Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Yummy Little Cakes

We see them all over. they're waiting for us in their high caloric goodness, almost ready to pounce from our 7-11's and Krausers' counters. What are they ? Those yummy little snack cakes that are both comfort food and energy booster. Other countries probably have them as well. I can't imagine the English not having something cakey to sink their teeth into around 2 or 3 PM.

Hostess is probably one of the oldest snack cake manufacturers world wide. It started in the 1920's a division of Continental Bakery . For decades their chocolate cupcakes with the white icing squiggle and their Twinkies have been everything from dessert to breakfast. Mostly they make a good after school snack and a good pick me up at work. (granted they're not as glamorous as the Italian version tiramisu) but they do the job. Hostess also has good banana ands carrot cakes as well.

Here we have the Little Debbies and Drake's cake to satisfy our sweet teeth even more. Little Debbies' has that great Southern treat, the moon pie. This is a gooey mix of marshmallow fluff layered on a giant cookie or cake and then drenched in chocolate coating. It's usually drunk with Coke or cherry wine. (not really wine but a super sweet soda made in the Carolinas). Drake's has got some goodies of their own. Their Yankee Doodle cupcakes are actually of bakery quality.They're just a plain cream filled cake with no icing and no gimmick. The Drakes yodels, a variation of the classic Swiss Roll is another childhood treat I've brought with me to adulthood.

Let's jhear ot from you foodies out there.What's you favorite snack cake and when do you like to eat it? Also what do you drink with it? Coffee tea, or Coke? Let me know here at Foodie Pantry

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pizza The Old Fashioned Way

Mention pizza and images of bubbling hot mozzarella cheese come into mind. Yet the original or old fashioned pizza does not have this topping. In fact most southern Italian homes make theirs with out cheese. this is a recipe started by many ad handed down for generations.

Every one's usual concept of this Neapolitan treat is a large , flat circular pie covered with cheese with a thin layer of tomato sauce underneath.Yes, that's true in some cases but in some homes as well a s as in restaurants old fashioned pizza is made with a two inch bread topped with a thick , savory layer of tomatoes onions, olive oil and oregano baked until the crust is lightly brown. This squares are usually five by five or four by four inches. Sometimes olives are added for more flavor. The slices could also be served with a sprinkling of hot pepper and Parmesan for added kick. Usually the best way is piping hot form the oven with just the tomato sauce on it.

There is a phenomenal restaurant near me called Trattoria Napoli ( I reviewed them when I was s till a part time critic for The NY Times) . The owner and chef, John makes a mean old fashioned that has a chewy, bready middle layered with a vibrant tomato sauce . He mixes tomato chunks along with tomato paste and huge bits of onion to create a slice that's still delicious but not overwhelming in its' flavor. The old fashioned has scores of fans (including John's wife, Connie) and it's probably destined for a throw down with Bobby Flay sometime soon. Anyone can make their own old fashioned using a brownie tin, for baking, a thicker dough and a good half home made and half store bought sauce

An old fashioned pizza is the way to go. never mind with this honey crusted,new toppings on them. Stick with this one for flavor and texture . It's the perfect pizza.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flowering Fruit

There’s a new trend right now with fruit. Baskets. Gone are the traditional towers full of apples, pears and oranges. In their stead are new fruit “bouquets’, strawberries, pineapples and apples cut to look like daisies and roses. It’s an interesting idea and let’s face it a real money maker too. A bouquet can cost as much as three hundred dollars. That’s quadruple of what you would pay for a bouquet of actual flowers. The good news is that you can recreate these at home.

It doesn’t take brains to turn a pineapple slice into a daisy. It just involves a good knife (preferably one of Cutco quality) and some chocolate for dipping the petals into. As far as making strawberry rosebuds,, again a no brainer. Make two diagonal slits around the bottom of the strawberry so that it looks like a tight bud, then insert a toothpick where the hull is. These are also easy to dip and you can dip them into white chocolate dyed pink for added beauty. If you want you can also put in fresh picked mint leaves (if you have them growing in your garden) for bouquet greenery.

Fruit bouquets are actually easy to make if you have the time and creativity. There a new spin on the old fruit basket idea. It’s a fresh way to celebrate or comfort a person however you can make the bouquet yourself for only a few dollars.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fish Foodie

Now that Lent is here and there's no meat on Friday , it's time to turn to seafood. To be honest I could never really understand why the Church didn't ban fish as well, After all they, like cows, sheeps, pigs and chickens are living things, with hearts, blood and brains. Yet they're the only acceptable meat on Friday for the next few short weeks.

