Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Foodies Liked About 2009

Yesterday's Dining section of the NY Times mentioned some great dishes that NYC restaurants produced throughout the end of 2008 and most of this year - 2009. I'd like to add my own spin on that by mentioning a few of my my favorite foodies hangouts and stuff that caught my eye - and palate this past year.

Brooklyn has become a big hangout for Manhattan foodies in recent years. It's no wonder that its' duck meat loaf from the famed borough restaurant Buttermilk Channel has made the NY Times top ten. This is a dense, concoction of ground duck meat, panko bread crumbs, raisins and onions. Vietnamese cuisine is big in New York, and at it;s best right now. The classic banh mi from Baoguette is another rave, This is a combo of pork belly , pate along with daikon on a famed Tom Cat Bakery baguette. Oyster pan roast from the John Dory, one of NYC's hottest seafood restaurants and the prime Manhattan from Prime restaurant also made it. the city's hottest pizzeria CO and their heavenly and hearty meatball pizza was given a shout out too.
Desserts also made the list . Locanda Verde's maple budino was mentioned. This is a custardthat is redolent of maple syrup and egg yolks.

Le me add some of my own here. Since I'm a Jersey girl ,my big discovery was a small out of the way diner by Jersey City's Liberty State Park.It is called the Liberty Cafe. On the outskirts of my state's largest city, this was like a place down the Jersey shore. I it was near the lower bay, almost ont he water front and quiet. a variety of dishes. Their Manhattan clam chowder was the best - spicy,thick, more on the same page a s a Portuguese cioppino. I also discovered McLoone's in Long Branch thanks to a summer lunch with a friend. This was a great place to relax and watch the ocean below. The Italian wedding soup was superb and just the right size. I plan on heading back several times int e new Year. Another new found fave - was the Monna Lisa bakery in the Hackensack River town of Little Ferry. This was Italian baking at its' best and most of my Lent and Easter was spent here. The pastries were not soaked in rum or heavy cream. They were light and spongy with only puffs of whipped cream on them.

So here it is, some the Times best and my own from the year past. I hope to see more restaurants opening in this spanking new year (and decade) of ours.Times may be bad but we still gotta eat. I hope a lot of restaurateurs realize that.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jerk A Holiday Dish All Winter Long

Any kind of jerk is typically eaten during Kwanzaa. it's a symbol of some peoples Afro-Carib roots. However jerk meat whether chicken or pork is a good dish anytime during winter. It's a refreshing alternative to the traditional chill chasers like stews and roasts.

Jerk's origins came from either the Spanish word charqui which means dried or that the meat was poked or jerked with stick and the holes filled up with spices. Escaped slaves or Maroons created it probably as early as 1655 when they established a secluded inland colony on the isle of Jamaica. Jerk now means a meat that either has had a dry rub or has been marinaded in spices. Allspice is the chief spice in wet and dry jerks, but also garlic and onions are used for flavor. There is also a sweet element and that comes from added cane sugar. Ginger and Scotch bonnets, the hottest of all peppers are added into the meat for a blast of fire. The jerked meat is then cooked over an aromatic wood for an added smoky flavor.

What are the best meats for jerk? usually chicken and usually the whole bird. It's better to make it with the whole bird bathed in a spicy marinade for a few hours. Pork is another good option and even better are pork ribs although beef ribs are another good choice For these last two a dry jerk rub is probably the best way to go. Marinade may be to messy and also may be a bit more overpowering. YOu can also try a dry rub on any side or pork or even ham.

Jerk is the perfect way to celebrate Kwanzaa and a nod to the the brave people who created it. Yet it's also a good dish for a cold winter night. The spices will keep the chill away and leave you feeling warm - as if surrounded by the Caribbean.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A NY Holiday Tradition Rolf's

The reason for this entry being so late is that I just got back from nearby Manhattan after a lunch at Rolf's This is one of new York's finest German restaurant ,a throwback tot when the city was almost sixty per cent German. It serves hearty wursts and mashed potatoes along with fine and heavy cuts of meat. Best of all ti still maintains that festive holiday aura .

What;s most amazing about Rolf's is not its; menu but the way it's decorated. The restaurant is covered in decorated pine bough filled with ornaments such as balls, dolls, plastic icicles and ribbons. It's like wandering into a fairy land where elves should be serving and there is a sweet smell of gingerbread. Many tourists come here and the little restaurant is packed , full of families that seems to make a tradition of visiting. The decorations prove to be a perfect place for kids. There should almost be a Saint Nick that they can talk to.

Rolf's offers a variety of different German specialties. Our table had weisswurst or white sausage with spiced sauerkraut and gravy along with three amazingly large pancakes. i settled on the delicate apple crepe, a think pancake laden with apple chunks and cinnamon. I saw other diners get haxen, the traditional German shoulder cut. along with a variety of prime ribs. Beer flows freely here and we sampled some of the sweet weissebeer or white beer.

