Friday, December 15, 2017

Flying Solo

I miss my Mom - and not because it's the holidays. I miss her cooking and baking experience, insights, how she used to be the taster for my savory and sweet dishes. I miss her telling me about family recipes and the stories that go with them.

Losing a mother is the worst pain anyone can go through.Losing a cooking buddy is also hard. I now have to ask my brother if he remembers certain steps in family recipes, handed down from our Italian and German great-grandmothers.Take for example pascoi. This was actually our great grandfather's dish, a stuffed cabbage roll from his area of San Maurizio Canavese outside of Turin. It is an elaborate cook. Savoy cabbage leaves are filled with raw or uncooked polenta and then tied up with simple sewing thread. They're then fried in a mix of garlic, butter and olive oil. My brother had forgotten this step. Luckily I remembered it, The polenta had to get cooked somehow before pickling. The  pickling itself requires red wine vinegar along with garlic and savia. The question is what is the ratio of the vinegar to the salvia, a cousin of sage. Could I use sage instead? Unfortunately there is noone to ask except maybe our cousins who still live in San Maurizio. That begs another question - do they make it?

The loss is also felt when I make her famed chili. This is a  recipe  that all her cousins wanted and made - none coming close to the perfection of hers.I have changed the recipe slightly - ever so slightly with the addition of dark honey to temper the tomatoes' tang.I also add more chili powder , a tablespoon more. It gives the chili a more vibrant color and amps up the flavor.My Mom had tasted it  as I took over the kitchen in the last few years.I would always ask jokingly "Is it better than yours?'
and she'd reply "What do you think?" I made a show of shaking my head no .and say "Nah. It'll never be as good as yours." The same with her tomato sauce. I made it last week and felt it didn't hit the mark . For one thing, I had to add granulated sugar because I didn't have any honey (and again dark honey works much better in a sauce than white sugar. it adds depth - but that's for another post). and used a larger can of tomato sauce. The ravioli were drowning in the sauce.If my Mom had been around she would have chided me for not using a smaller can  -which I now realize I have to do the next time I make sauce.

I miss my Mom more than anyone could ever imagine. I miss my cohort in the kitchen.It is a brave new world for me amidst the pots and pans, herbs and spice. She would want me to conquer it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Best Of The Grapes 2017

Not only was this the year for good food and good restaurants it was also the year for good wines. They came from all over, from Portugal to France, to Italy. These are the perfect wines for giving
 and feasting during this holiday season.

Eric Asimov gave his top ten choices for 2017.Not surprisingly, they're all imports. For those looking for a red that can go with everything from an elaborate crown roast to a humble minestrone choose the 2015 Rosso Viola from the Luciano Saetti vineyards.It's also great for those with allergies because it's made without any sulfur dioxide , the common  stabilizer used in more commercial wines.It's dry, earthy and meaty.thanks to the salamino grapes that make it. Aligote grapes figure in the Roulots wineries offerings. According to Mr. Asimov, his are exceptional. There's a freshness to them , along with a saltiness . The wine is manufactured from the historic Burgundy region  Another wine he likes come from the Bergerac region in southwestern France. The area, Pecharmant, is home to the Britsh mystery writer, Martin Walker, author of the Bruno mysteries. He and Mr. Asimov shared a 2005 Pecharmant from Tireand, with another literary connection. The owner is Francois Xavier de Saint Exupery is the cousin of Antoine de St.Exupery, author of  The Little Prince. The wine itself  is changing, losing its' fruitiness to more complex and richer flavors.

Portugal was a destination for the Asmovs and they took advantage of the country's great vineyards and wines.He tried a glass of the classic Madeira, Blandy's malmsey 1992. Even though it's quarter of a century old it's still considered a baby. Most can last for decades and even centuries.It was without the usual cloying sweetness, the flavor having an acidic complexity.Mr. Asimov also tried a classic one made from nebbiolo rose grape.It had been popular at one time , being planted in the vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco.It was a pale colored wine , Barbaresco Podere del Pajore, fermented in 1970. Unfortunately the producer no longer exists and also has been said that the nebbiolo rose grapes never existed either.(although I did more research on line and found out it does exist and you can buy something similar, the Lei Li Rose 2014, not in Piedmonte but in Jerone Arizone (!) of all places. For those planning a winetasting party this holiday season, pair these wines with Melissa Clark''s gougere's cheese puffs filled with pancetta and sage. The recipe is flexible,Add anything you want , from anchovies and extra cheese to olives. herbs and garlic.

