Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hopes For The New Year

What to expect in the New Year with Foodie Pantry? As the blog heads into its' fourth (!!!!) year there will be some interesting ideas coming forth. I plan on a trip to the famed Chelsea Market in New York and there will be several articles with that.Hopefully there will be pictures and video too.

I also will be focusing on nutrition. You are what you eat is very important to me. Although there will be plenty of posts and articles on junk food (I am American and a Jersey girl after all and it's in my DNA to eat a burger and fries and boardwalk candy apples) there will be some informative pieces on what's better to eat. I will always promote garden fresh and garden grown ingredients along with healthier food choices. Don't eat that pasta with jarred sauce. Try some whole wheat spaghetti with your own recipe of sauce.

Of course Wednesdays and Thursdays will  still be devoted to the New York Times however if the Daily News has an interesting recipe, then I'll be covering it.There will also be some Food Channel reviews as well as discovering new eateries and new products.

Myself and Foodie Pantry wish all our readers a very healthy and nutritious New Year. Eat well, but most of all eat happy.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Herring That New Year's Favorite

Germans love holidays and they celebrate in the best way  - with food. New Year's is no exception. One o the most loved and traditional foods is herring. It's served at countless parties on both sides of the Atlantic. It represents good luck however it should also represent health.

Herring is an oily fish , found mostly in the temperate waters of the North Atlantic, North Pacific and the Baltic Sea (hence the reason they're a popular dish with the Germans and Scandinavians). Herring has been use din cooking for three thousand years. They're extremely high in Omega 3 fatty acids as well as  Vitamin D. However on the down side the fish can also absorb PCBs and dioxins. These pollutants can influence how much herring can be caught,Baltic herring, which is larger than regular herring , soaks up more than regular herring. These should be eaten only twice a month. Smaller herring actually escape this and can be eaten more freely.

Germans usually like their herring either pickled or in cream. Pickled herring usually is a two step process where the fish is cured with salt to extract the water. The next step is is adding flavorings and these could be salt,vinegar, and sugar along to which  raw  onions, peppercorns and bay leaves are added. A similar dish, rollmops, ,involved wrapping the pickled herring around a gherkin.This originated in Berlin in the last century and quickly became popular. Creamed herring involves marinating the fish in sour cream. You cna make this at home or buy it in in jars as you can with pickled herring.

Herring isn't just for New year's although it's a great dish for welcoming in the New Year. It's is healthy  alternative to other fish and other meats. Have it at a party or just as a light supper. It's good for you

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Real Southern Cooking

Just in time for the New Year yesterday's New York Times Dining section has a great piece on Southern cooking.. Julia Moskin celebrates the real deal in her paeon of the best regional cuisines. It's not just fried chicken and biscuits. It's truly American food with layers of nuances and subtleties.

This particular branch of American cooking has gone back to it's roots, thanks to a new generation of chefs.It's more of a farm to table transition focusing on fresh veggies and freshly cured meats. Everything has an earthy , home made  taste  from hominy or grits to the New Year's classic Hoppin' John. The last is a traditional dish that involves black eyed peas and rice.  Thanks to heirloom grains and old strains being grown again. this dish is returning to its' original glory.Of course, artesanal bacon fat and herbs are also added, creating a  recreation of what planters ate. Southern crops flavors are returning due to  careful farming and processing.The taste isn't being  'washed out" by added sprays of vitamins and pesticides.Also crop rotation, learned from the African slaves is also making a comeback. This helps in producing, bigger and healthier produce.

Southern chefs are also learning to recreate some other dishes as well.They are going into butchery, important for making delicious cuts of ham and ribs. Side dishes such as piccalilli and chowchow are showing up on many a restaurant table.Reezy peezy , originally risi bisi , rice and peas and learned from 18th Century Italian engineers who came to the colonies to advise, is showing up, with more flavorful peas.. These involved red or cream peas that were eaten when green . This basic dish also is getting star billing. Not to be outdone cornbread is being redone with the  original recipes. It is more flavorful, and moister than what is normally baked in supermarkets and bakeries.

Southern cooking is making a comeback while maintaining its' original roots.The result is a return to what cooking was- delicious and flavorful. It's bringing back the best of the South with tasty results.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter Warmer Spaetzle

Now that winter is officially here ,it's time to think of hearty meals. Spaetzles fill the bill nicely.These tender and delicate German noodles can be used in casseroles or with sauerkraut. Not only that, they are the perfect comfort food during these chilly , icy days.

This is what  New York Times Dining regular Melissa Clark wrote about in today's A Good Appetite column. She discovered their charm while perusing an old German cookbook. There she discovered a myriad of recipes,using traditional ingredients such as kielbasa(!) and cabbage. She decided on a casserole with them along with kielbasa , onion and Emmenthaler cheese. This sounds sort of like a Saxony version of baked mac with bacon. I don't know if it's to my traditional tastes however it's tempting enough to try. I am going to make it sans the sausage, although if I were to add meat, it would be the more traditional ham

Ms. Clark also tries making her own spaetzle. This is pretty easy wit being on the same par as making pasta dough, except the dough consistency is that of a thick pancake batter.You can buy a spaetzle board from any gourmet cooking store or online. You can also use a colander to press out the dough (unlike pasta which is basically ribbons, spaetzle vary in length and size). They are then boiled in salted water. After you can do what you like with them.  I prefer mine with string beans or plain with butter however some like them the traditional way, cooked with red cabbage or better  yet, sauerkraut.