Tuna fish is the fish of choice for most of us observing. It's less expensive than the other fish and goes well either in a salad or just plain with bread. My favorite is eating the oil soaked tuna with a good loaf of Italian bread. The bread's porousness absorbs the oil, leaving the meat fleshy and firm. It's also a wonderful taste. reminding me of a lunch in Cannes or Nice. Bumblebee has some new flavored tunas. I love their lemon pepper which is good over spring greens and veggies. I usually add a vinaigrette or Italian dressing over this for a low cal feast. There are also flavors such as sun dried tomato and basil along with spicy Thai chili. Any tuna is good in a mixed green salad and it's makes for a refreshing lunch or dinner.

If you're fishing around for something heartier there's always fish and chips. The problem with them in this country is they have to be done right. If the batter is too thin, soggy or oily then it leaves for a bad experience. The fish should be plaice or cod,. dipped in beer batter that can hold its' own against heavy frying. The end result should be a crisp exterior with a light flaky meat inside. Accompanying them should not be wimpy fries but wedges of potatoes that can stand up to malt vinegar and a good sprinkling of sea salt. Of course for people who still have their jobs and money, there's always lobster and shrimp. Even for those on a budget there the American classic chain restaurant, Red Lobster. Here you not only can get a decent treat but also have a salad plus the chain's famous cheddar biscuits thrown in too.

There are plenty of seafood alternatives if you're observing the no meat rule on Lenten Fridays. You can make something as simple as a tossed salad with tuna or go out for lobster and shrimp.The choices as varied and each are as tasty as a regular steak or chicken dinner.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mona Lisa Bakery I Adore You

There is a new bakery not too far from me in the quaint town of Little Ferry, New Jersey. It's called the Mona Lisa and it has a variety of good pastries and cookies as well as cakes and Perugina chocolates. It's a new bakery yet it feels like it's been in the neighborhood forever.

The Mona Lisa 's owners are from Calabria Italy, in the southern part of the boot. This is a region that's known for its' variety of different dishes and cream filled pastries . The Mona Lisa offers the latter,a rich cornucopia of nocciola (hazelnut and chocolate) and delicately flavored whipped cream puffs and sfinge, clam shelled shaped mille fleurs . I love their St. Joseph's Day pastries a rich ricotta and sugar mix stuffed into a lighter than air cream puff. The cream is heavenly, studded with a generous amount of chocolate chips and orange flavoring.

The Mona Lisa has excellent cookies (which my students love. I bring in a box to my night classes ) and it's no wonder. The cookies have a real butter taste unlike some bakeries that use lard or margarine. the ingredients weather they be fruit, nuts or chocolate are tasty too , topped with a generous amount of chocolate sprinkles as well as being baked into cute Easter themed shapes such as bunny faces and bodies.

If you're in my neck of the woods, visit the quaint and historic Hackensack River town of Little Ferry. It has one of the best Italian bakeries in the area there. Visit the Mona Lisa and fall in love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Appetizing Appetizers

How do you start off a meal? Serve appetizers to whet the appetite as well as to quell any hunger pains. What's great about them is that you can make them as simple or as elaborate as the occasion calls for. Sometimes all it requires is just fancy cheese on crackers , sometimes it's more complicated and involves ingredients used in making a meal. Either way you can be creative and have fun with them.

Appetizers have been around since Roman and Greek times. The ancient Athenians loved to have them served in a buffet where everyone could taste and sample delicacies and favorites. Today's restaurants offer this wide range. You can choose everything from jalapeno poppers to shrimp kabobs along with today's most popular , bruschetta. Restaurants can make any appetizer in large quantities and they are easy to serve. If you're having a large party or affair then ask your caterer to create your favorite restaurant appetizers. After all no one can make 300 bruschetta , fried zucchini or deviled eggs in their kitchen. Let the professionals do the big quantities.

If you're having a small , cozy party then think about just having an appetizer bar. This cuts out the time and hassle of having full courses and lets you have more time with your guests. You can create platters of mini quesadillas and tacos for a Mexican themed one. Tartlets, whether they be filled with Gruyere cheese, spinach or shredded chicken and turkey are also good starters. I love mini quiches in a variety of flavors. These are not only fun to eat but also go well with a host of wines and champagnes. Bruschetta is another favorite of mine but I prefer a vegetable one that also has minced artichoke hearts, cauliflower and broccoli in it. Serve this on slightly oiled and toasted Italian bread and it's a superb hors d' ouevre. You can also add salami to give it more oomph if it's the only appetizer being served.

Appetizers are a fun way to start any meal whether it be in your favorite restaurant or at home. Enjoy them. They make any party more fun and are a great introduction to a good meal.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Langues du Chat- Le Chat's Meow

There is a phenomenal French cookie, known as the langue du chat or cat's tongue. It's a buttery crisp in the shape of a feline's tongue and is a wonderment to our own tongues. This a cookie that goes equally well at a party or an elegant tea. They're also good for an indulgent snack.

