Saturday, February 17, 2018

When The Home Chef's Away

It’s always wonderful when a home chef gets to go away and have a holiday. However what happens to the family left behind? Do they try to cook for themselves or live on fast food? The best bet is leaving care packages for them.

Chili is one of those make and freeze foods. It’s easy to whip up whether on the stove top or in the crockpot. Store in Tupperware or plastic containers, Reheat with just a tablespoon or two of water to thin it out. Sometimes chili can get thick . Zing it up a bit with some tortilla chips or cornbread squares. Mole sauce , another Mexican treat can also be made and then stored for another day. What’s great about mole is that you can pair it with grocery store rotisserie chicken for an easy and delicious meal. Tomato sauce is another excellent recipe to make for the family. If you;’re busy packing, then just use the crockpot to make it. It’s easier and the result is a rich mellow sauce, perfect for pasta or gnocchi. Stock up on a variety of pasta too. The kids can have a choice of rotelli , spaghetti or ravioli to pair with it, You could even vary the sauces, Have a container of the meaty Bolognese and the vegan marinara.

Casseroles are also easily whipped up and frozen. Eggplant parmesan is a hearty dinner , liked by everyone.It’s just breading and frying eggplant slices and then layering them alternately  with sauce and a blend of grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.A tasty dish, full of meat and veggies is ham, broccoli and potato casserole. It had the bonus of frozen French fries and cubed ham. It’s also dotted with florets which will please parents that the kids are eating their greens. Roll ups are easily freezable and reheated. They can be made up of such good for you  ingredients like spinach and cabbage. Imagine lasagna stuffed with baby spinach and cheese, easily created and easily popped into the freezer for later consumption. Cabbage rolls are a great way of  dosing the family with Vitamin C.Stuff it with turkey, onion and baby carrots. Tomato sauce takes away the meat’s dryness as well as giving it more flavor.

When the home chef’s away, the family will still eat well. Fill the fridge with tasty sauces and casseroles. They’ll be well appreciated .

Friday, February 16, 2018

Fish And Chips The Perfect Friday Meal.

One of the benefits of a Lenten diet Is eating more fish.Mostly many go for the safe and sensible kinds of grilled salmon and seared scallops. However – there is one dish that defines a fish dinner – fish and chips. That East End favorite is a great Friday night meal.

Mention fish and chips and images of London come to mind. Many ,including us Yanks, think it’s the quintessential British food. It actually isn’t, first arriving in Britain with the Sephardic Jews around the 1600’s. The influence was the Portuguese pescado frito, deep batter fried fillets which the Jews cooked on Friday night to eat on their Sabbath – Saturday. Potatoes didn’t come into the mix until the Columbian Exchange of 1492. Fish  - mostly cod and sliced spuds were the food of the working classes throughout coastal Britain. Charles Dickens was the firs t to mention chips in his 1859 masterpiece A Tale Of Two Cities. A year later the first fish and chips eatery or chippy opened in London.They were first sold and still are sold in old newspapers with a good dousing of malt vinegar. The Americans discovered it thanks to the seafood companies of Mrs Paul’s and Gorton’s, however their offerings are a pale imitation of the real thing.They have what’s known as fish fingers  - which are fish sticks while the real deal is huge triangular pieces of plaice a type of North Atlantic fish.

Fish and chips is a relatively easy dish to make. You do need a  fryer however a regular skillet will work just fine.  Use the oven for a healthier version.Start off with the potatoes. They need to be fried first. Russet potatoes are the bet choice for the chips. Peel them and cut them into fries the size of your index finger. First fry them for only two or three minutes then remove from the hot oil. Let them drain thoroughly. Now it’s time for the fish, Combine flour and baking powder along with salt and pepper. One cup of milk and one egg are also added to create a batter. Let the mixture stand for a good twenty minutes. Dredge the fillets in  this until they are thoroughly coated and fry in preheated oil. (you can use the oil from the potatoes) When the fish is frying, add the chips for the last five minutes  until all are golden and crispy. Malt vinegar is the condiment of choice however it is a bit eye opening if you haven't had it before.Ketchup and tartar sauce are your best bet. For a true English experience serve it with mushy peas  - mashed peas with butter and cream.