If you're in Manhattan visiting the tree or ringing int he New Year. then also head over to Rolf's. You'll be blown away by the fairy land atmosphere and good , hearty German food. eating here is the start of a new holiday tradition

281 Third Ave,
(212) 477-4750

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gumbo - A Kwanzaa Delight

Like any observation Kwanzaa also comes with traditions as well. One of the more popular dishes is gumbo, that blend of African and American tastes. It is also a perfect chill chaser for these cold days as well as a lovely way to celebrate African heritage. Anyone can make a gumbo from the novice to the pro. It's easy and what's best is that the ingredients can be varied.

Gumbo 's origin is entwined in both the West African and the Choctaw Indian. the make wither came form the Angolan or Bantu word for okra (ki)ngombo or Choctaw kimbo which means sassafras. This last is an important ingredient in the mix. Gumbo is at best a stew to be served over long grained rice. It;s main ingredients are okra, and the holy trinity of Creole and Cajun cooking, tomatoes, peppers and onions.The last was a contribution to Louisiana's Spanish settlers. Roux isadded sometimes to thicken the consistency. Creoles make a darker one while Cajun cooks prefer a lighter one.

Meats can varied, For Kwanzaa it's typical to have a spiced turkey gumbo. However you can sub in chicken if you want. A heartier one would be with the famed andouille sausages , popular in New Orleans. of course any real gumbo has seafood, mostly shrimp and crab meat. Oysters and mussels can be added as lobster. There is a vegetarian gumbo made with nine greens such as collard and turnip greens but this is more for Lent and Good Friday.

A rich , spicy gumbo is a good way to celebrate the harvest meaning of Kwanzaa. The harvests can come from the land or the sea and stand for the bounty of each. A huge pot of gumbo is also a great way of reaching out to family and friends during this special time .

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day and Kwanzaa Celebrating

Even though Christmas was yesterday it;s Boxing Day in England, Saint Stephens Day in Catholic Europe and Kwanzaa throughout the African American communities. Each as a different way for lengthening th e holiday and each is still filled with goodness.

Boxing Day is the time when the English upper and middle classes went visiting the poor with presents or boxes. Sometimes a fruit cake was added as were biscuits and maybe mince pies.St Stephens' Day is celebrated with turkey stew or pie in Ireland , In Italy it is the feast day of anyone named Stefano or Stefania and a special meal is made in their honor.

Another huge celebration throughout African American households is Kwanzaa. This is relatively new starting in the 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga . Dishes reflect more of the American South and the Caribbean. Traditional foods that are usually served are turkey gumbo, grilled chicken with citrus onions and beef and groundnut stew. Wine, juice or water is also served in a cup as well as fruits to represent a rich harvest.

The holidays are still with us, There are many to still celebrate and these include food. Enjoy them.

Today's entry is dedicated to Puff who 's now playing in the clouds with Bert and Bart.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Merry Christmas To All My Readers

Merry Christmas to all my readers throughout the world. May you have received your favorite gifts, food, wine or otherwise. Enjoy this day. Think of why we celebrate it and and let it renew out faith in others and in mankind.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Tonight is Christmas Eve. Enjoy it with loved ones, whether they be family and friends. Cherish your family recipes and holiday dishes. Remember the needy and the ones at war. Pray for worldwide peace and tolerance.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Holiday Treat La Grenouille

Because of the holidays I thought I'd write about the Times Dining section today on Wednesday (which kind of makes sense because it comes out today). Another new thing is that I'll be writing about a Times restaurant review (something I used to do for that newspaper ) for La Grenouille that famous Manhattan landmark.

The review written by Sam Sifton tells about this 48 year old NYC institution. La Grenouille was right up there at one time with The Russian Tea Room and Elaine's as place to be seen and to enjoy the lush food. It was opened in 1962 by Giselle and Charles Masson, pere, French emigres and now run by their son Charles fils. This is French cusine at its' all time best, meriting a three star rating from The Times. The restaurant is known for its' stocks and sauces that transport everyday meats and vegetables into fare for the gods. There are frogs legs, bien sur, ("La Grenouille means frog)sauteed in garlic, parsley and butter. Another true Parisian dish are the kidneys sauteed in cognac. Dover sole is a must here and La Grenouille's signature dish. It's grilled and then served in a butter sauce. Tableside it's filleted for diners and served with a mustard sauce. This is a meal fit for Monsieur Escoffier.

La Grenouille also has amazing desserts. primarily the souffles. These come in Grand Marnier, chocolate and pear. The restaurant also has the classic tartins as well. There's also a heavenly sounding tarte with warm apples and accompanied by vanilla ice cream. La Grenouille also has Armagnac prune ice cream as well as vanilla and praline. (although after a rich meal , I think dessert would be a simple and soothing cup of Earl Grey tea from the restaurants varied tea chest)

This holiday season treat yourself to dinner at this famed NYC landmark. It's worth the travel time and the cost. This is where France comes to America and brings a gift of heavenly dishes and desserts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Struffoli That Neopolitan Christmas Treat

Italy has brought the world timeless culinary traditions for Christmas. there's panetone and pan d'oro from Piedmont . torrone from Florence and of course the much beloved struffoli from Naples.This last is a must in Neopolitan homes, capping off a sumptuous Christmas Day dinner. It's a fun dessert for everyone from kids to adults who enjoy this treat.