Spaetzles are great chill chasers. These hearty little noodles are the perfect canvas for  anything , from a cheesy bake to traditional pickled cabbage. You can create a perfect  and winter meal with them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Fun At The Olive Garden

My family cashed in on the Olive Garden gift certificate they received on Christmas. Although I had been to one already it was fun to rediscover the fun and delight of going there and ordering. The Olive Garden may be a chain restaurant but it offers good quality food - similar to what a family owned

The restaurant is known for its' generosity. There is a huge bowl of salad that's almost served before you order along with their famed basket of bread sticks. The salad is the e Italian restaurant would.The food is plentiful and not badly priced - which explains its' popularity. We started with a complimentary salad, the size of a punch bowl and has every kind of veggie from hot peppers to olives and tomatoes in it. This on its' own is actually good lunch . The bread sticks are these wonderfully fat mini loaves of bread coated in garlic and oil. We ordered the bruschetta appetizer ,although to be truthful , it was like gilding the lily.It was a huge plate of toasted Italian bread accompanied by a large bowl of the tomato basil mix.

The Olive Garden serves such huge lunch portions you have to wonder what their dinner ones are like.There is a lot to choose from and meat lovers won't be disappointed.There are even some heart healthy dishes like the chicken with apricot sauce. Others include pastas with fresh pomodoro sauce which is what I had. I also tried their lasagna which was as good any any homemade one.The Olive Garden has a cooking school in Tuscany where it sends it's chefs on a yearly week long sabbatical which shows in their cooking. Unlike other chain restaurants, it really cares what it sends out to diners and also doesn't rely on prepackaged sauces or dishes that just have to be reheated. Everything is freshly made to order. We were all too stuffed for dessert however I am making a point to go back just to try their zeppolis with chocolate dipping sauce.

if you received an Olive Garden gift card this holiday season, cash in on it. The food is a great treat and the whole dining experience is just plain fun. Even if you didn't get one, go. Spending a meal at this restaurant is a great way to experience Italian classics such as pasta and lasagna at good prices.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quiet Simple Food

This is the season, and especially the week for rich foods. Between Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's , our diets go crazy with an overload of sweets, meats and alcohol. During this down time, think about eating simple. It's easy. It's just trimming away the fat literally,

A good idea is to start off right.A decent well balanced breakfast is always appreciated. It;s also a great way to top off a day that may have more treats than "normal" food. After lush holiday brunches of french toasts and fancy omelets, return to simplicity with just plain whole wheat toast or oatmeal. Lunch can be simple salads (and this is a head start on all those New Year's diets) or soup. You can have sandwiches, but try to stick with just simple cold cuts on white or wheat bread. Stay away from mayo and butter (which you probably had lots of at all those X-mas parties). Instead use mustard or ketchup which have less calories.

It's hard not to have a sumptuous dinner during the holidays. Old friends call and want to go out or invite you over. If you're heading to a restaurant ,choose the plainest food on the menu. Think about a broiled salmon or chicken.Finish with sides of steamed spinach or Brussels sprouts as opposed to anything fried or with sauce. Desserts out can be fun but fattening, Thanks to a week of buttery cookies and boozy fruitcakes you may want to opt for a fresh fruit platter or just coffee and tea. Even a flavored coffee or cappuccino can be a little over the top this week. If friends do insist, then share something with the table. This means one or two spoonfuls. You can still have that rich chocolate mousse or carrot cake with ice cream.

Treat your tummy well this week and veer back to a simple diet. It's tempting to keep eating all those holiday goodies. Yet, it's a more a present to treat it right with good ,and nutritious foods. You'll feel a lot better.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas

To all my readers worldwide,

Have a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy your dinner and your gifts and think of those who have less. Hope that they have a good holiday as well and that they have food on their tables. Enjoy all the family favorite recipes and the sweets. Relax with a cup of cocoa or brandy laced egg nog as you enjoy your tree and presents. Enjoy your family and what they give you - not just their gifts but their laughter and smiles, their hearts and souls.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Minute Craziness

Christmas in America is like a wedding day. You only have twenty-four hours to get it right. Other countries have two, like England with Boxing Day. The Caribbean along with the rest of Europe stretch it out til the New Year. Too bad we can't do the same. It would save us a lot of angst and headaches. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.

There's always the chance that you'll run short.Then just sub. Margarine can easily fill in for butter whether at the dinner table or cooking. Pureed cauliflower can fill in for mashed potatoes (and they're healthier too). Rice is another substitute that can work as a side. What happens if the roast burns? Salvage it. Try to save as much as the meat as you can.A good idea is drowning it in gravy to give it some moisture. A dried out turkey or goose can be made juicy again by cooking it again in a stock bath. If the potatoes are too runny then add extra potato flakes. Too gummy? Add some milk or cream.

