Friday, March 23, 2018

When Holidays Collide

Many families now have two or even three religions being practiced in their households. This year, Easter and Passover are almost simultaneous , with Orthodox Easter occurring a week later. With all these come some sort of dietary restriction, Can a home chef cope with all of these? Surprisingly yes.It does take some thoughtful planning but it can be done.

The first night of Passover happens on the Christian Good Friday. This is normally a time to eschew any meat except fish. What happens when the two religions are observed? Serve fish. The most commonly made one is gefilte fish , a kind of croquette. You can use salmon, or red snapper for a more flavorful mix. Gefilte fish can also be baked into a loaf bound together with four eggs and matzoh meal. Celery and onions give it a nice Spring freshness. Another idea is the whole filet itself for a more substantial meal. Think of combining salmon with both lemon and orange juice, spiked with garlic and dill. It can also be cooked in a garlic and coriander sauce. What happens when some of the family observe Greek or Russian Orthodoxy? Their's is a strict Lenten diet. Unlike Catholics and Protestants, they can't even have fish with spines  along with other meats.Only vegetables are allowed and they can only be boiled, not sauteed or fried. Oil, butter, and even margarine are forbidden. Boiled vegetables such as the meatier sweet potatoes or potatoes are allowed. These can be mashed and combined with other veggies to create a substantial mash.

Easter is also the time of bread and cakes. So many holiday breakfasts start off with a slice of egg bread.Unfortnately this can be awkward for some in a household that don't celebrate the day.Mmatzoh brei can be made. This is a variation of French toast with the cracker being first soaked in water then in egg. Serve it with maple syrup or honey. Matzoh can also be turned into a fun, crispy snack with the addition of kosher for Passover margarine, chocolate and brown sugar. Named Matzo Crack because it's highly addictive and tasty, it's even perfect for an Easter party.One dessert that transcends the two holidays are macarons. These can even be made with aquafaba - bean water from chickpeas  - to satisfy Greek Orthodox Holy Week laws. Dye them (using Kosher for Passover dyes) in delicate Easter egg colors such as pale pink , robin's egg blue and lavender. These can even be dusted with cocoa powder or sanding sugar to look more festive.

A multifaith household can be problematic during the holidays. Yet there are ways to deal with this . It's just being creative and thoughtful, keeping in mind ancient traditions and dietary laws.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Provencal Passover

The Avignon region of southern France is rife with history and tradition. This also applies to food and the traditional dishes associated with this season of faith and belief. To the Jewish community of Avignon, the Passover dishes take on a special meaning.

Joan Nathan, a regular contributor to the New York Times Food section and export on Jewish cooking wrote an informative and intriguing article on the community at Carpentras. since Roman times, Jews have lived in this Northern Provence town and will now be celebrating Passover at the Carpentra Synagogue, first built in 1367/ It is one of the oldest synagogues still in use and will welcome some with roots in African Judaism.Carpentrs a became the center of Jewish life in 1306 when the Jews were expelled from the Kingdom of France.Like other nearby sanctuaries of Avignon and Cavaillon, the town was under French rule but the Contat Venaisson under the command of Pope John XXII. His Holiness decreed that the Jew would be welcomed as refugees. Thanks to the initial 1,000 Carpentras was known as 'Petit Jersusalem. They still sadly  had to  contained be in a ghetto, which was locked at night. They had their own butchers and bakers which now the slaughterhouses and ovens along with the ritual baths are being excavated. Some things have changed. Most of the younger generation have moved to the larger cities and townspeople have to travel to Marseilles for kosher meats.

The holiday foods has both Jewish and Provencal influences The cuisine is Jewish dishes were adapted from local foods according to the laws of kashrut, or Jewish religious dietary laws. Gilberte Levi's Haroset, the sweet paste that represents the mortar that built the pyramids has dried  apricots, figs, raisins and chestnuts, reflective of the harvests of southern France. She will also serve veal stuffed with Swiss chard, with the last being a popular ingredient of the region. Her Haroset is easy to recreate It not only has the chestnuts but also almonds, pine nuts  and walnuts.She adds in the traditional apple along with cinnamon and fresh ginger. The fruit used can be dried because sweet Kosher wine will moisten it. The provencal veal breast stuffed with Swiss chard also has rosemary and garlic, not too far in ingredients from an Italian Easter lamb Cote du Rhone,a  dry red is also added for moisture.

Carpentras  will celebrate Passover ,using ancient recipes and traditions of both France and Jerusalem. The food will reflect centuries of lives led there. It is a reminder of their contributions to Provencal life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Maryland's Specialty stuffed Ham

Mention dishes associated with Maryland and anything with crab will come to mind.However there's one county, surprisingly a peninsula, that has a delicious specialty - stuffed ham. This dish is a big holiday one, popular for the upcoming Easter one.