Get your Brit on with homemade fish and chips. It's a tasty and fun meal for a Lenten Friday night supper. Make it and enjoy a taste of the United Kingdom.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Perfect Meal

Yesterday the New York Times Food section had published two recipes for the perfect Valentine's Day dinner and dessert. Upon closer inspection both could make a great weekend meal. Thanks to both David Tanis and Melissa Clark , home chefs can make and bake something not only for their sweethearts but for their sweet families.

David Tanis of A City Kitchen gives us the meal part -  simple rib eye steak and potatoes. Double it's perfect for a family of four.He recommends gettng one large steak which will have juicier results when cooked.Also skip the supermarket and head to the butcher's for a perfect cut.Prepare it simply with generous dashes of salt and pepper along with some roughly chopped rosemary and a little garlic.Cooking it is easy too, especially if  you have a cast iron skillet.Heat over a flame and then pop the entire skillet into an oven to roast. Let it stay there  until the meat's interior temp reaches 120 degrees Farenheit (have a meat thermometer on hand for this).Of course a steak this good deserve to be paired with the best of the spuds. Mr. Tanis suggests peewee ones which are even smaller than the baby ones. They're boiled in heavily salted water and then tossing them with melted butter, garlic, lemon and parsley.It doesn't get any better than this.

Actually it does. Melissa Clark's A Good Appetite is devoted to homemade chocolate cookies with white chocolate and dried cherries. The flavors are a perfect marriage of sweet and tart.It's based on a favorite cookie of hers from a Manhattan bakery. Those were saucer sized dark chocolate ones, rich with  white chocolate chunks and pecans.They reminded her of the corner brownies, gooey in the middle and crisp around the edges.Hers is a grown up version, housing dried cherries to offset the sweetness. Also to make it a bit more interesting is adding melted bittersweet chocolate chips. If that's too much, Ms. Clark then suggests reducing the amount of granulated sugar used. Unsweetened Dutch cocoa is also used in the recipe along with a pinch of sea salt and vanilla. It is a tad more labor intensive than the average homemade cookie recipe. The dark chocolate and butter are first melted together in a saucepan or even in the microwave The sugar and eggs are also beaten separately until the mixture is pale and foamy. The other ingredients are added t this until a dough forms. Sea salt is sprinkled on top to cut the sweetness and bring out the other flavors.

Put these together and it's a delicious meal for the family.The simplicity is a complex wedding of  flavors that work well. Nothing beats a steak and potatoes with a dessert of home made chocolate cookies.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Comeback Of A Historical Rice

One of the greatest contributions to American cuisine is the African gift of rice. Many varieties were brought over and some, unfortunately, have been bred out of existence. Now a missing strain has resurfaced, connecting us to our culinary past and the African-American experience.

Kim Severson wrote an interesting piece, on the long lost strain on hill rice. It was an informative read for home chefs and historian alike , in today's New York Times Food section. The rice had been thought to be long gone here in the southern coastal states however was found thriving in Trinidad. How it got there is a course in early American history It is descended from Japonica rice that first came from Southeast Asia to West Africa sometime between the 16th and
 18th centuries. It was brought here with the enslaved to the Carolina colonies. Thomas Jefferson was even a fan of this plump , colorful grain. By World War I, the rice had all but disappeared, thanks to cheaper variations coming out and the Great Migration where millions of African-Americans left the South for the more tolerant North. Hill rice, also known as upland red bearded rice and and Moruga Hill rice was found again in a small section on  the Caribbean island off the Venezuelan coast. B.J. Dennis, a chef specializing in Gullah cuisine.was stunned to find the long lost breed thriving.