Langue du chat got their start in 17th Century Europe. They were also big in Italy where they're known as lingua du gatti and Germany where they're known as katzenzungen. The last is also made into melt in your mouth milk chocolate candy wafers. They are very thin cookies, resembling more of a wafer. Langue du chats have rounded edges and skinny middles , resembling - what else - kitties' tongues. The shape is made by squeezing the dough out of a pastry tube with a blob of dough at one end, followed by a streak and then another blob. The trick to making cat's tongues is to be stingy when putting them on the cookie sheet. Too large and they'll look like lady fingers. Too small and they burn quickly. These cookies only take six minutes to bake up.

If you haven't experienced this treat yet, now is the time. I'm including a recipe I found on a z French studies site from Mississippi State University , Splendors of Versailles http://splendors-versailles.org/Activities/2.html. However you can also log on to www.latulipedesserts where they're $11.50 for a package. Either way you will enjoy them.

Langue du chats recipe

Langue Du Chat (Cat's Tongues)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract, or lemon rind
3/4 cup flour
Cream together 1/2 cup butter with 1/2 cup white sugar.
Add 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract, or lemon rind.
Beat in 3/4 cup flour into mixture.
Drop cookies onto a greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375%F for about 6 minutes.
These delicate buttery cookies will have slightly browned edges.

Note: Please use real butter for this and not margerine. Make these the way the French do for a more delicate and authentic taste.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On Target

.It's no secret that I love Target and everything about the store. Let's face it it , the place has cool, designer clothing and neat stuff for the home and yard. I adore the soaps and som eof the cosmetics from there. Yet it's the food that's really something. You can buy national brands such as Pepperidge Farm and Wise there but you can also get Archer Farms and Market Pantry Target's in house brands.

I love Archer Farms 100 calorie packs of cookies. The flavors are so decadent , like the espresso flavor, that i forget that they're meant for dieting. There's a richness in those little rounds that other brands don't have. I also am a big fan of the Chai Petite tea cookies which taste like buttery pfefferneusse. Archer Farms also makes spritzes, buttery, ridged cookies in intriguing flavors like lime and raspberry. Another good product from this division is their Italian sodas which come in deeply intense flavors like blood orange and pomegranate.

Target's Market Pantry has some good stuff as well such as their staples like breads and soups. I also live the market Pantry popcorn.It's much better than any of the national brands and doesn't have that metallic taste some microwave popcorn's do. There's a whole grained version which I 've just bought. This should be interesting and I'm wondering if the flavor is different from regular popcorn too.

The next time you hit your local (or favorite) Target, head over to their food sections. they have so many different in house products. Soon enough you'll realize that this is not only a shopper's paradise but a foodie's one as well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saffron The Delicate Spice

Nothing gives flavor, substance and color like saffron. It's the most delicate of all the spices yet it can transform simple dishes into gourmet treats. Even though it is one of the most expensive flavorings, the price is well worth it. Its' mellow taste and golden color is worth a million bucks and really, no other spice is comparable to it.

Saffron 's history starts off 3,500 years ago. Cooks first noticed that crocuses produced stigmas coated in a flavorful pollen. It was a staple in many Bronze Age Greek dishes as well as being a dye and a medicine during that time It was so populat that even. Ovid mentioned it in his Metamorphosis. Other ancient cultures used it in their cooking and for therapy as well. Saffron became the gold of spices during the Middle Ages and was also thought of as such, centuries later, in the American colonies. Even the Pennsylvania Dutch had an offshoot sect where the worshippers put saffron on a pedestal, using it in many trout, cake, chicken and noodle dishes.

The best known saffron recipe today is risotto Milanese. This is where alborio rice is cooked with onion and chicken stock. A generous amount of saffron threads and butter are later added to produce the most heavenly dish on earth. I love this form of risot (as we call it). Actually it tastes better reheated with more butter. There's something in the reheating that brings out the true flavor of this spice. Saffron can be used in other rice dishes such as paella. The English were famous for making saffron buns which are a nice treat if you're having a formal tea. You can add it to any chicken or fish dish for flavor and color.

The one spice to add to your spice rack is saffron. Never be without it. It adds to so many different dishes, transforming ordinary dishes into gourmet fare. it is just pure magic!!!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Where Do Sporks Come From?

Ever wonder how your common utensils came to be? That was the question that was brought up by my brother over lunch today . Since I sometimes write about the history of food, why had I never written about the history of utensils, he had wondered. Where did forks, knives spoons and even that modern invention , the spork come from.