What about the dessert? Usually shortages happen, especially around the cookie tray. See which ones are going fast and stay away from them. Let your guests nibble the best. Also if the cookie supply is diminishing then don't feel shy about breaking out the packaged ones. There's nothing wrong with serving Oreos and Fig Newtons in a pinch. If you run out of Cool Whip then think about pie and even cake a la mode. Any kind of ice cream can be a welcome treat and the kids will probably like it. If there's not enough coffee, then push tea. (or if worse comes to worse borrow some java from the neighbors)

Christmas comes but once a year and it has to be perfect. The problem is that sometimes our dinners aren't .If stuff happens let it. There's always a way to fix it even without Santa's magic.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Good Holiday Bubbly

Champagne and the holidays go hand in hand. A good bubbly adds to any meal or party. The question is what is good?That's what Eric Asimov answers in yesterdays. Wine of The Times column in the New York Times. Follow his advice and you'll select the perfect drink for your gathering.

What Mr. Asimov points out is that champagne is really nothing special. It is just a sparkling wine. Treat it as you would any ordinary dinner white. There are some good ones out there that would not seem out of place accompanying a roast turkey or common hors d'ouevres. he prefers blanc de blanc, the finest and most delicate of all champagnes. These are made solely of chardonnay instead of the usual pinot noir, pinot meunier and the chardonnay. Most of the bubbly tested was at the lower end of the price range, being around $35 to $55 a bottle.

Which ones did Mr. Asimov and his panel recommend? There is the Delamotte coming surprisingly out of Alabama and it has a taste redolent of minerals , herbs and chalk. For a more traditional taste there is Marc Hebrart Blanc du Blanc Premier Cru Brut NV which has a fruity mix of apple, plum and lemon flavors. This would b e perfect with poultry from goose to capon or with a lovely chicken salad appetizer. Another fruity blend is the Ruelle Pertois- Blanc de Blanc Brut , vintage 2005. Again this has a very light green apple flavor to it. Other champagnes had more of a mix of herbal and chalk taste.

Champagne, especially a good one, makes any holiday bubble. Select a blanc de blanc for a special taste . It can go with something as unique as caviar or as homey as a roast.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Taste Of Christmas Memories

Today's New York Times Dining section was a cornucopia of Christmas memories. This homage in a way to Marcel Proust is full of traditional and not so traditional recipes by the section's best writers. There are so many to choose from savory to sweet. All are tasty and can be easily blended into reader's traditions as well.

Most of the section is written in mini article form followed by a recipe.I like the diversity of it all and the dishes are immensely tryable. There are the savory ones, especially the one by Jeff Gordonier. His contribution is a honey glazed ham which has a spin - white miso. Usually holiday hams are awash in ginger ale and/or pineapple however this one calls for the miso along with apple cider and apple sauce.The apple mixture created a crunchy sweet glaze that counter balances the ham's saltiness.Another great piece is the great Frank Bruni's eggplant and pasta. This is a variation of lasagna that his mother made and it involved crisp fried mezzani along with pasta and sauce. It would be good even at a New Year's party too.

Sweets are also represented and some of the Dining section's have given some great ones. Julia Moskin pitches in with an easy Christmas pudding. This is her take on the traditional British kind that doesn't have the rum but everything else. It's a flavorful dessert rich with spices and candied fruits.It doesn't have the liqueur's cloying taste which is refreshing. Another good recipe is Pete Wells ' candied orange peels which have the added zing of rosemary,Of course the holiday wouldn't be complete without cookies and contributor , Kim Severson adds her mother's ginger snap recipe. These are a break from the usual butter cookie ones and provided much needed spiciness to the holiday sweet platter.

There are several other savory and sweet recipes . Go to the Times online to see more. The ones above and those are great additions to any holiday feast.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sufganiyot Hanukkah Doughnuts Treats

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah and it will be celebrated worldwide with songs, gifts and food. Most people associate latkes or potato pancakes with this ancient holiday however there is another treat.Jelly doughnuts are also a part of this seven day festival and they are just as delicious as latkes.

The sweets or sufganiyot originated in Isreal, atlhough the treats are surprisingly Greek.The names comes from sufgan which means puffed and fried.However the word can also come from the Hebrew word for sponge which is what the pastry's texture resembles. The doughnuts can be fried as two separate pieces of dough and then attached with a smear of jam. Some make them as fried balls, injecting with the jam later on. In some ways they resemble the Lenten treats Fasnacht doughnuts which as just plain dough balls that are fried and then rolled in powdered or granulated sugar.

Sufganiyot can be varied to suit tastes. Most people prefer the traditional strawberry, raspberry or apricot jam fillings. However the treats can also be filled with custard as in South America.The doughnuts are stuffed with dulce de leche which also follows the Hanukkah theme of eating dairy (to celebrate one of the holiday's heroine, Judith, who fed wine and cheese to a Syrian general, got him drunk. She then killed him ). Chocolate and vanilla custards are also popular sufganiyot stuffings , especially in Israel. The doughnuts can also be made savory and filled with tomato and Swiss card . The dough recipe can be varied as well. Some add buttermilk to make them more like the New Orleans treat beignets.

