Saturday, June 24, 2017

Savory Cakes

We all have a notion of what cakes should look like and taste like. We expect a sweet, vanilla or chocolate flavor. Sometimes there's the zing of spice or punch of fruit. We never expect there to be a savory taste. Yet, there's a whole new breed of them out there - savory cakes.

The notion has intrigued me ever since I read about it in David Tanis' A City Kitchen column in last Wednesday's New York Times Food section. He offers a carrot cake, but not the kind loaded with raisins and frosted with cream cheese icing. This one has not a speck of sugar in it, save for the grated carrots. The base is white cornmeal mixed with white flour. Not only are grated carrots added but also zingy scallions along with cumin and black mustard seeds.Like sweet cakes, there are eggs to give it body as well as baking powder and baking soda to give it lift. Unlike its' sugary cousins, feta cheese is also added. Mr. Tanis frosts his with creme fraiche  and is decorated with cilantro sprigs and more scallions. It would go well with the potluck recipe from Melissa Clark's A Good Appetite column. It can also go with salads too, as Mr. Tanis suggests or possible as something to dipped into the yolks of sunny side up eggs.

The entire idea of of a non-sweet cake is fascinating. There are savory cookie recipes,from wafers to shortbreads. These are usually served as hors'd'oeuvres or with soups, a different change up from crackers. Savory cakes? Are there any, besides Mr. Tanis' recipe? Yes.  Eating Well offers one loaded with cauliflower and garbanzo bean flour.  Roasted pepper and dill give it color while feta and eggs give it body.It's served warm  and alone so it's meant to be eaten as the main course. It would work with a plain  salad on the side or possibly grilled chicken breasts or salmon.  Food 52 has a recipe for a savory sausage breakfast cake that's chock full of  pork sausage, onion and cheddar cheese.  The cake element comes with the flour, baking powder and soda along with eggs and milk.Mayo is added for smoothness and a silky crumb. This would be the perfect brunch cake, with a slice accompanying an omelet or again dipped into a sunny side up egg. A slice would also make a good breakfast or even
 lunch on the go too.It would be interesting to make any of these savory cake recipes into cupcakes, frosted with creme fraiche or plain cream cheese or dusted with cumin or paprika.

Savory cakes instead of the traditional sweet? What an interesting idea? It certainly changes the way we think about  and eat cake.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Classic Revisited Nino's Pizzeria

It's very rare that a restaurant lasts almost  forty years with the same owner. Yet that's what happened  with Nino's Pizzeria in Garfield, New Jersey. It's been feeding the community with good food, introducing generations to Southern Italian classics. I've come back to it after a long time away and I'm glad I did.

Nino's is an unpretentious  little eatery with only four (albeit big) tables.It's been a take out since the original owner opened up this Harrison Ave. landmark forty years ago. The current owner John, and his brother bought it from the original owner, Nino, hence the name. Unlike other Italian restaurants in the area, this one has a surprise - good Portuguese food. Yes, Nino's has pizza, garlic knots and rice balls, as their fellow pizzerias but they also have frango assado, roasted chicken with vegetables and the famed codfish bacalhao, steamed, fried and  roasted.Picadinho , that tasty blend of minced meat and vegetables can also be ordered for a change of pace. The catering menu even includes a roasted  suckling pig or leitao along with a seafood rich paella Portuguese style.It can be washed down with the mild cherry tasting soda Guarina from Brazil.

This is a nostalgic trip for me, I used to go to Nino's during my college years for their garlic pizza. It was a gem, standing out, with the perfect ratio of cheese to sauce, studded with tiny bits of minced garlic. Has it changed? I had the plain slice and it was not greasy , unlike  slices from other local pizzerias. There was more cheese than sauce, creating a chewy , gooey texture. Their crust is good, more of tart one than than of the usual flat one with puffs. Their calzone is about the best around.It's crust was light and crackly,again not sogged down by oil. The filling is the traditional  ricotta, but it was like a ham infused cloud , light and fluffy without the usual cloying salty taste.It came with a tomato dipping sauce which was also perfect in flavor and texture.Many Italian restaurants put out a sauce that's too thick and chunky which slides off the calzone, ending up on the floor, table or lap. Nino's was spot on , and the best part was that it actually tasted like tomatoes - not too sweet or garlicky. The calzone and sauce were a definitely matched pair.