Struffoli is primarily a Southern Italian pastry made mostly for Christmas and Easter. It's similar to the French croquembouche which is a tower of cream puffs. Struffoli is smaller with the shape resembling a beehive or Christmas tree.Most families just use a simple dough made from flour, water, eggs and yeast. This is left to rise and then rolled into marble sized balls. The balls are then fried in extra virgin olive oil.and left to drain, Later they are then assembled into a pyramid and then coated with a honey -lemon syrup . Once this is set. the baker usually dusts on sprinkles , almonds or silver dragees. There are struffoli variations with the addition of limoncello or G rand Marnier in the dough and then after the shape is assembled dusted only with confectioner's sugar.

Struffoli is relatively easy to make. Beginners can have fun with it, especially shaping the balls in the palm of their hands. The dough requires a little effort with just rolling out. However, unlike cookies. there's no cutting or baking not to mention elaborate decorating. The assembly can be fun and again you don't have to be a grand baker to accomplish it. If you want you can make mini mounds which are easier to handle.

Struffoli is a great holiday treat. This traditional dessert is really a snap to make and assemble. Best of all its delicious and a good way to cap off a Christmas dinner.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ham For The Holidays

One of the best parts of Christmas is the eating. This is especially true of Christmas Day when sumptuous feasts are served. usually there is turkey or crown rib that's the star. In German and most American households it's a large ham. It is the perfect meat to have because it's rich and delicious. it;s also wonderful for later eating.

Ham is a relatively easy meat to serve. It's already smoked and cured , doesn't require stuffing like poultry or special attention like some beef cuts.There are three kinds however, city country and . City ham is the one most shoppers buy. These have been soaked in brine and then either boiled or smoked. Country cured hams come from pigs that have been fed a steady diet of fruits and nuts. The meat is more flavorful. The hams are then smoked over fragrant hardwoods and cured cold for about sixty days. They are dryer than the city cured ones. Fresh hams are hard to find in any bog city grocery store. They are available in the e country where there are pig farms.Ham is relatively easy to cook. It does take a while For every pound of cured ham, it's usually fifteen to eighteen minutes in a 325 F. degree oven. A ten pound ham will take a good two and half hours to bake.up Country ham takes longer , with twenty to twenty five minutes a pound. Remember to baste your ham within the last hour to twenty minutes of cooking other wise the taste will be super salty. Another must is coating the ham within th e last hour too. You can use sugar, ginger ale , pineapple juice or honey.Don't worry if you have late arriving guests. Ham is also good served cold and thickly sliced in sandwiches.

There;s nothing like a ham for a Christmas Day dinner. It's the perfect meat to serve on a cold winter's day. It's also festive and celebratory A plate of ham is the perfect way to feast on this important Holiday.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

To Buffet Or Not To Buffet

These next few weeks are going to be the prime time for holiday entertaining. The question is what makes a better setting - a buffet or a sit down dinner?What's easier to handle? Do you let people mingle at informal buffets or is it better to have a formal sit down dinner? These are the questions party planners will have to ask themselves.

Buffets have a lot of merits. People can take and pick what they like. There's no worry about dietary restrictions along with likes and dislikes. There can be a theme like Oriental, French or Italian with small servings an hors d'oeuvres. Buffets also offer a better chance to mingle. Guests can catch up with old friends as well as enjoy meeting new people. There's also the freedom t move around more too. The down side to any buffet is the amount of work. There are so many dishes to make from the appetizers to the desserts. A bonus would be having friends and family bring dishes of their own.

Sit down dinners are also another good way of celebrating the holidays. A dinner party is the best way to showcase any cooks' talents. Outstanding dishes, such as crown rib roast or a twenty pound turkey can be served. It's also chance for also bringing back classics such as the amuse bouche or palate cleansing lemon sorbet between courses. Sit down dinners allow cooks to come up with grand desserts too. Forget the holiday cookie tray. Impress guests with crepes Suzette or a blanc mange. It's also a chance for a hos tor hostess to have some interesting conservation and introduce guests to each other. Unfortunately a sit down dinner party means a huge clean up later on. This could mean going to bed at one or two in the morning or waking up to an entire kitchen full of dirty plates, pots and pans.

Buffet or not to buffet? That is the question most holiday hosts and hostesses are asking themselves. Both types of get togethers have pluses and minuses . It's a tough decision but once chosen can be the highlight of the 2009 season.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What Goes With The Holidays?

This is the time of year when alcohol is needed -even if it's in small doses. Serve only champagne or wine at a holiday sit down dinner. What about those holiday buffet parties? Do you go for mixed drinks or rum punch? Do most situations call for a bartender and a well stocked liquor cabinet?