This holiday season try these wines. They are perfect for gift giving or dinners.Try them and taste why they the best of the year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Best of 2017

This is the time of year when the best of lists come out. The New York Times Food section is no different. Today's issue features some of the best eateries, whether they're large or small along with the Food section;s most asked for recipes. whether you eat out or dine in, these faves are worth trying.

New York City and its' boroughs have always had a thriving restaurant scene.Both restaurant critics ,Pete Wells and Ligaya Mishan weigh in on their choices. Mr Wells favored the grandma pizza at Loring Place.Usually this is heavy and the thick  crust is rubbery and sodden with oil. Not chef Dan Kluger's who bakes up one with a airier crust , and a pie bursting with flavor.Another favorite is the polenta at the Union Square Cafe.It's what everyone's nonna would make. - light and fluffy.Other palate pleasers were the mussels at Office NYC and crispy layered potatoes at White Gold Butchers.Ligaya Mishan usually covers the smaller eateries in the outer boroughs in her weekly column Hungry City. One unusual fave is Queens Night Market  The stalls offer such treats as curried Malaysian burgers and tender mouth watering Bolivian beef heart. It's also cheap with all entree costing under six dollars., thanks to market creator John Wang.If you want indoor dining then head over to Bayside, Queens to try Mama Lee's lion head meatballs,,a yummy mix of pork and cabbage.Another must try is the Bangladeshi restaurant Neerob. There is chicken heated in a pan of sweet-hot masala. They also serve fish gilded with turmeric along with pink hardboiled eggs nesting in rice and moong dal.

For those who prefer to eat in, Julia Moskin lists and has the most popular recipes of the year. One is the famed Yottam Ottolenghi's blueberry,almond and lemon cake. This is the perfect antidote to all those spicy and chocolatey holiday tortes. Readers have varied the recipe with them using raspberries, cherries , apricots and plums. Fans of the Food section also went wild over British chef Jamie Oliver's chicken in milk, a spin on the traditional roast pork and milk.It's a combination of sweet and savory due to the marriage of cinnamon and garlic.Lemon and sage are also added to round out the flavor.Another favorite chicken recipe was the baked chicken tenders from Alison Roman.It's oven baked instead of being deep fried .It still has crunch thanks to the meat being dipped in panko crumbs. The accompanying dip is Greek yogurt mixed with chives, parsley and olive oil. You can pan fry it if you want, however for that deep fried taste.The most popular recipe is Julia Moskin's best black bean soup.Unlike other recipes that are usually sludgy and bland, this one has a fine, creamy texture and fabulous taste.It has heat and kick , thanks to adding jalapeno peppers and garlic.There are also carrots and onions thrown into the mix as well, to give it a nce vegetal taste.

Whether eating out or staying at home, the Food section has the best of the year Visit, some of the restaurants mentioned. If not try this year's favorite recipe in your kitchen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

New Spins On An Ancient Holiday

Tonight starts the ancient holiday of Hanukah, the festival of lights. it's a time of presents , games and most importantly feasting. Many used tried and true family recipes, but there's nothing wrong in trying them with fresh spins.

Lakes are always associated with this Jewish holiday. The oil that they're fried in has come to symbolize the miracle of the oil lasting in the temple for eight days (hence the eight branches of the menorah too). The recipe is a basic one, using shredded potatoes, usually Yukon Gold and grated onions.  You could sub in any root vegetable for the spuds. Try parsnips for a different spin. They  have a sweet carrot like flavor that would go well with sour cream or even apple sauce.Even turnips can be used for the tasty treats, just remember to use the smaller ones. Larger turnips tend to have a woody taste while the smaller ones have a sweet pleasant taste. Both can be combined with potatoes for a mellower taste Another idea is sweet potato latkes. Add cinnamon and brown sugar to the recipe to make them more of a dessert treat..As for the sour cream itself, you could jazz it up with a small dab of wasabi or cayenne pepper. For a milder flavor, try a drizzle of dark lavender infused honey. Looking for less calories? Then sub in Greek yogurt which has a lighter, cleaner taste than pure sour cream. A fancier idea is creme fraiche. For more decadence, top with a small sliver of salmon or a tiny teaspoon of caviar.