Sufganiyot is a wonderful way of celebrating this ancient holiday . Even though the recipe is new , the doughnuts are now part of this tradition. They celebrate the Festival of Lights and the victories that accompany it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holidays With Punch

Christmas and New Year's Parties need a good punch to start going.No, not the kind where someone fist slams into your arm,. but a delicious mix of juices, sodas , dairy and various kinds of alcohol. Punches make any holiday gathering special . They add zip and zing along with great tastes. Best of all you can tailor any punch recipe to fit your crowd. Make them to suit the mood, whether they're light or heavy..

The drink is really an Indian concoction known as panch . English traders from the East India Company brought the party drink back to the United Kingdom as early as 1632. It soon became a hit and with the introduction of rum a few years later on became an English holiday staple. The American colonists fell for it and it became a staple of all sorts of occasions, from ceremonies to various holidays.One of the most popular is Planter's punch.It's a great drink, with a combo of rum along with tropical fruit juices and a dash of curacao.It would be perfect for a Caribbean themed barbecue to welcome in the New Year. You can also do variations on the German punsch or Spanish sangria. These are light mixtures that just require fruit and a white or red wine. Some are also made with sparkling varieties such as Prosecco or Asti Spumante.

Heavier punches are another way to go. These are usually made with heavy cream and are perfect with cakes and cookies. One of the most famous is, of course, egg nog. This is a heavy mixture that involves six eggs plus extras yolks along with whole milk and cream. Bourbon is then added to it for kick. It is a great drink however not one that would go well with all holiday savories. I would have it rather with some short breads or crisp buttery snaps . Another heavy but heavenly cream punch is one made with ice cream. The frozen treat is added in chunks to a basic egg nog recipe and then whipped into a thick froth.Of course you can make cream punch just with low fat milk or even soy for a lighter taste and texture.

Holiday punches are a great addition to any party. You can create one to suit the mood, the food or just what people want. It can be light and fruity or heavy and creamy. However you make it, your punch will surely make an impact on your guests!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Holiday Dinner Sides - What Works

Yesterday I wrote about what roasts to grace your holiday table. Today it's another important component to your Christmas or New Year's dinner- the sides. Although they're not as important as the main course, they still have to figure heavily in the dinner menu. The question is here what to serve and how many sides make the perfect meal.

The perfect dinner should have just two sides. If you want more then just stick with a third and only three. Most chefs would agree to have a potato dish of some kind. The most obvious is a bowl of homemade mashed potatoes (no instant - it is the holidays). They go well with gravy , whether from a roast beef or turkey. Another bonus is that they can be turned into fryable puffs the next day. You can have them plain or lightly herbed for some variation. Another good and easy potato dish is scalloped.Again these are easy to prepare, with just slicing the taters and then layering with butter and milk last .Sometimes the simplest is best as in the case with new potatoes. These are tiny , red skinned ones that can be just drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary. These go well with nay meat from crown rib to goose to ham to turkey.

Of course there should be one green side.Brussels sprouts are an interesting and elegant choice They can sliced and grilled or parboiled and then baked with melted butter and Parmesan cheese. Spinach is tasty as well. it can be made with just the simple addition of oil and garlic or creamed. Of course you can make that modern American classic, green bean casserole. This is an odd yet surprisingly tasty combo of cream of mushroom soup mixed with soy sauce and milk.It is then poured over green beans and baked ,A layer of crunchy onions is then put over and under the bake.It''s a sure favorite with kids and definite do make if you have little ones over for the holidays.

Making sides for a holiday meal is a pretty easy task.It just takes potatoes and greens to finish off a holiday roast. Anything you make will go perfect with your meat of choice.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Roast Choices

Christmas dinner is one of the most important meals of the year. Not only is it is a celebratory feast but it's a bell weather of how well a person can cook. The problem is choosing a meat you're not familiar with can spell disaster -a holiday surprise you do not want. Luckily there are several choices you can pick from. Find one that suits your ability and you'll create a memorable and perfect holiday dinner.

Many home cooks opt for prime rib roast. Not only is it lush looking but also very flavorful. It also makes a good presentation and looks camera ready sitting on a perfectly set table. Rib roast is also one of the easiest to prepare. Just sprinkle on fresh ground sea salt and pepper and then pop into a waiting oven of 325 F. You can increase the heat to 500 F for the first fifteen minutes and then reduce it to the 325 to sear in the flavor.A two bone roast can serve six to eight while a three bone serves about ten to twelve people. . Another roast worth thinking about is London Broil.This is a good meat for those on a budget.It costs slightly less than most beef cuts yet makes for an elegant piece of meat. It's basically just a think flank steak, however cooked right , it down right buttery in taste and texture.

If you're not into serving beef, then think of the German Christmas dinner staple: ham. You can buy it fresh,cured or cured and smoked. There is some work and prep time for it however yet it's just easy steps. You can pour either ginger ale or pineapple juice over it before cooking. Some cooks also have a rub of brown sugar which offsets the meat's saltiness. Another route is poultry. Turkey is one of the most traditional however since Christmas falls a month after Thanksgiving it may be too repetitive for some people. You can try capon,duck or even goose. All three are surprisingly easy to roast and can create a classy and classic alternative to red meat.