For Christmas Eve and definitely New Year's Eve, champagne is in order. Again I'm a big Prosecco fan so that's what I would recommend. It's not as sweet as Asti Spumente or other sparkling's light and lemony- just the right taste to go with overly flavorful appetizers and hors d' oeuvres. I also would recommend it at a Christmas Eve dinner if you' re serving turkey. chicken , or veal,. For a Christmas dinner, of course, there are the wines. Roast beef and crown rib deserve to be accompanied by a hearty red. Fish, such as a sole in meuniere sauce should have a white wine such as sauvignon blanc. If you have an olio of different meats such as red meat, white meat and fish then put out a few bottles of different wines for you and your guests.

Holiday parties are another animal. A lot of people are just satisfied with a glass of Pinot Grigio or Merlot. Then there are the cocktailers who want to try every "tini" out there or any variety of mojito. To make it easier on yourself limit your selection. This way you wont have guests (and yourself sick with a cornucopia of different mixed drinks. if you know what your crowd likes then stock only those liquors. Another easy way out is just create a punch. Champagne punch is the best. One of my favorites is frozen strawberry concentrate mixed with an Asti. You can also create a rum punch if you;re serving heartier fare. Just remember that some people may not be into any of this so still have bottles of wine and liquor on hand.

It;s hard to decide what to drink with holiday fare. It's best to stay with the basics such as wine and champagne. Add liqueurs and mixed drinks along with the many punches if you want something different. Just remember that any kind of drink is the best one for toasting the holidays.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cookie Time

No, the title of today's entry is not about Christmas baking - even though it would be appropriate. It's about yesterday's article about in the NY Times Dining section about the cookie tradition at Pittsburgh PA weddings. This is a very neat thing in my book where the bride and groom serve up to a thousand cookies along with the main meal and of course, the cake. Every kind is made and served on the couples' special day. Even neater - they're all made by family members and sometimes the bride herself.

Th article, written by Ron Lieber tells of this wonderful Pittsburgh (and it also is big in the Youngstown OH area too) tradition of having a cookie buffet at weddings. it started out during the Depression when couples couldn't afford elaborate bakery made wedding cakes. Cue in the mothers , aunts and grannies and their endless armory of cookie and biscuit recipes. The idea is a must with Catholic and Protestant brides and grooms and mostly , it seems with Italians. Tables are laden the delicately crispy pizzeli and golden almond laden biscotti. Of course there are American classics too such as the peanut butter blossom, a peanut butter cookie with a Hershey's Kiss stuck in its' center. I'm sure there are other ones, like buttery spritzes as well as thin vanilla wafers.

If you're wondering does the entire array of cookies get totally devoured during the reception , the answer is no. The newly married couple provide small boxes or festive Chinese takeaway boxes for guest s to bring home their favorites. this started out as too many of the invited would bring their own baggies and load. up. In order not to look too tacky smart newlyweds then decided to supply some kind of box for the leftover treats. This is a great idea and to be honest better than any favor.

I like this idea of a cookie buffet at a wedding. It's a heck of a lot easier to deal with than a whole wedding cake. and makes for some fun snacking. Besides who really wants to go for a whole sit down dinner and dessert when all you want to do is mingle and dance? A cookie buffet is a great way to enjoy a wedding and mingle with the guests.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Foodie Gadget Gifts

Yesterday I went over what makes the perfect food gifts for the foodie,. Today it's what sort of gadgets would make a good foodie gifts. As much as we love that gourmet popcorn or Brie of the month club we also appreciate interesting appliances and gadgets. There's so much to choose from. Nothing beats something as haute cuisine as a mandolin or as low key as a George Foreman grill. There's a million gifts to buy yet. Each will be genuinely appreciated.

What would make the perfect gift. The first step is to analyze the recipient. If your foodie is more into baking than cooking, than anything from the cupcake maker to oven mitts to silicone bake ware would be appreciated. Someone who is interested in French cooking might appreciate a new crepe pan or a Dutch oven for making cassoulet. Foodies who are into Italian may appreciate a high tech pasta machine along with some ravioli cutters to create the perfect pasta. Smaller gifts may include the mandoline, ideal for cutting potato slices paper thin. Other good and always needed gifts are, timers and the ever useful salt and pepper grinders.

Of course the ultimate foodie gift would be any new appliance.There is nothing like the George Foreman grill. What's neat about it is that there are several different models to choose form and all the stores from Macy's to K-mart sell them. Another must is the T-Fal Actifry Fryer. This allows your foodie to fry healthy because the machine only needs a tablespoon of oil to fry foods. What other appliances make good gifts? Any food processor. These are great for cutting up left over meats for salads or pureeing vegetables for soups and stews. Fun appliances are kettle corn poppers and ice cream makers.

Foodies also love receiving gadgets for the holidays too. This could be something as small as an egg timer or as large as a deep fryer. We enjoy anything that will create new dishes or improve old recipes. For us these are the best gifts of all!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Foodie Gifts For The Foodie

Holiday shopping for foodies is one of the easiest things to do. we love food - good foods -trendy foods - new foods. We'll love not just the taste but the aroma, and the look of any gift. Luckily there are some great places out there for some good gifts, both sweet and savory. You can buy on line or at your favorite grocery store.