For a bigger crowd think brisket. It's versatile and can be prepared in a variety of different ways. Serve it slow cooked in Coca-Cola. The soda's sweetness is tempered by the addition of  ancho chili powder and paprika as well as red wine.If this may be too sugary, then think coffee braised. This does have some sweetness too, but it's only a quarter of a cup of brown sugar to two cups of brewed coffee.For a fun Hanukah party consider brisket sliders. These are easy to make, with shredding the meat and mixing it with a spice infused tomato puree.These can also be grilled  like barbecue, with a sweet sauce thanks to one made with honey. Cayenne pepper and smoked paprika stop it from being too candylike. Any form of brisket can be served with the latkes for a heartier meal. How to finish ? With the Israelial Hannukah specialty  - sufganiyot, or jelly doughnut. It's usually filled with raspberry or strawberry jelly, but any other flavor will do. Another fun twist is adding cocoa powder to the dough . Filled with a rich jam or marmalade, this makes a decadent holiday treat. You could even dust the doughnuts with cocoa powder after frying.

Hanukah is the festival of lights . Make the holiday brighter with tasty latkes or brisket, Make it sweeter with homemade sufganiyot. Enjoy these new twists for an ancient holiday.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Thyme To Cook

Thanks to Hamilton ,people, especially home chefs and foodies are curious what our founding fathers and mothers ate. There is a new cookbook out that delightfully shows not only what our Colonial ancestors ate but also what the Puritans put together.  A Thyme To Discover is a fascinating look back into kitchen history.

Tricia Cohen wrote this little gem while Lisa Graves illustrated it in rich, antique colors. Ms. Cohen has written several historical cookbooks for Skyhorse Publishing.She has covered Medieval feasts as well as the unofficial Poldark recipe book (definitely buying  that!!!) She writes about  the earliest period in American history , and there is even mention of both the light side and dark side of the Columbian Exchange. Europe, Asia , Africa ,and the Americas benefited from the exchange of various foodstuffs such as livestock and bananas along with  an coming here while the New World gave the rest of the world, tomatoes, and potatoes. Sadly diseases were just as easily traded as food.There is a timeline from the Pilgrims to the Colonial Era with some references, especially Abe Lincoln. stretching into the 1800s what I like about the book is that Ms. Cohen gives  a lot of credit to the indigenous people.There are many pages dedicated to the Wampanoag tribe who coexisted with the Pilgrims and Massasoit , the Grand Sachem or Healer.He , along with the famed Squanto helped the settlers plant and harvest so that they could thrive.

Keep in mind these are not exact recipes but modern takes on them. The meager  pea soup that the Pilgrims ate on the Mayflower has been updated to include mint for flavoring, along with spinach , garlic , leeks and creme fraiche.Indigenous fruit such as the pawpaw have been replaced by bananas in a cookies with a maple glaze. History foodies will appreciate the venison with blackberry sauce over wild rice cakes.different eras have recipes that reflect the food. As more colonists got molasses and flour, baking took off in the new country. She doesn't include recipes for such treats as flummery and syllabub but she does have the Sally Lund cakes recipe, which was a fave of George' Washington as well as its' etymology , from the French soleil et lune,  There are also recipes from some of America's earliest companies such as King Arthur flour and Jim Beam Brewery.(use both in the Bourbon Oatmeal Raisin  cookies!). There are also pages dedicated to the famous Foodie of the Revolution, Ben Franklin ad his funny write up about gout. The Presidents, from Washington to Lincoln are also represented and of course, there is a beef stew with apple brandy in honor of not Alexander Hamilton, himself, but to his mother who ran a provision shop selling apples. The Spanish influence is also mentioned , with a spicy chipotle, cinnamon chocolate pot de creme recipe.

A Thyme To Remember is a great holiday gift for the foodie with a historic bent. It shows how America survived and thrived along with  fun recipes to try.It's a great  and tasty
way to celebrate our heritage

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Best Salt On Earth

Salt is a crucial part of cooking and baking.Selina Naturally knows this and has produces a variety of different sea and river salts that elevates savory and sweet recipes to pure gourmet levels. Best of all there is a wide range of them to experiment with and have fun creating unique dishes.