Nino's is worth visiting if you're in the Garfield area. It has an interesting mix of Portuguese and Italian food, all tasty and good. Visit it if you're craving pizza, pasta or bacalhao.

Nino's Pizzeria,
300 Harrison Ave #2
Lodi New Jersey 07644
973-772- 5056
Hours 10 AM to Midnight

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Kuka Paka A Recipe To Make Your Own

Chicken can be sauced with anything. Tomato gives you chicken cacciattore, mushrooms and sweet wine gives you Marsala while white wine and lemon is franchese style. Sub in coconut milk and spices and you have the Kenyan version kuku paka , a departure from the ordinary poultry dishes.

Tejal Rao , famed chef and food writer, wrote about it in yesterday's New York Times Food section,Simply put it's chicken on the bone  smothered in a sauce. The name is abbreviated from the Swahili kuku wa kupka, roughly, chicken in sauce. However , there are different variations on how the meat is cooked. It can be charcoal grilled, steamed with aromatic herbs or braised. The sauce, itself can be pale and soupy or dark and glossy. Some home chefs make it mild while others add enough chilies to burn the throat.Corn, potatoes, and even halved hard boiled eggs are added. Yet there should be some unifiers according to famed food writer and actress , Mahur Jaffrey (she's the one responsible for bringing Ismael Merchant and  James Ivory together). One is a touch of sourness and the heat of green chilies. The sourness comes from a squeeze of lemon juice but some Kenyans also add a spoonful of tamarind pulp for the same effect.

Kenyan food blogger,Kaluhi Adagala has her own spin on the dish.It's common in the coastal cities, but she comes from the interior where it is a big deal. So is her recipe. She adds sprigs of fresh rosemary, crushing them to release the fragrant oils. Her's is also golden, tinted with the mellow flavored turmeric and either serves it over hot rice or chapati, flatbread. Sometimes Ms. Adagala serves it with ugali,a type of polenta that is a regular in Kenyan diets.Another Kenyan, the Nairobi caterer and recipe developer,brines the meat in apple cider vinegar. She also cooks the aromatics such as onions and ginger raw in the coconut milk., letting them mellow in the fatty liquid as she constantly stirs. Home chefs can replicate the flavors, first using their grills to cook the chicken. This imparts a nice smoky flavor that goes well with coconut milk along with the cumin and coriander. As for the coconut , most Kenyan cooks use fresh coconut milk, however it's kind of difficult to get them right now. Ms. Rao suggests using  two cans or 27 ounces of coconut milk plus  two tablespoons of coconut oil.

Kuka paka is a tasty departure from the usual chicken dishes. Try it for a flavor that rich in spices and textures. It's exotic but delicious, complex to taste  but easy to make.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Classic Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are a bright, sunny dessert, perfect for a summery dessert or picnic.They're the perfect marriage of tangy and sweet, creamy and chewy. The treat is also an easy bake, especially on a hot day.

Julia Moskin write about these golden gems in today's New York Times Food section.Lemon bars are like chocolate chip cookies. People have definite ideas about how they should taste. They  should pay homage to the lemon along with having golden brown crusts, and creamy curd fillings . Think of them as the home baker's version of a lemon tart.Traditional recipes call for a filling of  lemon curd a preserve , using the fruit along with eggs, butter, and sugar. The recipe is based on the French tart aux citrons, an egg and cream rich lemon custard in a shortbread crust.It's also a cousin to the Southern classic lemon chess pie and surprisingly the brownie along with pumpkin bars and dream bars - those brown sugar, and chocolate squares.  However unlike these, lemon bars have a thick bottom layer, sort of a cross between a pie crust and a cookie. This  make these finger snacks as opposed to be eaten with a fork.(although brownies and bars are meant to be eaten with fingers)