Kim Severson wrote about this traditional dish of St Mary's County in today's New York Times Food section. It's one of America's most regional recipes, right up there with Jersey rippers (deep fried hot dogs) Cincinnati chili  and Robeson county collard greens. Every family in the county made stuffed ham. whether for Christmas, Easter and even Thanksgiving.Unfortunately it's disappearing thanks to a younger generation either moving away or having smaller families. People turned to family owned stores like the famed Dent's . It takes stamina and skill to boil about twenty pounds of cabbage and the Dents had this for two generations.The owner, who sadly died in his sleep not long ago, put the stuffed ham in egg rolls and on top of  pizzas .His cordon bleu chicken, traditionally stuffed with ham was filled with the St. Mary's County kind.  Another small store Murphy's Town and Country also makes the famed dish , around four hundred a year. Most go to church dinners but many still grace a large family's table. . The recipe could be a cousin of an old Lincolnshire dish chine in which a brined shoulder of pork is slashed and stuffed with herbs. It was boiled in a muslin case. It's more likely  to be derived from an Afro- Carib dish though, according to Joyce White, a Maryland food historian.Enslaved West Africans would season greens with onions and red pepper and stuff them into jowls or whatever piece of pork they had.

What makes this ham so special?It is the stuffing It is a combination of curly kale mixed with collard greens and watercress.. Yellow onions and scallions are also added along with black pepper , cayenne,and red pepper flakes for kick. Mustard and celery seeds are tossed in as well.It is not for the faint of heart novice chef. It does take more than a few hands. The original recipe, first published in 1834, called for smoked ham. This one requires the meat to be corned or having kosher salt rubbed on the surface, Place the ham in an unreactive  pan after salting or corning.. A glass one which won't react with the salt so stay away from aluminum or copper pans..cover it tightly with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for a few days. The day before it get's stuffed, rinse off the salt and soak the ham  in cold water over night in the fridge.The stuffing is chopped cabbage along with the onions and kale.. The ham should be boneless when stuffed. Think butterflied with the meat being splayed on the sides.The ham should also be slit to hold the stuffing. It will be packed in the greens as it's placed into a cheesecloth  "sack". Themmeat is cooked ,fifteen minutes per pound. A small ham could take about an hour and a half , a larger one could take three to four hours. after cooking, It's then drained in colander and chilled in the fridge for six hours before serving. It' s usually served on soft potato rolls ro slices of white bread.

Stuffed ham may be a Saint Mary's county specialty but any body from any other part of the country can also make t. It's a delicious blend of ham and greens, spiked with peppers. Try this traditiona dish and see what generations have raved about for decades.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Wedded Bliss of Marshmallow And Cereal

Whoever thought of mixing Rice Krispies and marshmallows was a genius. There's nothing like a buttery square  - or two - or three of the amalgam along with a glass of milk or coffee.The best part - they're easy to make.Even a five year old kid chef can whip up a decent batch.

This American classic really is a classic. The squares or buns, as they're sometimes called were first made in 1939 by Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day at the Kellogg Company's home economics division as a fund raiser for Camp Fire Girls. Many years later, in 1995,  the company mass produced them for the public. They're called treats here and in Mexico while the Canadians and the Brits called them squares.Kellogg's has also offered a breakfast cereal based on them. They may have stolen the recipe from Mary Maltby's  1938 cookbook It's Fun To Cook which was slightly different. Hers was a mixture of  butter , sugar, molasses,  puffed wheat cereal and surprisingly vinegar.Ms Day didn;t like using the molasses, claiming it was too sticky to work with and subbed in the marshmallows. Kids had to wait for two years, until 1941,, when the recipe was first published on the box. Day was celebrated in April of 2001 when Iowa State University created  the world's largest Rice Krispie treat. It  took eight hours to construct and used 818 pounds of cereal , 1,466 pounds of marshmallows and 217 pounds of butter. This giant treat was twelve feet long, six feet wide and two feet deep. The whole state of Kansas could have munched on it. Its' final weight was 2,480 pounds, In 2010 the record was broken by Californians who made a whopping 10,460 pound treat!!!!