The company was formerly known as The Grain and Salt Company, started by Belgian born Jacques Delangre a doctor, in 1976, and actually sells much more than just sea salt or fleur de sel.You could also buy all natural body and hair products along with sea salt for animals (yes, they need a tiny pinch of it - but check with your vet first before you buy).There's also coconut ghee and raw honey as well as monkfruit sweetener and cassava flour for all natural baking.They even sell beverages such as coconut water along with soups such as the Paleo bone broth.Selina naturally also makes  health and body products, geared for men and women's health as well as for weight loss and electrolyte balancing. However the company is primarily known for its' salts.It has branched out in river salts ,which are taken from subterranean rivers. The owners harvest their salts from off the coasts of ,France, Spain ,Guatamala,Portugal,  and Hawaii. To be honest, every kitchen needs a shaker of Selena Naturally salts and you can also buy those at the site too.The family who owns the company has also come up with a sea salt cook book, perfect for those who are new or leery about cooking with too much salt.

This company has the most amazing array of salts. I love their liquid salt from their Fossil River collection. This has several flavors such as cucumber, garlic and truffle. I used the garlic to make a garlic bread that was lighter than the usual loaf  because the bread was spritzed with an infusion of garlic. It was also lightly salted, which heightened the taste. There is also a cucumber infused liquid salt that can be used lightly on salads.Another favorite is the Fossil River salts that are mixed with everything from herbs to rose petals!  This last one I can see sprinkled on shortbread to heighten the buttery taste as well as for decoration. Selina Naturally also mixes their salts with Szechuan pepper and regular peppercorns separately. This is perfect for sprinkling over any meat, whether chicken or steaks  for some kick. Try the wasabi and sesame infused salt over fish and tempura for an interesting meld. of tastes.  There is also a grilling salt that would go well over any rib eye steak along with their applewood smoked salt. Sprinkle some of this over ribs to bring out the meat's unami. .Celtic Sea Salt also has salts blended with dried rosemary that can easily be added to any homemade tomato sauce along with garlic salt  (again reserved for making garlic bread ) and celery salt, perfect for salads.

Selina Naturally has the best array of sea and river salts. Use them to heighten any savory or sweet recipe. They bring a delicious and nutritious kick of flavor to any dish


Friday, December 8, 2017

The Dazzle of Paul Hollywood

Yes, it's that time of year when all home bakers go into a frenzy about what to make for the holidays.ABC knows this and rolls out their annual baking show, The Great Holiday Baking Show, based on the UK's The Great British Baking Show. It even has that main attraction Paul Hollywood, he of the piercing blue eyes and stinging criticiques.

The show is on ABC every Thursday night , with two back to back hour long episodes starting at 9PM. Fans of the original will love this and it features bake loving Yanks from all corners of the country. There was even a priest, Father Kyle, who was sadly booted off Episode Two.Like the original every episode features a signature bake, a cake or cookie they might make for family and friends, a technical bake that features a challenging recipe from the judges and the final - a show stopper, something that would bring gasps if if were made at home. The judges in the past were Mary Berry and Johnny Iuzzini who returns this year with Hollywood. Paul Hollywood 's background is that of being the son of a baker who eventually owned a chain of bakeries in England. Paul, himself, became a baker, working at several five star hotels in the UK and on Cyprus. Iuzzini is also a pastry chef , from the Catskills region in New York State where he learned how to cook and bake as a child. He also attended the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park where he specialized in Baking and Pastry Arts. The hosts are chef Ayesha Curry who has written several cookbooks and forer football player and media personality Anthony Adams,

The show lacks the wit and sparkle that the British version had under Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Ayesha and Anthony are likeable enough,  especially Anthony when 'he's cadging candied cherries off contestant Cindy Maliniak. They do add to the show especially when they interact with the bakers and are a nice foil to Paul's snark. Yesterdays episodes featured making naked cakes. which are layers cakes with just fillings and iced top layers.These  were pretty in their own messy ways,but I feel that British bakers would have handled the challenge better. The second hour featured everything yeasty. This is where the bakers got truly creative , especially with the first one which featured doughnuts . They reflected the contestants backgrounds. The episode's show stopper was a sweet bread with different fillings and decorations. Again the bakers became truly creative with flavors reflecting  Hector De Haro's Mexican heritage and Vallery Lomas' Louisiana's influenced King Cake, Hopefully upcoming episodes will feature more Christmassy  challenges like mince pies and cookies. They did have to recreate a log but it was more of a sponge cake.

Will the American holiday version  stand up to the British? Hopefully it will .It is entertaining and inspiring to home bakers , longing for a challenge