As Ms. Moskin points out everyone has a definite idea and even recipe for them.Many Americans have grown up on Lucy's Lemon bars. named for the famed Peanuts character.It's a basic recipe with an easy to make base and interiror, consisting of a simple curd filling. Some baking blogs rework the recipe, adding cardamon to the crust and using Meyer lemons (bad idea - according to Ms Moskin. The lemons are mild in flavor - not what is wanted). The one twist is giving the crust  a dose of  sweetened coconut which can be made at home.It's just soaking coconut flakes in a simple syrup for thirty minutes . The recipe given is a straightforward one. There's only a cup of butter in the crust to two cups of flour to make a simple shortbread type crust. The filling is typical with four eggs to  give it body along with half a cup of lemon juice for color and flavor. The crust should be GBD golden brown deliciousness as per pastry chef Shuna Lydon, from the famed restaurant Boudin. Confectioner's sugar is then dusted over the finished squares.

Lemon bars are a sweet and sunny way to celebrate the summer. Bake up a batch to enjoy the tart lemony goodness, married to a buttery crust. They're a fun, enjoyable snack.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Gourmet Bride - And Groom

June is not only wedding season but also shower season too. Many spouses to be are into all sorts of gadgets and trends , being more savvy than previous generations about cooking and eating. If that's the case then get them interesting kitchen ware that reflects  their knowledge and tastes.

Hipster bride and grooms love anything artesanal. They'll go for pickles or beer that have been made not by a big company but by themselves. A DIY pickling kit then is the perfect wedding gift. A fermenting kit is only $34.00 on Amazon and it not only yields up tasty dills and gherkins but also trendy probiotic treats like kimchee and sauerkraut.There's even a date tracker and recipe book too. For a fancier spin throw in silver pickle forks that can easily be bought at that great artesanal  bazaar, Etsy. Bacon is another trendy home made product right now, Think about a bacon curing kit. This has everything from curing salt to a curing bag and maple sugar. It's only twenty four dollars, again at Amazon. You may want to throw in a gift certificate to your local grocery so they pick up the pork tenderloin to create it. As for the beer, a beer making kit would be perfect for the much in love . Best Buy has an elaborate one for $798 , a perfect gift for the groom from his groomsmen and best man..There are also cheaper ones for around forty if cost is an issue.

What about those who love to cook and bake? A traditional gift is always a crockpot - which is still a good idea. However update it by giving a mini one. These are great for making smaller meals and are not as expensive as the bigger varieties. They run in pricing from twenty to forty dollars. A sous vide machine is another neat gift home chefs will appreciate. This is a water bath for sealed packets of premeasured ingredients. The end result is tender, flavorful and juicy restaurant quality meals. Sous
vides are pricey, however. One can cost $200 although it would be a perfect gift from the wedding party to the couple. Food dehydrators are another neat present for gourmands. They can be used for making everything from fruit roll ups to beef jerky. Again, these can be expensive, starting at $90 and running as high as $400. Couples who love to bake may appreciate entire cake decorating kits. Step it up a notch and gift them with a cake airbrushing kit to create amazingly decorated creations. It comes with an airbrush and add ons  along with a power generating compressor and plastic dropper.

Gourmet couples deserve gourmet gifts. Give them something that will appeal to their artesanal and gourmand sides. It'll be a memorable shower gift, enjoyed years afterwards.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Your Vacation Kitchen

Many people rent houses or efficiency apartments for their vacations. This is great because there can still be home cooked meals , using local produce and products. it does mean packing extra - but just a few vital components of a kitchen away  from home. Pack light. Just have the basics on hand.