Chef Dennis had heard about it through the culinary organization Slow Food USA and the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, the group that brought back another lost strain, Carolina Gold, in the early 2000's. He was in Trinidad, walking past a field of unusually colored rice when it hit him. Here was the rice long thought gone.How it got to the tropical island is another chapter in American history.It starts with the War of 1812 when British soldiers promised both land and freedom to  a small group of West African slaves if they would fight against their masters. They did and were rewarded with sixteen acres of undeveloped land in the southernmost part of Trinidad. They were called Merikans, the Creole rendering of Americans. The missing piece would be further confirmed by Trinidadian ethnobotanist, Francis Morean,a descendant of those freed slaves.Once found , it caught the attention of Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills who grows artesanal rice and corm, including the famed Carolina Gold. He had eighty pounds of it shipped to the states. Chef Edouardo Jordan has tried it.It's a dry rice, better paired with a chutney or an okra stew.The Trinidadians cook it in coconut water until it becomes starchy. It's then covered with a chutney made from benne seeds, shadow benne, a green, garlic and birds-eye peppers. Hill rice will sure to be a hit with foodies and chefs throughout the country.

Hill rice is on the rise. This lost breed will be coming back in a big way. It will definitely be on tables around the US as it was 200 years ago.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

From Meat To Meatless

Many people want to go vegan or at least vegetarian but can't.It can be kind of daunting giving up the meats they love for -soy.What starts out as a noble dream to save animals and help the earth goes flat when faves such as bacon and chicken wings have to go. The best bet is to ease into the lifestyle. Don't go cold turkey when you're craving turkey.

The first step is to test yourself. Try a day or two without any red meat.This will be hard for hamburger and steak lovers. Think chicken and veggie burgers. If that works then eliminate poultry as the second part of the journey to go meatless.Some people become pescetarians - only eating fish and seafood. They still get protein but it's all from the sea  - not the land. They can still eat eggs and dairy so the diet is more of a Mediterranean. It is healthier however but can be a bit costly, thanks to the market price of some fish and crustaceans. If that's the case, then have fish twice a month or look for specials.The diet has many benefits.such as maintaining good heart health.Another perk in an all fish diet is that is staves off macular deterioration, a degenerative eye disease.It can also strengthen lungs and prevent Alzheimer's disease.Pescetarians also enjoy healthy hair skin and nails too as a bonus benefit.

Once you've eliminated most of the meats, it's now easier to wean yourself off fish. Remember that vegetarian and vegan are two slightly different practices. Vegetarianism allows for dairy and eggs, veganism doesn't. If being a vegan sounds too severe for now, than try the other. Many have a hard time giving up omelets and eggs sunny side up. Then there's the ice cream dilemma. You  do have to acquire a taste for soy and coconut milk ice cream.It's delicious but doesn't have the lush mouth feel of the real deal.Again make it a slow transition. Some vegans went the vegetarian route before completely shunning animal products. Luckily , many stores such as Stop & Shop and Acme have a wide range of vegan and vegetarian products. The most popular and varied meatless brands are Morningstar Farms and Gardein. These are my go tos for creating a wholesome and filling no meat meal.Morningstar Farms has soy beef crumbles which I use in my chili and Bolognese sauce. Their chicken strips are the backbone of my chicken mole. I've just discovered Gardein's soy Fish fillets and they're remiiscent of Mrs. Paul's. I look forward to trying their faux crab cakes.

You can go from a meat filled diet to a meat free one. It's just doing it in steps and ending at veganism. Along the way , you find new dishes and recipes that are good for you and good tasting. You'll forget aoo about meat once you do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Braving French Pastry

One of the most elegant treats any baker can make is French pastry. It's a complicated blend of crisp layers , airy creams and  artistic decorations. They're a challenge for the home baker yet  a feather in one's toque if done. The question is can an ordinary baker make an extraordinary sweet?

Many ask themselves that.It's a long leap between cake mix cakes and mille-feulle, better known as Napoleons. The best way to acclimate yourself  to it is start off with the relatively easy recipes (and there are some).One of the easiest is crepes,. It's basically sort of like a pancake batter that has to be chilled's flour eggs milk and water mixed together and then set aside for twenty-four hours. You can buy a crepe pan for it. This is nothing more than a wider, thinner frying pan or use a frying pan or skillet. Drizzle creme Anglaise over it or serve it street style with granulated sugar and lemon juice. Another relatively easy treat is clafoutis. A plus is that it can be made with any kind of fruit, from apples to blueberries. It's basically an egg rich batter blended together - usually in a blender and poured over fruit. It's baked for only half an hour  - until it's golden and puffy.Once you've accomplished that, try Kouign Amann , the mouth watering buttery sweet bread from Brittany.It's made with the same dough as the croissant which is another pastry a home baker can master. Both require  a lot of butter because it's sealed in layers of rolled dough. It is  labor intensive , with mostly rolling out dough and butter along with shaping into the classic crescents.