Starting with savory gifts there's a lot to choose from. You can create a really nice gift basket, with cheeses from stores like the A&P and Stop & Shop (if you're in the US). A favorite is buying several cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert and adding some Carr's water biscuits . You can also have themed ones such as pasta and sauces along with cold cuts for an Italian themed one, foie gras and croissants for a French themed one. Also snack baskets are always a treat. One of my favorite stores, Target has some interesting snacks such as Parmesan cheddar cheese straws. salt and pepper pretzels and Maui onion potato chips. It also has a huge selection of nuts. and popcorn too.

Sweet gifts are always popular. One of my favorites to give is panetone from Rocco;s in New York.It's now such a tradition that friends and family anticipate it. Another fun cake is the pan d'oro, the buttery sweet Italian bread that's the perfect gift for sweet toothed foodies.That classic - a box of chocolate s is always appreciated. Mostly everyone buys a loved one a box from Godiva at this time of year. However there's also Butler's to consider. Their chocolates are rich and creamy , coming in unique flavors such as Irish creme. For the grown up gourmet kid there's the website Lollyphile .com where you can buy such flavors as caffeinated cola, maple bacon and even the decadent absinthe flavored suckers.

Holiday shopping for foodies is the easiest thing to do. We lovefood gifts as long as they're good, trendy and tasty. Gift us with Brie or chocolates or even popcorn and we'll be happy. Nothing pleases us more than a well thought out gift basket full of delicious treats

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stollen -Germany’s Traditional Fruitcake

The Germans invented Christmas. Thanks to them we have the Christmas tree, Christmas cookies , ham and of course stolen. Stollen is a wonderful tradition, celebrating both the religious and secular side of the holiday It is the perfect bread to have on Christmas eve while decorating the or on Christmas s morning when the presents are being unwrapped.
Stollen’s history is long an colorful . The bread was first created in between the 1300 and 1400s when it was originally called streitzel. There was another pastry called stollen but it was entirely different being an oat cake made with flour oats and water. Modern stollen as first baked in 1427 at the court of Dresden. The shape was made to resemble the swaddled Christ Child. Since it was made during Advent, there was a problem with adding butter to it, which was considered a taboo by the Catholic Church . There had to be an edict allowing bakers to add this vital ingredient to complete the recipe. A letter had to be written to the standing pope, Pope Nicholas who vehemently denied the use. Five popes later, Pope Innocent finally granted Saxony bakers the use of butter. Over th e decades many other ingredients have been added such as almond past eort marzipan along with lemon zest and candied. citrons. It is still made in Dresden where there is an annual stolen festival during December.

Most people opt to buy stolen. Usually the bakery kind is moist and ultra buttery, redolent with citron and patches of marzipan. Homemade kinds can be tricky because yeast is involved an d it doesn’t always cooperate. Loaves can be too dense or too chewy (read tough ) to eat. Making it is also labor intensive unless you have a bread maker. Bakling time is a long 40-45 minutes as opposed to the usually five to ten minutes that comes with Christmas cookies. Yet a homemade stollen can be wonderful, especially when it’s made with butter , a loaded with nuts and candied fruit.

Stollen is a wonderful Christmas tradition. Everyone should pick up a loaf from their
Bakery or make it themselves. It is the perfect treat to enjoy during three trimming or present opening.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Dreidl Spin On Latkes

It's now Hanukkah and all over th e world latkes are being joyfully made and eaten. Everyone - no matter what their religion is loves a good homemade pancake. Most people opt for the traditional recipe. Some go for a newer twist. There are now several variations on this classic.

Latkes are ever changing. One of the newest trends i s the"lacy latke". This is a light, crunchier version of the traditional dense cake. More shredded potatoes are used to create a lacier , crispier treat. The feel and texture is more like potato chips and doesn't leave the eater with as "loggy" feeling in their stomach. Healthier variations include a latke that is partially fried and then baked to reduce the fat content. Oil is still used in frying them, but it's usually a light peanut or canola oil.

Another spin on this classic are the ingredients. More and more cooks are experimenting with grated sweet potato as well as zucchini and carrots for a different taste. Regular potatoes still have to be used because of the starch that's the "glue" that holds the cakes together. Spices such as cumin and coriander are now being added to latkes along with the usual salt and pepper. Odder ingredients include carrots and even tuna fish! Fruits such as apples and raisins are also mixed into batters for dessert latkes

Latkes are a traditional part of Hanukkah except nowadays there's a new twist. Try them lacy or with sweet potatoes; plain or with spices to continue on with this classic. They're just as tasty and delicious as the denser originals.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Makes A Good Hot Cocoa?

This is the time of year when a good hot chocolate is greatly appreciated. It revives us after a hard day at work. It's the perfect pick me up after hours holiday shopping. It's soothing heat after a frigid afternoon outside. As much as we love and need hot cocoa, we unfortunately don't make the best. Most people tend to stick with the instant kind where you just add water and get a pale version of the real thing. The best hot cocoa is the old fashioned kind - with real cocoa , milk and some sweet topping.