What you want for your Christmas dinner is your choosing. However keep in mind that this is one of the most important meals of the year. Select a roast that you'll know you'll be good at cooking . It's one less worry to deal with on Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Faking It

This is season for collective church dinners and potluck parties. We all figure the other people worked just as hard on their casseroles and chilis as we did. Or did they? There may be a surprise on that groaning table - a store bought or premade dish.
That was the subject in yesterday’s New York Times article written by Jennufer Steinhauer in the De Gustibus section. Ms. Steinhauer descries those who bring already made dishes and sweets to everything from church dinners to class bake sales. After all if she could do it even with all her flops, then why can’t other parents? She also has harsh words fo those moms who doctor store bought goodies to look like the real homemade deal. It worked a decade ago when working mothers were encouraged to do so . It’s getting - pardon the pun - stale now.
There is also a rant about those who bring already made dishes to other gatherings. However even she admits that it brings deviation to centuries old recipes. Pot luck dinners date back to the 16th Century when people would stop by their host’s home bearing cooked meal. It was “the luck of the pot” whether they received something good or something so-so. The concept caught in in Colonial America, especially out West., when it was usually brought by a cowboy (perhaps where we get the chili tradition at get togethers?). Potluck dinners kept ethnic recipes within the group. It also kept up tradition. However with premade foods, different tastes and cultures are introduced, shattering old , fusty recipes. It could be a good thing for the next generation who are generally bored at potluck suppers..
Should we cheat on our baking and cooking during this holiday season? If you don’t; have the time do so. However be honest about it. People know when there’s lovin’ from the oven and when it’s a fake home bake.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spins On Holiday Classics

Classic recipes are always trotted out during the holidays. However that's the problem, classic could mean boring. How to make them shine with seasonal sparkle? Tweak the recipes to amp up their flavor and crowd appeal. The recipes might be age old but the variations are new and fresh.

This was the case in two articles in today's New York Times Dining section. One is Hanukkah latkes, while the other is a traditional party pate. The first piece, written by Melissa Clark ,tweaks the traditional recipe for potato pancakes. Usually they just contain shredded potatoes, onion and egg for binding, However the new one features apple which makes perfect sense. Latkes are always served with applesauce, why not just cut out the sauce and add chunks. It makes for a combination of savory and sweet blending together in one yummy treat. Ms. Clark tops them with cinnamon infused sour cream or Greek yogurt for a delicious twist.

Pate has always been a holiday party staple too. It was a treat for the guests when the host or hostess whipped up their own. However classic pate is made with chicken or goose livers which may not fly with some people. David Tanis of the section, City Kitchen, takes another approach, Why not combine three flavorful meats, in this case , Italian bacon or pancetta, chicken and pork shoulder. Grind these with garlic along with spices and a good splash of Cognac and voila - a tastier version of the traditional dish. Another plus is that this new pate is good leftover on sliced baguettes. It can also be made in smaller versions for holiday gift giving.

Traditional holiday foods are just that traditional. However , once in a while they need to be spruced up for a new generation. It's not tampering with a classic such as latkes or pate. It's improving them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pre Party Eating

This is the season for parties - from office to home invites. The problem is that they start late - which is not good for those of us who like an early meal. Can we wait til eight or dine at nine? If we do , it's usually results in an attack on the hors d'ouevres or worse the booze. Both on an empty stomach can be hellish later on. What to do? Pre eat.

If you know you're going to party , then eat accordingly. It doesn't pay to snack through the afternoon and eveningon snacky kind of foods like chips and candy. (besides you don't want to when you're getting ready anyway - too messy). Your best bet is a light broth or even a Ramen soup. Both are light yet filling enough to sustain you until the festivites begin. Have them with crackers or Oysterettes. You could also have cheese such as Brie as a side This will give you some protein . This way you can nibble through the evening, having eaten something relatively substantial.

Another good idea is just a plain sandwich. Stick with a simple roast beef, chicken or turkey on white or whole wheat bread. If you want just add butter or mayo for some more taste. Some nutritionists recommend peanut butter which again is good. You can make a sandwich or have it with celery , bread sticks or on crackers . A healthy pre party snack are apple slices smeared with peanut butter.Another idea is eating a small fresh salad with a low calorie dressing or just fresh veggies with a dip. These are both good and light. Cut up apples and pears also are perfect foods to snack on as well. Again have with a light tea, gingerale or even water.

Eating late at a party is no big deal if you've already had something at your normal dinner time. Don't go overboard.Something light and filling with do the trick before tackling all those platters of goodies.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Budget Foodie Gifts

Last week I covered both high and mid priced foodie gifts. Today it's going to be all about completely affordable presents for your favorite food lover. The best part of this is that you can create your own or even just go to your local supermarket. Even better is that you can come up with a wide variety that suits every taste and passion.