(Lucky is in the background, contemplating this human treat)
The recipe is pretty basic.It's one package - about ten ounces - of marshmallows melted with three tablespoons of butter. Add six cups of the Rice Krispies and stir until well coated. Using a buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press the mixture into a well greased (use butter) 13 x 9 x 2 pan. Cool and then cut into squares. The microwave version is faster. Just zap the butter and marshmallows on high for two to three minutes.Always use butter  - never margarine for the classic taste. You can sub in marshmallow creme though which won;t compromise the flavor.. There is a luxe version .that requires an entire stick of butter !!  It's Karissa's from her blog Sweet As A Cookie blog. Not only is it drowning in the good stuff there's also  a teaspoon of vanilla paste added for more flavor. I am raring to make this one but adding my own spin with using a drop of Neilsen-Massey's vanilla instead of the paste to the mix.. I may even commit sacrilege by adding the teeniest pinch of sea salt to offset all that sweet. Another aspect is that the treats can be adapted for any holiday. Right now there are recipes  on the website that feature the mixture  cuts into festive flowers and Easter eggs. Both are fun treats to any kid-centric Easter party. It's just adding food coloring to the marshmallows for the different colors and then cutting them out with greased cookie cutters.. The Rice Krispie eggs can be dipped in dark chocolate to offset the sugariness. and then dipped in pastel colored sprinkles.

Rice Krispie treats are not just an American classic but American comfort food. Buy them or make them. They're just a delicious marriage of cereal and marshmallows with a kiss of butter.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Know Your Tofu

To any non vegan tofu is tofu. It's that icly soy stuff that serves as a stand in to real meat and dairy. Yet , there are several different and delicious kinds that can turn a limited meatless diet into an unlimited buffet.  It's amazing what it can do  - and mimic.

First of all what is tofu? The most basic description is that it's a curd made from soy.Many have been introduced to it years ago under the unappetizing name of bean curd . It has been around for two thousand years, first being made during the Han Dynasty in China. The name tofu means fermented  or bean. It's made from coagulating soy milk with magnesium chloride and pressing out the curds.The amount of time in pressing determines what kind of curd it is.The process can be over in about fifteen to twenty minutes. Just remember that the longer it's pressed the firmer it will be. There are various types.Block tofu is what's found at grocery stores. This is also called "cotton tofu" due to the fluffiness of the curds. Soft tofu is the kind that's pressed in the least amount of time. It's primarily used for desserts.It's not recommended for frying because it could break apart and splutter out of the pan.Medium firm tofu is the best for braising and boiling.  Don't stir fry or pan fry it. It will break apart in creamy little pieces. The most versatile is the firm block kind. It can be battered, boiled , baked, pan fried, stir fried and deep fried.If you want a crusty , crispy kind, then go for the extra firm. These can be turned in kabobs or General's Tso's tofu.

Tofu can also have a soft and silky mouth feel. This is silken tofu and it, too, is a popular, kind, often found at many supermarkets.It's made in a similar process to block tofu except that the soy milk is coagulated without curdling the milk. It's also left unpressed so every cake retains its' moisture while cooling. Because curds never form, any kind from  soft , to extra firm has a smooth and silky appearance  If you want to make sauces and dressings, then try soft silken.It has the consistency of a poached egg.It can even be used as an egg substitute. There is firm silken tofu which cannot be confused with the  firm or silken kinds. Firm silken is made from a thicker form of soy milk. One of the most delicate kinds is fresh silken or custard tofu.It can turn pretty quickly so try getting it fresh from the manufacturer. Don/'t buy the mass produced ones. The flavor can be flat and bitter. It can't be cooked but it can be served with miso and scallions for a savory treat or mixed with agave syrup for a sweet snack. for those who love spicy , there is the Chinese Five Spice tofu which is a  dark purple in color. Smoked tofu is another tasty dish. It's smoked first in tea leaves giving it a light hue and smoky flavor. There is also deep fried tofu called aburaage  that's puffy and sugary.Tofu can be sold in pockets  or inarizushi. Both can be used for snacking while the last is good in salads.

Don't be put off by this versatile soy product. Tofu can be made into everything, from dinner to dessert. start cooking with  this versatile ingredient now.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Jazzy Foods From The Jazzy Vegetarian

Everybody's gone green thanks to today being Saint Patrick's Day. Imagine going ecologically green all year round, thanks to being a vegetarian. You can, thanks to a new cookbook by the famed jazzy vegetarian, herself, Laura Theodore. She has created another fun cookbook , full of flavorful and filling meat, egg and dairy free dishes.

Ms. Theodore's latest cookbook, Deliciously Vegan (Scribe Publishing Company 2018) is a spin off of her famed PBS and radio shows "The Jazzy Vegetarian". This is her third cookbook that features her eco friendly dishes and treats.  She has also written Vegan Ease and The Jazzy Vegetarian's Classic Cookbook. All these are perfect for those omnivores transforming into herbivores. What's great about this newest is that the recipes can easily be made for a party and not even the meat eaters would complain about the lack of beef, chicken or fish on the menu.The book holds her story of  how she went from being a jazz singer (as well as a child actor) to a vegan chef. Chef Theodore actually has six jazz CDS under her belt (you can buy her album What Is This Thing Called Jazz? at Amazon) and could have easily turned to a career solely focused on music. However she is also an excellent cook and baker along with being a fervid vegan.This cookbook is full of good recipes and good advice. I love her section on lists, especially the one on egg substitutes and what to sub in for cheese. Novice home chefs will appreciate the two ingredient  dish list for quick vegan meals. she also has an extensive list on essential ingredients such as wheat flours along with nuts and seeds. She also has a list for what spices to sock up on., because flavor is key in creating a successful vegan meal and dessert.