The first ingredient to consider is what kind of cocoa to use. I like the Dutch brand Droste. This is a bitter sugar free one - not unlike coffee. I simmer mine with warm milk and then add a teaspoon or two of sugar. This kind of hot chocolate reminds of the ones I used to drink in Paris. Not too sweet, with a slight edge . Served with a buttery croissant it's the perfect breakfast. Some people make a variation of this mix by adding sugar and a dash of vanilla flavoring to the cocoa powder. This is good too. You can also meld in other flavors simply by adding a dash of cinnamon or peppermint oil. If you want more of a mocha flavor then whip in a small 1/4 teaspoon of instant espresso.For a truly original hot cocoa, add some chili pepper to give it a bite The taste will be similar to the kind the ancient Aztecs made when they first drank it.

Sometimes hot cocoa needs flourishes. Home made whipped cream is the best. It gives an added richness and creaminess to the drink. Some true addicts go over the top by sprinkling bitter chocolate shavings or crushed peppermint candies on top of huge whipped cream blobs. This is fine if you want a liquid version of cake. Some prefer to scatter a heap of mini marshmallows on the hot chocolate's surface. This is good and gives it more sweetness.but it looks messy. A better way is to stick with one or two homemade marshmallows floating on top.

Nothing beats true hot chocolate on a cold winter's day. Treat yourself to the real kind and enjoy it;s soothing warm and rich goodness. It's the perfect antidote to this stressful holiday madness.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Want A Sous Vide Under The Tree?

Yesterday New York Times' Dining section featured a new and somewhat unusual food machine called a sous vide. To be honest it was a new one on me (although my Mom had heard of it and said she saw it in a TV infommercial ad) . It's basically another technique for cooking food to insure the best taste and also not lose the integrity of the ingredients.

The article , written, byJulia Moskin, describes what a sous vide is and what it basically does. Sous vide itself means "under vacuum" and isa method of cooking foods in a sealed pouch for long periods of time. Usually the time period can extend up to twenty-four to forty eight hours. It seems like th e perfect way to cook meat however if you want a crispy exterior, the meat has to be quickly pan fried after itt leaves the machine. Baked apples and poached eggs comes out wonderful in it. Sous vide cooking has been around since the early 1960s when Swiss hospital kitchens used it to sterilize and preserve food. An average sous vide machine cost around $450 to $500 and is the size of a bread machine. You can buy Sous Vide Magic a device that turns your Crockpot into one . The cost is a much more affordable $136.

The process does have some serious downsides. The most important being is that it can produce high levels of the botulism toxin which can be deadly. A sous vide should have a thermal immersion circulator to keep the water uniformly heated. Another minus is the fact that you can't cook with spices, seasoning or olive oil. These will detract from any meats' tastes because the spices don't cook in due to the low temperatures being used. They just basically remain the same. To be honest I probably wouldn't get a sous vide for these reasons. If I'm cooking meat I would prefer it oven roasted or grilled over a burner.

A sous vide machine is probably a good gift for the adventurous cook and foodie. It can create some tender dishes and also give cooks the freedom to prepare other things. It is also for the type of foodie who knows how to handle this method - not for the fearful or the neophytes out there.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Grapefruit A Burst Of Sunshine

There’s nothing like a grapefruit to dispel the winter chill. This bright sunny fruit is a reminder that there are warm breezes and sunny skies somewhere in this wintry world. It’s not only delicious but light in taste and in calories. Grapefruit is a wonderful escape from all those heavy holiday foods.

Grapefruit received it’s name from the fruit growing like grape clusters. However it was called the unbecoming name of shaddock after Captain Shaddock, who first bred the fruit in Jamaica in 1750. It was one fo the world’s first hybrid fruits being crossed with an Indonesian pomelo and the Jamaican sweet orange. It was brough to Florida in 1823 by the Countess Odette Phillippe. It’s one of Florida’s top products besides oranges. Grapefruit flesh usually comes in three colors, red white an d pink. The most famous is the blood red pulped Ruby Red which is grown in Texas where it‘s known as the official state grapefruit The taste varies from bitter and sour to slightly tart. Grapefruit is an excellent source of Vitamin C and lypocene. The latter helps prevents certain cancers such as prostrate. Since it has only 97 calories it’s makes an excellent diet food.

I love grapefruit for its‘ taste and it’s aroma. I‘ve just discovered that freshly squeezed grapefruit juice is an excellent addition to hot or cold tea. It makes either kind of tea refreshing. One of my favorite desserts is grapefruit slices dipped in Splenda. It’s a nice alternative to cakes and cookies as well to everyday fruits such as apples and bananas.

Grapefruit is a fresh , sunny pick me up during all this winter coldness. It‘ s like a miniature sun bursting with goodness. It’s as refreshing as breeze s on a sunny Caribbean or Florida beach.It’s just the perfect thing for these wintry times.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Springerle- A Swabian German Christmas Treat

Swabian Germans love their sweets , especially around the holidays. One of them is the anise cookie called Springerle. This cookie is unusual in many ways. It's an embossed cookie that is very decorative and also has some non traditional ingredients in its' recipe.It's not your typical holiday butter cookie but one that is richer and more complex both in taste an texture.