The spoon is the earliest invention. It's name drives from the Anglo Saxon spon meaning chip or splinter. It gives you an idea that the earliest ones were taken from tree bark and somehow fashioned into scoops. The Romans had two kinds of spoons, one a cochleare for eggs and shell fish, the other,a ligula for soups and sweets. Forks were a bit trickier to sell to the public. People were using their fingers just fine and thought that any imitation of body was an insult to the Creator. After all we had been made in His Image. Despite the fact that the clergy deemed forks scandalous , they prevailed and were often seen at the end of dinner knives. The spork , the marriage of fork and spoon, came in 1909 in a supply catalog.It wasn't until KFC used it in their meals in the 1970's when it really gained popularity.

Luckily knives were seen as blessings, used for both killing one's dinner and cutting it up into pieces. It was Louis XIV that decreed that all sharp knives be outlawed from the dinner table and the birth of the butter knife came into being. The American colonists loved this idea and quickly incorporated it into their table ware. Of course with the birth of the steak house , sharp knives were seen at tables once more.

So that's where our basic utensils came from. To be honest you never really think of them as being nothing more than a utensil as opposed to being an object of history. Now it's fascinating to know who used the earlier versions of them and where.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Celebration Of Treats For Saint Joseph's Day

After St. Patrick's Day comes St Joseph's Day. This is also Father's Day in Italy and it's celebrated with gifts and pastries. Here in the States, Italian Americans still celebrate with special cakes and cream puffs usually for men named Joseph or even for carpenters (St Joseph was also the patron saint of this profession). Mostly it is the Southern Italians who observe the feast.

St Joseph's Day pastries are usually cream filled zeppoli. Anyone who has ever attended an Italian feast should be familiar with them. These are pillows of dough fried in deep fat and then heavily dusted with confectioner's sugar. ForSt. Joseph's Day any kind of pudding or sweet cream is injected into them and served. You can also make cream puffs and fill them with cannoli cream. This is a simple mixture of ricotta and confectioner's sugar along with milk, chocolate chips, sugar and cornstarch. Of course you can make a filling from lemon pudding or a vanilla one flavored with rum as well. These are also popular for St. Joseph's Day and are served on both here and in Italy.

Celebrate this great saint's day with zeppolis or cream puffs. these sweet treats not only honor the man who took care of Jesus but also honor his loyalty and dedication.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

To Eat Meat On Lenten Wednesdays

During these Lenten Wednesdays some people are forgoing even eating meat. Is it part of the church tradition or rule? Is it possible to ignore this and just omit meat from our Friday diets?

Yes, any Catholic can eat meat today. It's The Greek Orthodox who usually give up meat on both Wednesdays and Fridays. We're OK with this unless it happens to be Ash Wednesday. However if you want to give up meat entirely and adapt a vegan diet for Lent , that's your choosing. The Greek Orthodoxy usually declares its' members to also give up any dairy products , from milk to butter along with eggs during Lent. Karpathian friends of mine usually adhere to a very Spartan (no pun intended here) diet in which they exist on vegetable broth, fresh produce and tea. It's part of the culture and tradition and leaves room for the big lamb centered feast on their Easter.

Don't feel guilty if you're eating that roast beef sandwich right about now. Go ahead. It's allowed. Just remember not to eat it on Friday. That's the day reserved for fish.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Raise A Pint Of Guinness

Today is St Patrick's Day and the world over is hoisting a glass of stout this amazing saint and his amazing life. What will everyone be drinking? Hopefully Guinness , that wonderful brew that's more of a meal than a thirst quencher.

Guinness is one of the world's oldest breweries. It was started by Sir Arthur Guinness in 1759 in County Kildare, in a village known as Leixlip. It later moved to Dublin where it's been brewing a dry stout ever since. Stout itself has been around longer than that, first making its' appearance in the 1670' in Ireland. Irish immigrant brought it over and Guiness is now a staple of many American St paddy's Day celebration.

However you like it, don't over do it. Remember you still have to drive home and work tomorrow. Enjoy your pint of the dark stuff but in moderation.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Getting ReadyFor St Patrick's Day

Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day and it's the day when most people get their yearly dosage of corned beef and cabbage. Yet Irish cuisine is much more than that. There are some phenomenal potato and turnip recipes along with interesting combinations that celebrate Ireland's love of both the land and of the sea.