Themed food baskets are always fun to give and receive.Your local grocery stores can make them up for you whether they 're cookies and brownies or fruits. However you can be equally creative as well. Buy baskets at your local craft or dollar store and start piling in all the good stuff. Soup lovers may appreciate the colorfully packaged bags of dry soup ingredients along with a variety of crackers such as Oysterettes and Ritz. You can even add bowls and spoons too. A variation of this is with chili. Create a basket full of different chilis along with cans of different beans. Toss in a bottle of water for some laughs too. A pasta lover could have a goodie basket with both regular and whole wheat pastas along with fancy jarred sauces. Toss in some inexpensive pasta tongs and some cheese to give it some polish

For sweets lovers think about holiday baking or even candy making. You can come up with some lovely cookie trays, interspersed with candy canes and Hershey's holiday wrapped kisses.Luckily even packaged cookie mixes can be turned into a variety of different treats. Chocolate chips can be dipped in chocolate and simple sugar cookies can be turned into snickerdoodles or almond twists. A fresh made batch of fudge or haystacks, coconut mounds are another present worth thinking about giving as are chocolate dipped pretzel rods. Another easy treat is chocolate bark. Just melt either white, dark, or milk chocolate chips , add nuts and other candies such as M&M's, peppermint shards and toffee. Let set and then break into pieces.Put into a festive tin or on a tray.

You can still give a lovely foodie gift for pennies. All it takes is creativity to come up with baskets or freshly made treats. These will make any food lover smile .

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Nibble Time

These next two weeks are going to be filled with all sorts of parties from tree trimming to at home office gatherings. It's the time of the year to dust off all those hors d' oeuvre recipes and pick out what works. After all, a full blown sit down dinner is a bit too fusty for all that mingling. The best bet is to serve trays of nibbles, first savory and then sweet with coffee and liqueurs afterwards.

Savory appetizers are easy to serve and to make. They also go great with everything from non alcoholic punches and sodas to champagne. One of the easiest is bruschetta . This is just simply toasted rounds of sliced Italian and/or French breads with a scoop of chopped tomatoes , olive oil and spices. You can vary the recipe by placing slices of Italian cold cuts such as Genoa salami or soppressata under the tomatoes. For healthier fair try inch long celery bits stuffed with a mix of cream cheese and chopped hard boiled egg. These are tasty and fun without being oh so decadent.Another idea is getting trays of frozen nibbles. There are some great ones out there,especially from Target's Archer Farms brands. Try crab or chicken puffs which are easy to dip and easy to maneuver. Themed savories such as Japanese or Mexican also make for fun eating.

Nibbles aren't only relegated to the salty and savory. There's nothing like ending the evening with tiny bites of sweetness. A fun ender is stuffed dates. These are easy to make, with stuffing pitted dates with either creamy or chunky peanut butter and then rolling in granulated sugar. You can also make mini brittles which is forming small clusters or hills of nuts and then pouring a heated sugar syrup ove r them. Spiced nuts are also good. All it takes are any nut of choice and then dipping them in egg white. Later roll in a mix of cinnamon and sugar or for more zip and zing nutmeg and mace . Bake for twenty minutes for 25 minutes. Mini tartlets or galettes are a great dessert. These can be made with biscuit dough cut in small squares and filled with pie filling. Of course there are the traditional cookies and bars too. If you're serving these , then vary it with a melange of shortbreads, bars, sugar cookies and chocolate chips. You can add some sophisticated types such as madeleines and macarons.

This is the time for fun eating and fun parties. Try a night of nibbles to satisfy guests . Nothing beats a bize size treats to get a gathering going!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Elegant Algonquin Hotel

New York City at holiday time is magical. There are the Broadway lights sparkling against a winter's dark night. There's Bryant Park, agog with shoppers and skaters. 30 Rock has the magnificent tree and more skaters. Then there's the classic Algonquin Hotel, one of the city's most famous and home to literary legends.It also has one of the best dining rooms as well.

I got the chance to eat at this marvelous Beaux Arts style hotel built in 1902 and home to the famed Round Table. This was the place where famed writers such as Dorothy Parker , Alexander Woolcott, Harpo Marx and Robert Benchley spent every Wednesday exchanging sharp words over good foods and drinks. The Round Table is still there and I was privileged to eat at it . The food is just classy and elegant. No trendy dishes or wild creations. I ordered off their vegetarian menu and received portabello mushrooms in a balsamic reduction along with a vegetable Napoleon (layered veggies interspersed with mozzarella cheese). There is also a delicious penne with asparagus that is heavenly and worth trying too.

Since the hotel is only a couple of blocks away from the Theater District and Times Square, there is a prix fix theater dinner. Several of my guests ordered from it and were not disappointed. Soup du jour and Caesar salad were served in elegant bowls and plates followed by such dishes as linguine with shrimp and a fabulous crunchy chicken scallopini. Others had the pepper crusted salmon filet with ricotta gnocchis. There was an apple galette and decadent three chocolate mousse for dessert. The real stars were the cocktails, again elegant, celebrating the hotel's history (and the hotel cat Mathilda) . These were the most expensive starting at 20 dollars however the glasses that they are served in are huge.

If you're in New York for the holidays, stop at this famed hotel for at least a drink . It's like going back to a more elegant time where cocktails were had along with witty bon mots. What a perfect Christmas present for literary buffs and foodies together.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sassy Drinks

The New York Times Dining section yesterday ran their annual spirits issue. This was and is the perfect guide to holiday cocktails and gift giving. One article featured different cocktails and another featured some very sassy wine labels. All in all it made for some fun reading.