Springerle cookies came about in the 1400s and the name means little springer or knight in the Swabian dialect. The cookies literally spring up when they re baked thanks to leavening agents. They are now made with baking powder. Springerle have an intense anise taste thanks to the crushed anise seeds used in the recipe. It is not a cookie for the faint hearted. Springerle has whimsical pictures embossed into the surface, thanks to the dough being rolled out by a specially embossed rolling pin. This last is carved from top to bottom with different designs on it. You can also buy hand cut wooden molds from Germany as well.

Another aspect of Springerle is that the stamped dough has to be set out to dry for twenty-four hours before baking. This is to make sure that the design is set into the dough and will remain sharp and clear during the baking process. Unfortunately this also makes the cookies very hard in texture. Some bakers leave Springerle out on the table to soften while others use a microwave to make them lose their hardness. The best and the most traditional way is to place the Springerle in a tin with a slice of apple. This provides moisture and softens the cookie.

Springerle are a wonderful holiday treat. They are deep and intense sweets , treats whose strong , robust flavor should be savored slowly. They are a grown up version of the traditional Christmas cookie.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A New York Holiday Treat - Rocco‘s Bakery

New York at Christmastime is magical. The city is alive with the smells and sounds of the season. The best aromas come from Manhattan’s many bakeries, primarily Rocco’s on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village It is a definitive holiday stop for my family. We get our panettones, pan d’oros and marzipan there. It’s also a great stop for a refreshing cappucino and a small pastry.

Rocco’s is actually one of the city’s newest bakeries. Usually most Manhattan pastariccios started in the late 1800’s Rocco’s has only been around since 1974 but like the others is family owned and run. There is amazing array of everything there. The Italian pastries are the best and their cannolis were rated number one in Manhattan by a number of reviews. My favorite is their holiday panettone, the yeasty fruitcake favored by all Italians, Another treat are their various cookies,. These are not just sugar cookies but the Neopolitan almond and Sicilian lemon kinds. There are also the luscious chocolate dipped butter cookie sandwiches brimming with raspberry jam. You can also find biscotti here and thanks to New York‘s cupcake craze, vanilla, chocolate and red velvet cupcakes.

Rocco‘s also has tables where you can sit and enjoy any kind of coffee along with a pastry or gelati. Yes, they have gelati here as well, always freshly made with fresh fruit even in the winter. Another plus is that the bakery offers fresh made marzipan fruit figures and gingerbread houses- perfect holiday hostess gifts.

If you’re in the Greenwich Village , then stop your X-mas shopping and head over to Rocco’s. Treat yourself to a holiday sweet or better yet buy your Christmas cookies and cakes here . Rocco‘s pastries are the perfect dessert after a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Foodie In A Blizzard

Even though it's still fall, there are some parts of the world that are undergoing their first heavy snowfall. In other words its' blizzard season!This goes well with the holiday atmosphere yet it can strike panic in the hearts of foodies. What do we stock up on? What would be the best meal to make during these times? For that matter what's the heartiest meal to eat ?

The golden rule for any disaster is stock up on the food basics - eggs milk and bread. there's a lot you can do with these. ,from French toast to just scrambled eggs on toast. Also have coffee and tea along with some frozen dinners. (no joke here. You'll be exhausted after snow shoveling and won't want to make a home cooked meal) Another staple is pasta. It's easy to cook and there's nothing like a hearty spaghetti meal after a day outside. If you have room in your fridge also think about storing comfort foods like brisket. This makes for a nice pot roast which is the perfect cold weather meal. it's hearty and filling especially when served with its' own gravy and vegetables.

Of course a blizzard also means being stuck inside. have rolls of cookie dough at the ready for something to do. This also eliminates the extra chore of holiday baking. Snacks and soda are musts too. There's nothing like watching a movie on a snowy night, complete with a bowl of hot buttered popcorn . Also have chips and sour cream because the night could also turn into family game night where there' ;bound to be plenty of snacking.

Be a prepared foodie when those first heavy flakes start drifting downward. Have your fridge, freezer and pantry stocked not only with the basics but also with fave s to get you through the first big snow of the season. You can just stay in and eat - the perfect thing foodie thing to do during a blizzard!

Friday, December 4, 2009

That Christmas Treat Snickerdoodles

The Christmas baking season is upon us and with it comes snickerdoodles. These funny sounding cookies are the best comfort food during these cold times. They're a soothing and yummy blend of sugar cookie dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg. These are great to much on with a mug of hot cocoa or a glass or a steaming cup of coffee or tea.