You should already have your cabbages. What to do with them? Make a buttery dish of colcannon, a mix of mashed potatoes with cabbage and kale. Fry this up in butter and sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Some Irish add bacon (usually the streaky kind ) along with garlic and onions to give it more oomph. Serve this with lamb or mutton, which are traditional meats. You can get the ingredients tonight for a hearty lamb stew for tomorrow's party. Seafood has been popular since the Vikings ruled the island and the Irish love a good oyster stew too. Buy your seafood this evening and get it shelled for tomorrow.

If you're going to go a more Irish American route then you should be starting to bake your soda bread tonight. Remember this is made with buttermilk instead of regular milk . It also is made with currents and raisins so if you want more authentic , then make sure you have the correct ingredients. Bake two breads because everyone loves a fresh slice of the stuff for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the festivities but get ready for them today. You'll have more time to down that Guinness and enjoy whatever Gaelic treats you decide to make.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pretzels - A Lenten Treat

It's hard to associate the fun party snack pretzels with Lent. However this is true. Thanks to a clever monk and some leftover dough, the world's greatest snack was born. It's amazing that we have such a serious time to thank for such a festive little treat.

The pretzel was born in the early 7th Century around 619 or 620 AD, either in Northern Italy or southern France. It was an ambitious monk who folded strips of leftover, unleavened bread and baked them in the crossed shape. This was to mimic how Christians used to pay with their arms folded against their chests. He named the treat pretiola, the Latin word meaning "little reward". Their popularity soon caught on and were mentioned in the early tomes of the days. Pretzels then became the symbol of good luck and long life. The were and still are a big hit in Germany where they accompany endless steins of beer.

They reached America with the Pilgrims who sold them to the Indians. Once again they became addictive with the indigenous people clamoring for more. The first hard pretzel came out of the New World.it was in the late 17th Century , in Pennsylvania when a baker fell asleep on the job. He had thought he hadn't baked his batch when in reality he did. The baker fired up the oven a second time and the pretzels got their crispy brown look we know them for nowadays. Today pretzels are a great low calorie snack served at parties or even for a night of watching TV. Imagine how their creator would feel seeing the variety of shapes and flavors the humble pretzel now comes in.

Lent is a time for seriousness and fasting. However it's also the time to celebrate its' creation, the pretzel.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lent Rules

This is the season of Lent where some Catholics give up their favorite foods as well as not eating meat on Fridays.This practice actually goes back to the Middle Ages when meat was scarce and people had to find a way of stretching food. As the centuries progressed giving up foods became a standard for the season. Lent ends with Easter, a time when there are spring banquets and parties.

Since Lent (which is derived from the German word lenct meaning to fast) is really a time of fasting, many people go on a kind of mini fast, that is giving up some food that they really love. Most skip cake and bread for forty days. Others forgo candy . It's a good way to lose weight however once the period ends, there's usually a feeding frenzy at the local bakery or in some poor unsuspecting kid's Easter basket. Myself, I usually give up intolerance or impatience which make for very high blood pressure until Easter morning

Another dictate that some Catholics (including myself) adhere to is not eating meat on Fridays (some like the Greek Orthodox also eschew meat on Wednesdays too). These are the days when we become reacquainted with Manhattan clam chowder and fish sticks. It's not as drastic as giving up a favorite cookie or snack. It's a way of showing respect to the Church. Years ago we were not allowed to eat meat on any Friday throughout the year. However in the last almost fifty years the Vatican has more or less relaxed the rule s and we can eat meat on this day.

Lent means a lot of thing to a lot of people. For most it's soul searching and looking to do good for one's fellow man and community. For others it's just giving up something they love. For foodies it;'s giving up a slice of Italian bread or a pastry until Easter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Food Fights

Last night I watch NBC's latest reality show, Chopping Block,followed by the Food Channel's Throwdown With Bobby Flay. Both were entertaining but , really, cooking is an art not a competition between chefs or even ordinary people. Since when did cooks have to become gladiators with whisk? What's happened to the simple cooking show where it was part entertainment , part education?

I tried to get into Chopping Block, thinking it was like a foodista's version of Project Runway except the contestants were just vicious and some were just plain incompetent. It did not make for must see TV. it showed people at their worst which made them produce lousy main courses and desserts. This bloodsport may appeal to some , not to myself. Maybe that's the reason I was never too keen on Gordon Ramsay's show. Cooking is science requiring skill and patience along with creativity. It doesn't need the added pressure of bullying.

Thenthere's the Bobby Flay show. In it he dupes restaurant owners and plain folk alike into challenges. the worst part is that he tries to out do them and then persuade their friends and family into liking his version? Whatever happened to just visiting them and getting hints and tips. Why can't he be like Guy Fienga and extol even the greasiest spoon? It's horrible seeing the cooks' faces fall after their near and dear go mad for one of Flay's creations. Then when the food crtitics are brought in, it gets' even worse.

