salt to taste. Place each burger in the center of a tortilla wrap. Top with cheese, lettuce, tomato and cilantro. Wrap the tortilla up and over the burger on all four sides. Flip the square-shaped packet over and cut from corner to corner, making two taco pockets. Yields 8 servings.

Easy carrot cake

1 1/4 cups Miracle Whip salad dressing

1 yellow cake mix

4 eggs

1/4 cup water

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 cups finely shredded carrots

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 to 31/2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Beat salad dressing, cake mix, eggs, water and cinnamon on medium speed until well blended. Stir in carrots and walnuts. Pour into greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool completely. Beat cream cheese and vanilla until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating well after each addition. Frost cake. Yields 10 to 12 servings.

Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.