The book,itself,  is divided into section, from breakfasts to baked treats and puddings. Another plus is the variety which is important if you want to have a vegan or vegetarian kitchen like I have. I know I will be making her delicious looking mini quiche cups ripe with tofu and vegan cheddar cheese along with potato and spinach frittata, made not with eggs but with rolled oats and tofu.  The smoothies are perfect pick me ups too,loaded with a happy marriage of fruits and veggies. Cooking a vegetarian main dish is always a problem. That's going to change with the addition of gingered portobello steaks spiked with fresh ginger and cayenne pepper along with a tasty loaf made with pecans, sunflower seeds and zucchini.The Sunny Black Bean Burgers will definitely become a staple, They are rich with walnuts and fresh onion and get a kick from marinara sauce. The sides are geared towards these main dishes. The red potato and cauliflower mash would be the perfect foil for any of Chef Theodore's dinner loaves. Colorful Confetti fries is a mix of russet and sweet potatoes, dusted with chili and garlic would be perfect with the burgers for a fun Saturday night dinner.  Most home chefs think baked goods can't be made with out eggs, butter and milk, but they can. Home bakers and muffin affectionados will love maple-coconut muffins with sweet grape filling., made with bananas and non dairy  milk to sub in for the eggs and regular milk.Her Better Than Apple Pie Crisp will surely be the new apple pie. in many a vegan household. .Im excited to try her Crazy Coffee Chocolate Mousse made creamy with tofu and non dairy milk. There is also the tasty chocolate, almond and cherry clusters, ideal for parties and gift giving.

It's easy to go green with  Deliciously Vegan. It makes going vegan fun  with delicious meals,drinks and tasty treats. Buy it today and start on a healthy diet., full of good food

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Sweetness Of Sugarcrafting

Any serious cake decorator will tell you about sugarcrafting - the art of making sugar flowers, leaves and stems for cake decoration. It is one of the hardest cake arts to conquer, requiring a steady hand, delicate tools and determination. It also helps to have a comprehensive how to book on the ready. Luckily there is a brand new one , written by famed British cake decorator, Alan Dunn. This is the must have book in any baker's library.

Alan Dunn's Sugarcraft Flower Arranging (IMM Lifestyle Books 2018) is the definitive cake and flower arranging book for hardcore cake enthusiasts. Mr. Dunn has been creating amazing sprays of gum paste flowers and leaves for over twenty-five years. His website has several how tos along with merchandise to sell. Access to his tutorials is $12.45 a month, but it lets s home bakers view and study his tutorials (Mr. Dunn is like a UK version of Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro)on everything from shortbread cookies to icings. It can be a bit expensive to join which is why buying the book is a better choice. It  is divided in three sections : flowers, sprays and arrangements and cakes. Home bakers not only know about sugar fauna but also about h9ow to arrange them in realistic displays..Mr. Dunn gives the recipe for how to make the gum paste(he also gives the name of ready made gum paste sticks which makes decorating that much easier) along with pictures of all the tools needed - and there are many.)  What was needed however was a recipe for a cake - even a simple vanilla one. He does recommend using a fruit cake which is great for British tastes -not so much for the Americans,

The pictures and hows tos are stunning. Every known flower and leaf is in the book. Looking at them, you feel cheated by creating cakes with just rosebuds and buttercream leaves. The exotic Madagascar stephanotis is featured along with the South American Masdevallia orchid and the South African Brunia head seeds.There are the much wanted roses, always in demand. Mr. Dunn explains in in detail how to create them. For novices there is the dischidia,  a delicately leaved vine that doesn''t require the same amount of work as a bloom or the North American winterberry, a cousin of holly, that a round ball tinted deep red. I loved the flower arranging section. Mr. Dunn dosn't make it all about the cake. \The sprays and arrangements would look lovely on a table or even a coffee table. These are the sugar flowers and leaves but thanks to his masterful hand , they even make the real deals pale in comparison. The book is a godsend for those freelance bakers who include wedding cakes in their repertoire. There are beautiful sugar bouquets in many lovely color combinations. cascading down cakes .Any couple would love a three tiered masterpiece  topped with silvered roses or deep violet anemones.

Alan Dunn's Sugarcraft Flower Arranging is the perfect book for the hardcore cake decorator.It shows how simple sugarpaste can be turned into magnificent buds and blooms. Home bakers must have this book in their library and try their hand at coping Mr. Dunn's masterpieces.