Leave the food fights to our school's cafeterias.Don't turn cooking into a bloodsport. let's leave that for everyday life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

White House Dictate Eat Your Veggies!!!

Once again Michelle Obama has set another trend. This time it's regarding fresh fruit and veggies. She wants all Americans, from the poorest to the richest to enjoy the bounty of America's' farms and fields. She's right. We need more fresh organic fruit and vegetables in our diets. It's the unhealthy canned stuff that plays havoc with our weight , and blood pressure. We should follow our First Lady 's example and incorporate healthier recipes in our daily lives.

The first place to begin are the farmer's markets. Even though this is only March, there should be a listing of local ones on the internet. I imagine in some warmer weather areas they're already starting up. For those around the New York City area, we'll have to wait for another month. (Most start up again in mid to late April or early May). If not, then check your grocery's fresh fruit and veggie section. There are a few greens featured right now that would go well steamed or even raw in salads. Consider introducing your kids to the more exotic veggies like kale and broccoli rape.Also don't discount making healthy pasta sauces, mixing tomatoes, and onions with olive oil over spelt pasta.Homemade vegetable soups, using your own veggie stock are also a good way of making sure your family receives the vitamins and nutrients that they need.

Fresh fruit is easier to sell to your family than veggies. Everyone loves munching on a banana or strawberries. Incorporate more fruits , especially during the summer months when everyone is more acitve. . Think about bringing watermelon chunks or grapes to the beach as opposed to chips and candy. Make ice cream less sundaes using various fruits like raspberries a sprtiz of chocolate syrup and low calorie whipped cream. Another good way to bring more fruit into your diet is make ades. Everyone loves an old fashioned lemon, limem or even an orange ade. These have less calories , chemicals and sugars than any drink out there and are much healthier for your family.

Michelle Obama has set a good trend by promoting organic fruits and vegetables. Follow her lead to give your family what they deserve -a healthier lifestyle. Enjoy what America has to offer in her bounty.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On The Border A Mexican Treat

One of my favorite chain restaurants is On The Border, a salute to south of the border kitsch.Yes, there are sombreros and the ubiquitous adobe tiles. There's piped in mariachi music and the usual cadre of cheery waitstaff. However unlike some chains, the food is phenomenal with a wide variety of flavors and dishes for everyone and every taste.

The one thing I like about On The Border is their build a burrito. This is kind of like the build a bear concept except you had yummy ingredients instead of fluffy stuffing. The healthiest choice is the one with the sauteed veggies and guacamole. it also helps if you choose the grilled way of cooking it too. Of course, you can get the chicken and beef, and load it up with sour cream and stuff. Mostly everything is relatively healthy at On The Border. There are some good fajitas that come with a large plate of meat and grilled veggies. there are also fish tacos for those who want to eat an even healthier meal. Every dish has a side of rice and beans which are a lot better for you than fries and onion rings. On The Border also has a quick and easy take out system.

I have yet to try On The Border's desserts. They all look decadent with a Mexican twist especially the Kahlua ice cream cake or the dulce de leche cheesecake. Another item I have yet to try is their drinks, sticking with their mugs of soda or strawberry lemonade.

If you're looking for an affordable and fun chain restaurant, look no further than On The Border. yes, it's full of hokey Mexican kitsch but it's also full of good dishes at good prices.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In A Stew

March's blustery weather calls for some heasrty meals. A simple dish of stew meets this.It's not only warm and filling but easy to make. Another plus is you can use frozen veggies as well as leftovers to create it. Add some dumplings and you're ready to go.

Stew has been around for millennia. The earliest man (and probably woman) made some kind of dish using foraged roots, leftover meats and water. When pottery was invented, it became easier to make stews and store them. They were first metnioned in Apicius' writings as early as the First Century BCE. In the 1300's the French chef Tallevent put a stew recipe in one of the earliest cookbooks. The famed Irish stew, more of a lamb and mutton stew, was mentioned by Lord Byron in 1814.

Today's stews are just as ingenious and far more tastier than the earlier ones. Use a crock pot to cook yours. It can be left simmering all day while you do other things. You'll have a nice slow cooked meal when it's time to eat. Remember you don't have to use lamb or beef. Chicken and turkey stews are just as good. Pork is another good meat to use because it imparts a rich flavor to the broth ands vegetables too. As for the veggies and spices you can get creative here. You can add any kind of bean , from butter to pinto, as well as peppers or corn if you don' t like the traditionally used cabbage or potatoes. Spices are also important as is a cup or two of red wine. If your family likes a more chili like concoction then add powdered chili and cayenne powders. If you desire a more sophisticated one, then add red wine for the Gallic bouef bourguiognon. Add dumplings the way my great granny Roberts did. Her slicker dumplings always complemented her stews and made them even more heartier.