What to bring? None of your good stuff. Leave the La Creuset and Farberware back on the kitchen shelves. Go to your dollar store to get pots and pans. These can be used in any situation, from camping to indoor cooking.A saute pan is about the best bet. It can be used for making everything from French toast to pepper steak. Another must is a two quart pot , It can be used to boil small lobsters and , shrimp along with ears of corn. You can also boil potatoes in it for mashed as well as serving mashed potatoes in it. Some rentals will have barbecue grills. The owners may have left such staples as tongs and brushes along with turning forks.If no to either grill or implements, then consider a portable hibachi, Ace Hardware has a double one for only $11.99 while Lowe's has a more elaborate and sturdier one for $39.99. Remember that they're not just for the summer holidays. Both can be used in the fall for tailgate parties.As for the extras, you can buy them too, at your local dollar store or even hardware store in the town that you;re staying in.

What else to bring or buy? Good melamine plates are always needed. These are a sturdier type of plastic that won't crack  from too much use. These can be bought as a set at Target right now, in fun geometric patterns. While you;re there also pick up an inexpensive cutlery set  This last also can be bought at your local dollar store along with  a spatula and ladle. Should you invest in a good knife for holiday cooking. Yes, but don;t go overboard with an expensive one. Stop & Shop sells Farberware knives that work very well but for half the price of the more expensive brands. (this is actually my all time favorite knife that I use almost every day ).Another must is plastic containers that can hold any leftovers to take home.  These are also wonderful for containing any,, seafood fruit and veggies bought at local markets. Again these can be bought anywhere from  the Dollar Tree to Acme. They're also great for storing sandy little, flipflops and sandals as well as toys and sea shells. You usually have to bring bath  towels. Remember to bring just a couple of dish towels also along with two or three potholders.These can also  be used for oven mitts too. Every kind of store has these , and you could probably buy souvenir ones where you'll be staying.

You don't have to bring the entire kitchen and the kitchen sink along on your vacation.Just tote along the basics that you'll need. It'll make holiday cooking that much more easier.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Father's Day Feasts

What would make the perfect Father's Day meal? Anything that includes, bacon, barbecue and alcohol, in most cases. This would make any dad drool and relish dishes that features  his favorite things - including a nap afterwards.

What would be the perfect way to start his special day?BACON!!!! Think a two or three egg omelet packed with it. For a less artery clogging way to start the day, sub in turkey  bacon which is fifteen calories less a slice. Eggs Benedict is a great way of celebrating all of what dad does. Make it his by subbing in the Canadian bacon with three or four slices of the other. Another twist is layering the poached egg and Canadian bacon on a layer of bacon for a real meaty treat. Crispy slices can also be stuffed into French toast.It's made like a Monte Cristo sandwich with two slices of bread dipped into an egg batter. Some recipes call for a brown sugar sweetened cream cheese too.  what goes with a brunch like this? A bacon decorated Bloody Mary. Wrap a couple of slices around a celery stalk and stick into the glass. He could also welcome the day with the British cocktail Snakebite, a mix of cider and lager.A more potent waker upper is the porch crawler, a mix of beer, vodka and gin, sweetened with some kind of fruit juice. Spike dad's orange juice with this wild mix .

The porchcrawler could also be swigged around the grill (although keep dad away from any flames and lighter fluid). If he's a big burger guy, then definitely make him the best, using chopped meat. Carry on the bacon theme by adding bacon drippings to the mix , saving the strips for the sandwich later on. Men love fire and spice too. Jalapeno burgers are always a zingy treat. Remember to deseed them and then mince into tiny bits. A dash of Cajun seasoning can also be add for a four alarm  eye opener. Dad may want a cut that's a bit more substantial. Treat him to a Porterhouse  or a Flatiron, both deliciously tender and flavorful cuts. Skirt steak is another that Dad would enjoy with an ear of corn or grill baked potato.Baste with melted butter  that's been spiced up with Worcester sauce and Dijon mustard. How do you finish the day? Bacon or stout cupcakes. Both are easy to whip up . Try the bacon in a mocha batter  and then decorate with chocolate icing. Stout can also be added to chocolate batter for a tasty cake or cupcake. Make sure Dad get's the lion's share of a slice or two or three cupcakes to gobble down with an iced coffee.

Every dad should be treated like a king tomorrow. Create a special meal for your sire with bacon, meat and alcohol. This is the perfect combo for  perfect Father's Day.