I liked the article about the nontraditional and unorthodox wine labels.William Grimes wrote this fun piece that featured brands such as Bitch and Fat Bastard - perfect for friends - however not for your boss.The taste is the same for any wine. There are shirazes and Cabernets which are lovely additions to any holiday table.These also make good presents between office mates too. Just don't get Big Ass Wine (which sounds like a Letterman joke) for anyone who's weight is a robust red but stick with the reds with the more genteel names.

Another fun article was the one about home cocktails. This is Jeff Godinier's take on creating the perfect cocktail no matter what the cost. His comic zeal in making a heavenly drink takes him to all sorts of liquor stores , wracking up $135 dollars to create the Mount Vernon, This is a drink that features a mix of cherry liqueurs such as Cherry Heering and Kirschwasser. The ingredients are expensive and the recipe made for more advanced mixologists. However it seems worth it. Mr. Gordinier did create his ambrosia.

The holidays are meant for merry drinks and The New York Times knows this. It's a time to have fun with holiday spirits. Make your own or buy some with sassy labels.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spirits Of The Holidays

Today's New York Times Dining section has it's holiday spirits guide. The section, commandeered by the Pour section editor, Eric Asimov, has a variety of interesting and helpful articles. There is one on malt whiskey which I'll cover today and some others which will be mentioned in tomorrow's blog. All in all it's a keeper to be brought out when buying gifts or stocking up for one's own holiday blast.

Eric Asimov wrote about the malt whiskey. a perfect chill chaser during these cold December days. His article takes him to the isolated Scottish isle of Islay (pronounced Eye-lah) where some memorable bottles have been produced. Whiskey depends on peat ,a composition of decomposed bog soil to give it its' smoky flavor and here assertive peating or peat roasting helps. Another factor that makes any Islay whiskey different is the seaweed taste or salty air aroma most of the whiskies have (Islay is located on the Irish Sea). This makes it more bolder than just the average Scottish whiskey.

Another interesting fact about Islay blends is that the various distilleries cater to different age groups. There is one called Smokehead which has a powerful and smokey taste. For a more mellower crowd Bruichladdach Islay 12 years hits the spot. This is a blend that is milder with tones of honey citrus and surprisingly a butterscotch aftertaste. for hard core lovers buy a bottle of Ardbeg Islay 10 years which has a strong medicinal flavor along with a brininess taken from the nearby sea.

Whiskey is the perfect holiday chill chaser along with being the perfect gift. Read Eric Asimov's guide to decipher what you want to serve and give . It's a great way of picking out the best.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Foodie Gift Pyramids

Yesterday I wrote about some of the world's most expensive foodie gifts. Today I'm taking it down a notch by mentioning mid priced foodie gifts. These are usually those fun pyramids and baskets filled with every kind of treat from hams to nuts, cookies to popcorn. They're not only great for the receiver, they're excellent for givers on a budget. For a certain price you can give a lush looking gifts for only a few pennies.

One of the oldest and most famous is Hickory Farms. It started in the late Forties with Richard Ransom and his cousin, Earl, started to sell cheese wheels and summer sausage at home shows in Toledo. It paid off. Today the e company offers baskets and pyramids along with boxes of just truly yummy foods. For one hundred dollars you can send family and loved ones the snack tower which has everything from their signature beef sticks to smoked cheeses to almonds along with sauces and mustards. You can also give gift packages that just feature cooked ham and turkey or ones that features sweets. Another great company is Figi's They have a variety of different baskets and pyramids that features flavored cheeses and sausages.

For those sweet toothed foodies think about a nice pyramid of cookies and brownies. Blue Chip Cookies which produces the best chocolate chip ever has a holiday cookies pack with customer faves. Cheryl's Cookies offers a huge variety of home baked sweet treats. Their pyramids offer an entire kitchen of holiday faves from richly iced brownies to buttery spice balls. They also make rich butter cookies frosted with an even richer frosting. Of course there are fruits you can send as well Harry and Davids offers healthier treats such as a pyramid of pears and apples. They also sell oranges,perfect for the cold weather.

You can give a food pyramid for a good cost this Christmas or Hanukkah. It can be savory or sweet, decadent or healthy. Whatever you give it's a lot of treats for an affordable price.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Most Expensive Foodie Gifts

It's that time of year for foodie gifts. What's great about any food or alcohol product is that they come in all price ranges. If you're extravagant you can buy your sweetheart something amazing. If you only have a few pennies, you can still present a really yummy surprise for that someone special. In the next few weeks there will be articles reflecting this . Take from this what you will and use it in gift giving.

Expensive gifts are always memorable. They make a lasting impression and are talked about for years to come. One of the most expensive is Angel Champagne, created by Britalian Stefano Zagni (he's fourth generation Italian bred in England) and American songbird Mariah Carey.One 75 ml bottle can set you back $575. The most expensive goes for quarter of a million (yes, it does) and comes in a diamond encrusted bottle. Another neat thing is that Angel was featured on that ultimately trashy show "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" however don't let this deter you. Some royals and celebrities also are big Angel fans too.