If the chill and dampness of early March is getting to you, then combat it with a nice warm stew. This is the perfect dinner after a stressful day and rainy , cold ride home. You'll warm up just by thinking about it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sicilian Cooking - A Melange Of Influences

Sicily is not like other Italian provinces. this island , closer to Africa, than to Europe, has been influenced by a cornucopia of different cultures. there were the Arabs, the Spaniards, the North Africans, the Greeks the Germans and then the Italians themselves. All left a part of their cuisine which was reinterpreted by the natives to create a unique culinary tradition.

Thanks to its' location in the sunny Mediterranean, Sicily has had a wealth of tropical fruit for millennia. The Arabs first brought over oranges between the 9th and 11th Centuries. The most famous are the blood oranges that have a deep red pulp. There are also varieties of lemons and limes also from the Arab invasions. These come in variants where the taste may be sweeter or more bitter or shapes such as the bell shaped lemons. The Sicilians love citrus so much that In fact, of their lunch treats, arancia, are fried rice balls shaped to look like oranges.

While the Arabs brought succulent citrus to the Sicilian island, the Greeks gave it their love of olives, fresh veggies, broad beans and fish. This is evident on the easternmost shores, namely in Catania where early sailors and settlers lived. The Italian influence is much seen in the Sicilian passion for eggplant and peppers, either made with sauce or stuffed. Dishes also include tuna , bream and cuttlefish from local waters. Some are served with couscous, a nod to the connection with Algeria and Libya.

Sicilian desserts are amazing They have cannoli, fried pastry tubes filled with ricotta cream and chocolate chips but there is also frutta martorano, marzipan sweets molded and dyed to look like the real fruit slices and wedges. Another dessert specialty is cassata sicliliana, a layered dessert consisting of cream and marzipan on a base of liqueur soaked sponge cake. Granita is another well known dessert, commonly eaten for breakfast in the summer. It's a coarser version of Italian ice and usually has the added ingredient of cream. It can also be made without it for a more low cal version (popular in Manhattan).

Sicilian cuisine truly reflects its' history. It has taken from the Arabs, Greeks, North Africans and Italians. It adds its' own spin and makes the dishes and cuisine its' own. It truly is a culinary wonder.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Versatile Cabbage

This is the month where cabbage affectionados will be going wild. St. Paddy's Day is coming and the veggie will be presented a variety of ways. The thing is that cabbage shouldn't be reserved for Ireland's big day. its's a good enough vegetable to be eaten all year round.

The cabbage is part of the Brassacae family ( the same family that give you Brussels Sprouts) and is a cousin to the turnip.The name derives from the Norman Picard word for swollen head, caboche . it was eaten in Europe for centuries , long before two other staples, potaotes and tomatoes, came imported from the New World. It is one of the best sources of Vitamin C in the winter months (probably why it was a staple in so many homes ).

What todo with cabbage. Most European cultures stuff it. My Piedmontese relatives make pas coi, (loosely transplated "not fish"' in dialect) This is where you take the leaves , them with uncooked polenta and then fry, The rolls are then married in a pickling of salvia and vinegar in the fridge overnight. My Swabian German cousins make the ubiquitous sauerkraut with them. You can do this but you can also make a raw cabbage salad with carrots and sweet vinaigrette dressing. Cabbage is also good in soup and there's even the cabbage soup diet where the soup is one of the main things you eat.

Don't save cabbage just for St Paddy's Day. have it al lyear round in soups or stuffed or even as a tangy salad. Use this versatile vegetable as often as you like.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spice Cakes - Fiery Little treats

I recently visited one of my favorite bakeries here in North Jersey, the B&W in Hackensack and bought my favorite cake.It's a spice cake with chocolate icing. This has been a popular treat with my German relatives for decades. It has a little more excitement than a cupcake, but not the full on spiciness of a gingerbread square.

Spice cakes started in England around the 1100's, Popular and easy to make they were a hot item at the fairs. especially the Saint Bartholomew's Day one. The Germans had something simliar, but eventually redisgned it so the cake became the cookie or lebkuchen. Why my German ancestors loved the cake form I don't know . Perhaps they first had it here and made it part of a family traditon. Perhaps it was similar to a type of ginger cak baked in their native Swabia and Bavaria. It's always been a family favorite whether it was bought or made.

You can make your own spice cakes if your bakery doesnt bake them. Take a package of any gingerbread mix , add a sparse amount of raisins and bake in cupcake papers.You can leave them plain or dust with powdered sugar.The B& W ices them with a fine chocolate glaze that offsets the rich, spicy taste of anise , ginger cardomin and clove. You can also leave them plain and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. the best way is with coffee or tea and usually as an afternoon snack.