Biscuit roses is another transitional level It was featured in yesterday's Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Famed baker , Dorie, Greenspan, wrote about this after baking them. They're sort of like a cross between a lady finger and biscotti.Like biscotti, it's twice baked.and like lady fingers, the yolks and whites are separated , beaten  and then joined into the dough. It''s a great way for beginners to learn about meringues  along with how to shape batter with a piping bag. After this it's an easy move to eclairs, those classic Gallic pastries. They do require a choux paste which is a delicate two step method. It's first putting water .milk butter and sugar into a two quart saucepan and bringing the mixture to a boil. Flour has to be added  slowly, stirred until everything is blended.It;s then adding five more eggs to give it that rich golden color. Just don;t make ti too hot or you'll have scrambled eggs on your hands. Choux paste can be used to make cream puffs along with the eclairs,One of the hardest pastries to make is the mille feuilles or thousand leaves. Also called Napoleon , after France's famed emperor it;'s taking a dough similar to croissant dough where it's rolled and folded several times.There' are intervals where it's put in the fridge. A simple vanilla  cream is sandwiched in the layers .The whole thing is topped off with a decorative chocolate or vanilla glaze.

Can the average home baker handle French pastry? Oui! Once conquered these complicated recipes will be as easy as a chocolate chip or scratch cake one.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Doctor That Dish!

Never be afraid to doctor up  dish, whether store bought or homemade. That extra fillip of something can turn a blah dish into something more palatable. What was once bland can be tasty and exciting. Just add a dose of this or that to bring extra life into any recipe.

That happened to me today when i opened can of Bush's vegetarian chili.It looked similar to our family recipe for it so I figured the taste was also similar. Wrong!!! The sauce tasted like  the Spaghetti-os one  (which is nothing wrong if its' bathing Spaghetti-os), with a funny kind of bland sweetness. It had lost all its' appeal in a second. What to do?Throw in a large pinch of cumin and two heaping tablespoons of chili powder. I then scattered a  few pinches of flaky Celtic  sea salt (my absolute go to in making any food better) and a few good turns of the pepper mill. After stirring it all together I tasted it . Voila! The perfect chili. It had gone from being a lunch time disaster to a tasty bowl. I ladled it over crunchy tortilla chips and it turned into a  textured, flavorful , fun meal.Basically it was adding oomph to a dull can of chili. Home chefs can also do this, reconfiguring and fussing with it to achieve the taste they want. The chili is also a great way of using up leftover roasts. Cut up steak, chicken or turkey would fare well in it., making it a heartier dish.Vegans can add Morningstar Farms soy chicken strips or soy beef crumbles.

You can also doctor up established recipes to make them your own I have done this with my Mom's chili  and tomato sauce recipes. My signature ingredient in dark wild flower honey. A dollop of this mellows out the chili  and gives the sauce an earthy sweetness.My new favorite recipe chicken mole has been doctored to create a brighter,more flavorful sauce. The recipe that I took from the All Recipes site calls for a can of  tomato soup. As much as I love tomato soup, I don't like the idea of it being an ingredient in a sauce. I prefer to use tomato sauce which is purer in taste. It marries well with the cocoa powder, adding a brightness I know I wouldn't have with the soup. Also I add a smidge more cocoa powder for a slightly more intense taste. Frosting is another recipe I doctor up. The chocolate buttercream that I made yesterday got amped up. Instead of the required  3/4 th cups of cocoa powder I increased it to a cup.The result is a dark, fudgey icing that is not too sweet. This offsets any cake' s sugariness. I also sub in light cream for milk - this gives the texture a lush  mouth feel.Instead of the usual one to two tablespoons, I increase it to a glug of it, maybe four or five tablespoons, Doing such gives it the malleability and smoothness s needed for icing it across a cake's surface.

Never be afraid to tinker with a recipe. The end result is usually  delicious, flavor filled dish. Doctor it up. It's a cure for avoiding a dull recipe.