For the most expensive food gifts think caviar and truffles. Petrossian is one of the best online stores to get a variety of different roe. One of their most expensive is the Alverta , a buttery and nutty tasting caviar that costs $863 for just two to four servings. Planning for a party? Then the Alverta is $6,800 . However you can buy a cheaper version of it for only $63 dollars for the Tsar Imperial Transmontanus California bred white sturgeon. Truffles are every foodies X-mas fantasy gift. These gems, mined, in my great grandparents' province, Piedmont Italy can go for $340 for just one. There is also jarred truffle sauce that sells for $34 and can be used as a sauce for gnocchi or risotto.

If you want to score big with your foodies, then gift them with the best. You can try a bottle of Angel champagne and serve it with caviar or truffles. There's nothing like making a gourmet's holiday wishes come true.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Good Tomato Sauce

A well made tomato sauce is important to any pasta, whether it's for a holiday party or for a Wednesday night dinner. The dilemma is creating one that's the right blend of ingredients. Some can be too watery. Some over salty or over sweet or not spiced enough. They key is to create a sauce is properly balanced ; one that will let the pasta shine through.

A good tomato sauce starts with , of course, the tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are the best to use because they are the meatiest with a richer, more robust flavor. Usually the canned diced kind are the most adequate however if you can get fresh right now then use them. Another must is a good base. This is usually a mix of olive oil and three cloves of chopped garlic. For an extra fillip , add fresh or frozen pesto sauce. The basil gives the sauce an earthy taste plus a richer color. Simmer for an hour before serving over pasta.

As with any basic recipe you can vary it to suit your tastes. Plain sauce is called pomodoro , the Italian word for tomato. Meat can be added, the most common being chopped beef. this results in a tasty Bolognese sauce however try ground steak too. A famed Neopolitan recipe calls for the addition of both pork and beef for a very tasty sauce. Chicken is another add in but not as common as beef. Some chefs and home cooks put in fish such as lobster, crab or shrimp. Other spices such as red pepper is added for the hot and fiery arrabiata sauce. Some home cooks add veggies such as broccoli, green pepper and cauliflower for a healthier variation.

What makes a good pasta? It's always the sauce . A well made one can make all the difference between a memorable dish and an ordinary one,

Friday, December 2, 2011

Peruvian Cuisine Uncle Paulie's

South American food is slowly but surely becoming a mainstay in American diet. With it comes a variety of truly delicious dishes from the Southern Hemisphere. I recently ate at a great Peruvian restaurant Uncle Paulie's near me. Their food was amazing and I will definitely go back.

This small restuarant located in Maywood New Jersey, (14 miles directly west of New York City more or less) has one signature dish -pollo de brasa - rotisserie chicken. Diners can order it whole, halved or quartered and with a special sauce. However it is just amazing plain, succulent and flavorful. It was really cooked to perfection , which is unusual for rotisserie chicken served in restaurants. There is also bifsteak and fish too, spiced to reflect the Peruvian diet.

Another good dish are the fried plantanos or plantains. These were perfection as well. The bananalike veggies were fried to a lovely crisp which seemed to caramelize them. Another plus is that Uncle Paulie's doesn't stint on servings. There were enough for three or four people (however they were so tasty I practically finished up one basket). The restaurant also has traditional rice and beans along with fries as other sides too along with salads.

Uncle Paulie's is a great place to go to and to be introduced to Peruvian food. The dishes are wonderful and addictive.It's a restuarant that will surely get a following.

Uncle Paulies 109 West Pleasant Ave, Maywood NJ.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Home Cooking With The Best

There's nothing like home cooked meals especially for the holidays. It turns out that even the best chefs like comforting cuisine as well and have written books about it. What's even better is that these cookbooks are out for the holidays. They're perfect for the home cooks who want to cook classics but also want that gourmet vibe as well.

The books were reviewed in an article in yesterday's New York Times Dining section. Julia Moskin, the Dining section's doyenne wrote whose was the best. There are a few, actually and they would make a great under the tree surprise to any comfort food loving foodie. There is Mario Batali who wrote "Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals From My Home To Yours"(Bloomsbury). This is an unusual cookbook in the sense that is is divided into seasons. His summer recipes include corn and fennel baked together along with tomatoes while his winter ones feature the veggies of the season such as pumpkin. For true foodies there is Ferran Adria, the avante garde chef from Spain. His meals aren't for home really but were geared more for dinners with his restaurant staff.His book is "The Family Meal:Home Cooking With Ferran Adria" (Phaedon Publishing). Another foodie adored chef is Hestom Blumenthal who has " Heston Blumenthal At Home" (Bloomsbury Publishing) and his is filled with simple and homey roast and vinaigrette recipes.

For true family cooking there is John Besh's "My Family Table:A Passionate Plea For Home Cooking. "(Andrew McMeel publishers) Chef Besh reflects his life as this in his book: a busy and messy dad cooking for his four little ones. However his recipes wouldn't go amiss at any adult dinner party. He creates a risotto and creamy veg soups that work with any palate. On a higher note there is Jean Georges Vongerichten who brings his Alsacian roots into play with his cookbook," Home Cooking With Jean Georges;My Favorite Simple Recipes" (Clarkson Potter).

Home cooking is always a good thing for the holidays.Even chefs realize this and want to impart their best take on comfort food. It results in some good dishes, a perfect gift for the home chef who loves to cook simple dishes from family recipes..