Spice cakes are a wonderful treat. They have an old world richness and feel , different from the mass produced American snack cakes. Buy or bake them to enjoy their flavor.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Marzipan, A New Take On An Old Treat

Marzipan is a candy worth revisiting. It's usually seen during Christmas and Easter in the shape of seasonal objects. Even though it''s tasty it's not a readily accepted sweet. Yet one taste of its' creamy sweet almondine flavor and you're hooked.

Marchepane or marzipan, amix of rose water and bitter almond paste, has it's orgins and meanings from different countires. It was first eaten by the ancent Persians and the Arabs. later it was brought to Spain by them and toItaly by Turkish traders. The Germans and Hugarians also lay claim to being it's orginators. Where ever it came from, it's was a treat, especially during Christmas and medeival weddings. Some European wedding cakes today have a marzipan icing .

You can by it already dyed and shaped, mostly at Italian bakeries in the US. You can also buy logs of it and mold and color your own shapes. Marizpan is a nice accompaniment to Easter candy and you can shape in the form of Easter lilies or any Spring flower. You can also create wonderful Easter eggs with it, by using dyes and nonparels.

Mais a wonderful treat. If you haven;t had it already go out and try some. It's not like today's overly sweet candy that hits you with a flavor burst. It has a subtle charm that steals your heart.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mini Mes

These days everything seems to have shrunken, including our food.From muffins to cookies, our favorite things have gone down in size. Are they any good? As my mom always says all good things come in small packages, and that includes foods.

Anything mini is good from planning on a small meal for yourself or throwing a large affair. I recently bought a bag of sixteen mini croissants and found that they could be used a small sandwiches along side of a salad or as hot rolls accompanying a soup.Small muffins are great to make and serve You can make double the batch amount of the larger kind and also make them in a variety of tastes. .You can also try your hand at making them in different flavors from the traditional blueberry to something funkier like a cranberry granola or a n orange wheat germ.They're perfect at brunches where they cna accompany omlets and stratas along with bacon and eggs.

Minis aren't just relegated to baked goods. There are baby veggies such as asparagus and corn that look wonderful accompanying a chicken quarter or even a Cornish hen. Brussels sprouts, although not really miniatures themselves , are perfect little cabbages and can ring a nice slice of ham or turkey. Grape tomatoes, a hybrid, created for their small size is perfect in a salad or even grilled onto kabobs.The last you surely can't do with with regular tomatoes(although you can't make sauce with grape tomatoes.Too much acid and also the taste will disappear when cooking).

Mini foods are great. They're easier to eat than their bigger versions as well as being more versatile. Try some today whether they be croissants, muffins or veggies with your dinner,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Food For A Snowy Day

Here in my part of North Jersey, we're covered under five inches of snow. I don't know about you but to me that means hearty eating.It also means a day of heavy snow shoveling which translates into intense exercise. What do you eat on a day like today?

Comfort foods! And not just any comfort foods. Stick to your ribs foods that will see you through long hours of driveway and walk shoveling or sleigh riding. It's a good day to break out the pasta and make some carbs for yourself and your loved ones. My favorite is pasta con burro ; spaghetti served with a simple sauce of just butter and garlic. It is easy to make a crowd pleaser in a house with kids. You could also make pasta with sauce (if you have too much work , just use a jar or a mix of tomato paste and plum tomatoes).Serve with garlic bread . Grilled cheese is another snowy day dinner. If you have tomatoes, ham and bacon around, add those to create a heartier meal. Also don't just use cheddar. If all you have is Swiss then use it for a variation of the French croque monsieur.

Soup is another cold weather pleaser. I've just discovered V-8's ( in conjunction with Campbell's) soups. These are fresh tasting, and relatively low sodium veggie soups. The butternut squash is my new soup favorite but there's also the tastes like it's just been picked broccoli and the tangy red pepper. Unlike other more watery soups,. they're thick and satisfying.These new V-8 soups have been my go to lunch and supper when I've been to busy to cook. Just heat up a box (yes a box) and then serve. For larger families use two boxes. I love my soups with a crusty roll and butter.

If you;re experiencing the Blizzard of 2009, (or just bad weather) load up on some rib sticking foods.These will get you through those hours of scraping ice, shoveling snow or just getting the kids out of their snow suits. .

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Return Of The Foodie

Even though this is Sunday night I just wanted to tell everyone I'm back after a slight computer glitch (all , right it was a big computer glitch as in I had to get a new one).

Tomorrow will be business as usual. Sorry this happened.