Snickerdoodles are from New England. It could have derived from the new England practice of giving cookies whimsical names or from a popular hero of the Early 20th Century called Snickerdoodle. Another explanation is that its; a corruption of the German word Shneckennudeln meaning snail dumpling (why it was called this is mystery). Snickerdoodles are not a sugar cookie as everyone things. It is a cookie made with cream of tartar and rolled in either plain cinnamon or a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg, depending on the baker's' tastes. The can be made moist or crisp .Again this depends on the bakers' tastes. I prefer the crisp kind with some crunch to them

Snickerdoodles are a great cookie to make for Christmas. it a basic make and chill recipe that you can create the night before and them bake later on. Just remember to always add the cream of tartar and baking soda . This is what gives the cookie it;s oomph and texture. It's also up to you about how much sugar and cinnamon to use. if you want a really spicy cookie, then just roll the dough in a mix of cinnamon and nutmeg . If you want a slightly sweeter snickerdoodle, then just roll the dough balls in a mix of half spice and half sugar before baking.

Snickerdoodles are a fun holiday cookie. Bake up a batch for those you love and for yourself. They' re the perfect treat for Christmas!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Yesterday New York Times' Dining section was dedicated to holiday drinks. The one spirit that seems to be in demand this season is rum. It's been around since colonial times thanks to early production and the sugar cane industry in the Caribbean. The recipes offered are not your average holiday drinks. They're new and sophisticated with a smoky twist to them.

The article written by Pete Wells tells of a rum renaissance of sorts. For years people have been avoiding , declaring it too "kitschy" and old fashioned. Now as with anything old in the food and drink industry it's seen in a new light and taken up with a new spin. Tiki drinks , those big gaudy ones served at Polynesians themed restaurants are taken up a notch with the addition of hot sauce along with various fruit juices. It must make for an interesting punch all around. There's an interesting recipe that called for rum and champagne with the a splash of lime juice and simple sugar. That's probably the only rum drink I'd be interested in.

There is even a rum school run by Martin Cate, owner of a Smuggler's Cove in the city. Mr. Cate shows his "students' the different kind s of rum and how it evolved through history. The semester begins with a study of rums from pirate ships, the British navy and colonial taverns. it then progresses into thenineteenth century and then through Prohibition Havana where the rum trade still thrived. Students can also take an extended field trip to Polynesia to taste some of the South pacific concoctions as well.

Rum is making a comeback whether in fruity punches or just as a plain drink itself. It's good on a winter's night in front of a fire.You can have the traditional way or serve it with some new twists to it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

EZ Pizza EZ Fun

I discovered a neat new pizza palace by me yesterday. It’s different than all the million of other pizza places in my area for three reasons. One it offers individual serving pizzas, two there’s a huge choice of toppings and three it has whole wheat crusts. The name is EZ Pizza and it’s just starting on it’s way to be coming a chain here .

Individual pizzas are nothing new. Roman trattorias have been offering them for decades. I had my first experience with one there. However EZ Pizza gives a different spin on this Neopolitan classic with homemade focaccio in three styles, whole wheat (excellent), classic and thin crust. The owner and founder Mark Albunia put the second new twist by offering pizza lovers a choice of fifty toppings plus four cheeses. You can get anything from banana peppers to anchovies to pineapple on yours or a million different combinations. I just had my pizza with extra sauce and mozzarella cheese. It was sheer perfection! Another good point of it is that your pizza only takes three minutes to bake up You can get it with a customized salad or a choice of soup. Their prices aren’t bad at all.

EZ Pizza also does interesting combos such as their Mexican style pizza. This is not for the faint hearted. it’s mesquite chicken, hot cherry pepper bacon bits and onion. There’s also Buffalo chicken complete with, chicken fiery hot sauce and bleu cheese Of course there is the calm, classic Pizza Margherita which has fresh basil or the bruschetta which as fresh chopped onion and tomato on it.

If you’re in the Lodi, Hasbrouck Heights or Pequannock, New Jersey area, stop for a customized pizza at EZ Pizza. This is pizza to your liking. it’s also one of the best pies around!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Season For Potato Pancakes

Winter is here with December first and that usually means hearty comfort food. I can think of no better one than potato pancakes. These seem to usher in the time of year when hot tasty treats are appreciated. These goodies can be eaten for lunch , dinner or even as a snack after a day of shopping or sledding. They're easy to make and even beginners can have success with them.

Almost every European country has a potato pancake recipe. In Ireland they're know as boxties in the Eastern European Jewish culture , they 're called latkes. German, Poles , Russians and Czechs also make them. They were part of my Swabian heritage growing up and there wa s nothing like the homemade kind serve with a side of chunky applesauce. These were called kartoffelpuffers. Nowadays people even make potato pancakes with sweet potatoes which have a sweeter, richer taste.

Potato pancakes are relatively easy to make. Regular potatoes will do just fine. Add one onion for flavor.usually three beaten eggs and flour. The mix is them spooned into a skilled with heated oil or butter in it and fried. For extra crispy pancakes, use only a small amount of the batter and flatten out. For thicker ones, ladle in heaping tablespoons of th e mixture. Fry on both sides. Potato pancakes are good with a side of both applesauce and sour cream. I usually like mine with just the sour cream along with a sprinkling of sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

This is the kind of weather that calls for hot treats like potato pancakes. Start December off with a dish of this well loved comfort food. They're perfect antidote for the hectic , crazy days ahead of us.